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If you spot a large patch of flat land in Brooke, Hancock or Jefferson counties, you can almost bet that a factory was once – or still is – on it. The sites currently not in use represent economic opportunity for our region. But most of them have one big problem: contamination.

Those sites, called brownfields by the US Environmental Protection Agency, include abandoned, idled or underused industrial or commercial properties where redevelopment is hampered by environmental contamination. Railroads, gas stations, oil refineries, chemical storage facilities, and manufacturing plants are among the types of businesses who leave behind contaminated sites.

In most instances, even when a business is interested in redeveloping or purchasing a brownfields site, the additional cost of identifying and clearing the contaminants makes a business deal impossible.

That’s where the BHJ Metropolitan Planning Commission and its partners – including the US EPA – make all the difference in the repurposing and reuse of our region’s developable land.

The BHJ Brownfields Task Force, which is made up of local leaders, development organizations and state DEP officials, meets on a quarterly basis to review projects and drive solutions forward. Currently, there are 51 sites in the tri-county area that have been identified as eligible for brownfields assistance.  To date, the task force has:

  • 34 sites with Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESA) completed. Phase 1 ESA actions identify the nature and extent of contamination on the site, including a review of records and site inspections
  • 16 sites with Phase II ESAs completed. Phase II ESA actions can involve a number of different kinds of tests, including surface soil and water samples; subsurface soil boring; groundwater monitoring; well installation, sampling, and analysis; drum sampling; and/or floor drains and catch basins.
  • 6 sites cleaned and cleared for redevelopment
  • 300 local jobs maintained and/or created

Competitively awarded federal money is available to aid in the cleanup of brownfields site, but applying for grants to access those dollars requires a substantial amount of research and preparation. In fact, the BHJ Brownfields Task Force works year round maintaining inventories, meeting with partners and researching site information that goes into the grant applications and – when we are successful – reports that have been a major factor in the rebirth of the northern Ohio Valley’s manufacturing economy.

As we look around the region and see brownfields, we must also have to see the many different ways the sites can be repurposed: old industrial buildings can be turned into new real estate, new building can occur on cleared sites, and community infrastructure and aesthetics can be improved by removing blight and hazardous materials.  

Brownfield redevelopment helps to:

  • Turn community health and safety liabilities into community assets;
  • Create new, local jobs;
  • Increase property values;
  • Eliminate eyesores;
  • Enhance economic/tax base development;
  • Support sustainable use of land; and
  • Link economic vitality with environmental benefits.

Joe Nowak, USEPA Region 3 Brownfields and Revitalization Branch, has provided a video of the Brownfields Partnerships project.  In a correspondence to BHJ and other members of the Partnership, Mr. Nowak says, “The videos are a great example of all the hard efforts being put forth by you & your organizations.  [For me, one of the unanticipated rewards was the actual filming of the video itself.  Just catching up with everyone at the sites and reliving all the efforts that made/will make these projects a success is something that I’ll always remember.  The Brownfields program is just one part of all the efforts that you make to revitalize our neighborhoods.]”

The video below features Brownfields work in Brooke and Hancock counties.

Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Brownfield Coalition Task Force Meeting Minutes

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