Great Falls gets $300,000 EPA grant for brownfield assessments

The Great Falls Development Authority has been selected for a $300,000 Brownfields grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The award was announced Wednesday by the EPA, which awarded 144 communities 221 grants totaling $54.3 million through their Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund and Cleanup Grants to assess, cleanup and redevelop underutilized properties while protecting public health and the environment.

According to the EPA, the funds expand the ability of communities to recycle vacant and abandoned properties for new, productive reuses.

“EPA’s Brownfields Program expands the ability of communities to recycle vacant and abandoned properties for new, productive reuses, using existing infrastructure” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “These grants leverage other public and private investments, and improve local economies through property cleanup and redevelopment.”

The EPA selected GFDA for two brownfield assessment grants. The agency received $200,000 in community-wide hazardous substances grants to conduct three Phase I and eight Phase II environmental site assessments. GFDA received $100,000 in community-wide petroleum grants to conduct three Phase I and two Phase II environmental site assessments.

Assessment activities will focus on the downtown area and the West Bank area, according to the EPA.

GFDA also has a brownfields revolving loan fund available to individuals and businesses seeking to redevelop brownfield sites, which according to the EPA are defined as “real estate, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The goals of GFDA’s brownfield loan program include assisting individuals and businesses that will create jobs and increase the local tax base by reusing or redeveloping a brownfield site through low-cost loans and grants for eligible projects.

Eligibility requirements for the GFDA brownfield loans include providing evidence that an individual or business were/are:

  • located within Cascade County;
  • not responsible for the contamination of the proposed project land/facility;
  • not transporters of contaminating materials (e.g. gasoline, asbestos, etc) to the project land/facility; and
  • have a written redevelopment or reuse plan.
  • Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST) related projects will not qualify for RLF funding.

Final project approval is made by the EPA.

Projects in downtown that have used brownfield funds include the Easter Seals-Goodwill building that needed asbestos cleanup; and funds to clean up a former gas station that is now the True Brew on the corner of 9th Street and Central Avenue. Other projects that used the funding include the Celtic Cowboy/Hotel Arvon and the West Bank Landing.

GFDA recently helped Cascade County secure funds for a brownfield assessment through the EPA’s targeted brownfield program. The county is conducting an assessment at the old Tribune building that the county is renovating into office space.

Lillian Sunwall heads the brownfield program for GFDA and said the property was built around the time asbestos was common in building materials so the EPA will be looking for contaminated areas and providing a report for remedial action.

Brownfield assessment funds were also used for Phase 1 and several Phase 2 assessments at the Rocky Mountain building downtown, Sunwall said.

Cleanup funds have been used for asbestos removal at the Center for Mental Health and the Great Falls Community Food Bank.

“We’ve done quite a few projects,” Sunwall said. “We feel like we’ve been able to leverage some projects that might not have gone forward otherwise.”