Belfast continue to clean up old buildings, brownfield sites for economic development
BELFAST — The Waterfall Arts Building, on High Street in Belfast, is among 14 most recent Maine recipients of Environmental Protection Agency funds to remediate polluted industrial and commercial properties in the city. Likewise, Belfast is also on the same recipient list for a grant to continue assessing potential brownfield sites that could benefit from environmental clean-up.
This is nothing new in Belfast; in fact, the city has been award EPA brownfield reclamation funding several times over the past decade, and reflects the city’s commitment to re-using land and buildings for economic development, instead of tearing down, or abandoning them.
It makes sense to revitalize old industrial sites and buildings for economic vitality, according to a Belfast plan, Creating Vibrancy in Belfast, Maine, laid out in 2006. And the Waterfall Arts building itself, which was formerly the Gov. Anderson School, has been targeted for environmental clean-up since 2005.
“Remaining at the epicenter for the entire duration of Belfast’s cultural and industrial history has been its downtown district, which... will serve as the target area within which cleanup activities are planned to be conducted,” according to the January 2019 EPA grant application. “This target area has felt both the booms and the busts of the various industries that have operated in Belfast, from having served as the setting for their bustling facilities to now being the home to Waterfall Arts and other brownfields with their associated signs of distress, blight, and neglect. More than one-sixth (17.86%) of Belfast’s inhabitants, including members of its various sensitive populations, live within this area and in close proximity to Waterfall Arts and other brownfields.”
Belfast even has its own Brownfield Committee that oversees potential projects that might benefit from the federal EPA funds, said the city’s economic development director, Thomas Kittredge.
The city’s systematic approach to securing federal grants to rid properties of pollutants, and back into use, has been successful for municipal and commercial ventures since 2010.
Brownfields, as defined by the EPA, are those properties, on which: “the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improves and protects the environment.”
Over the last decade, Belfast has applied for, and received, $1.3 million to assess various properties, analyze their level of pollution and whether they can be reclaimed. The city has worked with private business and nonprofits to get more properties back into use.
Projects have included 45 Front Street, where soil had been soaked by petroleum from the days of the railroad.
“It looked like oil bubbling from the site,” said Kittredge. The site now is largely clean, he said, and ready for development.
Other projects included removing lead paint and asbestos from the former county jail, which now houses municipal archives; assisting a private land owner in obtaining a low interest loan to clear developable lots of coal residue; and cleaning soil at the site of a former gas station, which was torn down, and a new building constructed there for a soup kitchen.
Then, on June 5, Belfast learned it had been successful in securing two more brownfields grants: the city got $300,000 to continue its community-wide pollution assessment practice, and the nonprofit Waterfall Arts received $350,000 to clean hazardous materials from its 1935-built brick building.
“The results of previous environmental assessments under the City of Belfast’s Brownfields Assessment Program identified that various hazardous building materials were prevalent throughout the site buildings, including asbestos-containing materials, lead-based paint, components potentially containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or mercury, and other universal wastes,” according to the grant application.
The entire Waterfall Arts clean-up project will cost $420,000, with the nonprofit kicking in $70,000 and the EPA, $350,000.
Additionally, the nonprofit plans to improve the building’s energy system, replace windows and lights, install solar power, landscape, install an elevator, refurbish studios, install new audio-visual equipment, improve drainage, and paint, “with new environmentally-friendly finishes, to reduce the building’s blight and improve its aesthetic presentation,” the application said.
“Through adaptation and renovation, this project preserves and advances the heritage of the past while ensuring the sustainability of our future,” wrote the nonprofit. “We are committed to preserving the integrity and quality of our historic building while making it fully sustainable and accessible.”
Noting the layoffs in the Belfast labor force — “Over approximately the past decade, Belfast has suffered from significant layoffs by many of its employers: Moss Inc. (50 jobs in June of 2009, 25 jobs in June of 2010); Prismax (75 jobs in 2008)” — Waterfall Arts said the redevelopment plan will increase investment in the Belfast downtown area, which will expand the tax base, as well as increase employment while the nonprofit grows its budget and audience.
The assessment grant — the fourth over 10 years — awarded to Belfast will help the city continue to focus on the sites and buildings that could be used for business ventures but constrained by pollutants.
“This allows us to hire and pay for a qualified environmental professional to do assessment on behalf of the city, of a property,” said Kittredge. “Phase I assessment involves looking at available records and determining if there are hot spots.”
Phase II includes taking samples and refining the assessment conclusions.
While the EPA distributes clean-up grants to municipalities and nonprofits, it does not give money to businesses; however, Kittredge said, the city can assist, through its brownfield program, in helping businesses or property owners get low-interest loans from the state for remediation projects.
“It is a very good tool that we think facilitates redevelopment sites,” he said. “We have three years to spend the money.”
In addition to Belfast and Waterfall Arts, the EPA distributed grants in early June to:
- The Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine, in Portland, with a $500,000 cleanup grant.
- The City of Lewiston, with a $500,000 cleanup grant.
- The Town of Lincoln, with a $350,000 grant for assessment at the Lincoln Pulp & Paper site.
- The Town of Lincoln, with a $300,000 grant for community-wide assessment.
- The Maine Port Authority, in Portland, with a $500,000 cleanup grant.
- The Marble Block Redevelopment Corp., in Biddeford, with a $500,000 cleanup grant.
- The City of Old Town, with a $300,000 assessment grant.
- The Portland Housing Authority, with a $500,000 cleanup grant.
- The City of Sanford, with a $800,000 multi-purpose grant.
- The South Portland Housing Development Corp., with a $500,000 cleanup grant.
- The City of South Portland, with a $300,000 assessment grant.
- The Washington County Council of Governments, with a $300,000 assessment grant.
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