Rocky Fork Enterprise

Think BIG

City is weighing options following EPA's grant rejection

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Gahanna's plans to "Think BIG" went bust concerning a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up brownfields.

After the city was awarded the grant in 2008, Gahanna created the Think BIG (Brown is Green) initiative for property owners to get low-interest loans to assist in the cost of cleanup and reuse of brownfield properties.

Gahanna development director Anthony Jones said Gahanna had received two applications for the revolving-loan funds.

"Both of them went through a review and approval process, and they were turned down by the U.S. EPA for specific reasons that made them ineligible," Jones said. "That was one of the challenges we had. As soon as a company showed interest, if they didn't take steps prior to purchasing property, they were ineligible."

The city hosted open houses to explain the program and what was available.

Jones said the city also had received a U.S. EPA assessment grant, allowing a consultant to perform an inventory of city property based on prior and existing uses.

"They identified 71 (sites) that might have contamination," Jones said. "Those were our targets. Those properties were functioning businesses. The word brownfield can be misleading. It could be a functioning business, but the previous use could have a tank underground. They would have to stop operations to clean it up. A lot of businesses said they were fine. That was a challenge. The landfills were the primary targets."

Gahanna's development department had asked council to de-obligate the grant funds and recommended that the funds be granted to the Ohio Department of Development Office of Redevelopment.

Gahanna public-information officer Brian Hoyt said the city had two choices: Relinquish the grant to the federal government or transfer it to the ODOD.

"Gahanna businesses can still have access to it, but businesses weren't applying," he said. "We were the pass-through."

The ODOD Office of Redevelopment manages five successful brownfield planning, assessment and remediation programs, as well as other redevelopment funds, and has a staff of trained environmental professionals to assess and assist applicants.

Jones said 75 percent of the grant funds could be redirected to the ODOD.

"We had conversations with the state, and they have tons of staff to help administer their program," he said. "We asked if they would take on funds, and they said absolutely. The state said they'd be very interested, so those monies could still be used by companies if they want to clean up their brownfields."

Gahanna's development staff members will continue to work with any potential cleanup projects and serve as a resource to connect them with the ODOD and information on funding options.

When the city was awarded the grant four years ago, then Gahanna development director Sadicka White told ThisWeek the city had worked several years to get the grant. She said every old gas station in the city is considered a brownfield, and any new business would have to clean up all signs of any fuel that might have leaked during a station's many years of operation. That would include the dirt contaminated with the gasoline.

By providing low-interest loans to help property owners identify and resolve the environmental challenges of cleaning up their land, the city had hoped to spur new economic investment in the sites.

Jones said the city has been very aggressive in seeking grants.

"In Central Park alone, we received $3 million for Bedford I," he said. "We also received a Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant of $1 million to buy the ravine area in Central Park to preserve that."

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