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Brownfields Radar: City targets 500 Springfield properties

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The Jordan Valley West Meadows development area over a decade in the making has a few environmental hurdles before taking the next steps.

One is a metal scrapyard identified as a possible brownfields site.

City officials and contracted environmental consultants are performing an environmental investigation of McCoy Iron & Metal Inc., at 321 N. Fort Ave., and the city may purchase the land key to creating additional urban park space west of Main Avenue downtown.

“They would like to put a large park with a large pond in this area, making this whole downtown area kind of like a Springfield version of Central Park,” said Kim McCoy, the company’s vice president of administrative operations.

Only problem: possible contamination from years of diesel storage tanks underground by Burlington Northern Railroad.

“Some of it has seeped back up, not just here but along the Jordan Valley Creek,” McCoy said. “They want to make sure the ground is safe enough.”

The McCoy Iron & Metal property is not alone.

“We estimate there could still be another 500,” Springfield senior planner and brownfields coordinator Olivia Hough said of the potentially contaminated sites throughout the city.

Hough is working to make the city a little greener. But it’s a big job.

To that end, the city has hired two environmental assessment firms to conduct studies, in part using geographic information systems software.

“Red dots cover this whole city,” said Jim Fels, an environmental department manager with one of the firms, Terracon Environmental Inc.

Hough said most of today’s brownfields are along Kearney, College and Commercial streets, where the city has pushed for redevelopment.

Bad rap, big upside
By nature, brownfields often have a bad rap – they’re urban or industrial commercial sites that are underutilized or abandoned due to real or perceived contamination.

“The sites often have a stigma attached to them, which makes people reluctant to invest in them,” Hough said. “They have additional complications, (because) there may be real environmental threats present there.”

Properties sitting deserted and derelict have implications for Springfield’s economy, Hough added.

“They really represent a lost opportunity,” she said. “Brownfields decrease property values. They represent taxes that aren’t being collected because the property’s not being redeveloped.”

That’s why the city has created incentives to encourage developers to purchase the otherwise concerning properties.

“Right now, we have over $1 million available to provide low- or no-interest loans for brownfield cleanups citywide,” Hough said. “We offer zero interest for up to five years or we can go up to a 15-year term at 3 percent interest. We recognize if you are buying a brownfield site to redevelop it’s going to be more complicated than a greenfield site.”

Key to future brownfields cleanup work is grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Last month, Springfield City Council agreed to reapply for a $300,000 three-year EPA grant. If approved in the spring, the money will allow Hough and the city’s economic development team to assess roughly 40 more brownfields properties in the city.

Assessing brownfields
Determining whether a property is environmentally hazardous is divided into two phases, Hough said. The first phase includes preliminary research.

“It’s basically a historical background search on the property. It’s trying to find all the uses that took place on the property, conduct a site visit, take some photos, interviewing the property owners and maybe even adjacent property owners,” Hough said. “It’s looking at records – records the [Missouri] Department of Natural Resources may have or the Environmental Protection Agency and putting all those into a report.”

Sometimes, Hough said, a property is quickly cleared for redevelopment. However, if researchers think further investigation is warranted based off the report, the property is turned over to the next phase.

“If it was an old gas station and records indicate that there were underground storage tanks that were never removed or other recognized environmental concerns, then Phase I may recommend a Phase II. Phase II is actually sampling a property,” Hough said, noting sampling most commonly tests for contaminated soil and water, lead paint and asbestos.  “They will compare those to the levels that the Department of Natural Resources says is acceptable.”

If tests reveal unacceptable levels of contamination or harmful chemicals, a cleanup abiding local and state regulations is needed.

“We can also under this grant do cleanup planning,” Hough said. “That would be kind of a third stage.”

Hough estimated environmentally assessing a property costs $2,000 to complete Phase I on average and $8,000 to complete Phase II.

Cleanups in action
Cleanups can range even further apart in price, Hough said.

“We did a petroleum site cleanup that was about $400,000 where we removed three underground storage tanks and petroleum in the soil,” Hough said of city-owned property at 1420 W. College St. “We’ve had cleanups cost as little as under a thousand dollars, to cleanups that we’ve done that are $2 million, like a former railyard that we did on the future West Meadows.”

The city undertook a visioning and planning process in the early 2000s aimed at revitalizing the community surrounding Jordan Valley. The city began environmental cleanup work in 2010 for the Jordan Valley West Meadows, the first phase of the section of Jordan Valley west of Main Avenue.

City officials and consultants with Pasadena, California-based Tetra Tech Inc. have been out to the McCoy Iron & Metal property a handful of times to assess it.

Fels, in Terracon’s Springfield office, said Springfield has assessed its fair share of brownfields. His work in the city includes properties along Jordan Creek and the old MFA silos downtown, where Jordan Valley Innovation Center now stands.

Fels credits Hough’s initiative for a successful city brownfields program, which started in 1999.

“The EPA loves what all she’s done,” Fels said. “It’s been such a great success program.”

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