June 05--The city of Wilson's ability to tap into $1 million in Environmental Protection Agency funding will allow the city for the first time to provide funding for the cleanup of contaminated properties.
Since 2010, the city has received $600,000 in EPA brownfield grants that have gone primarily toward the assessment of contaminated properties. The $1 millionEPA award, which will be shared with the city of Greenville, allows the city to provide loans to private and public entities specifically for contamination cleanup.
"We love to see people come here, especially when you come with $1 million dollars," Mayor Bruce Rose said during the EPA announcement Wednesday at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.
While development has occurred in the downtown area, there are many other properties that could be put back into use if contamination issues were addressed, Rose said.
"Wilson has grown tremendously since its heyday as the World's Greatest Tobacco Market," Rose said. "Some properties have not been able to share in the city's progress because of the fear they have been contaminated by previous users and that's sad. The city has done a lot to bring these so-called brownfields back into use and the grants we are here to discuss will allow the city to do much more."
The public announcement brought to Wilson EPA officials, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., Wilson and Greenville officials and the developer of the Nash Street Lofts.
Rodger Lentz, Wilson planning director, said that the EPA's brownfield program has provided the city with the ability to improve the conditions of several properties, including the Nash Street Lofts, Wilson Furniture Lofts and former MelloButtercup ice cream factory.
"What's really exciting when you get to match these public dollars with private investment is the amount of money that you can leverage," Lentz said. "That's really, I think, what the EPA brownfield program is all about for me and why Wilson wanted to get into the brownfield program."
The EPA funding could benefit Wilson properties, including the former National Guard Armory on Gold Street, Lentz said. Properties near U.S. 301 could also benefit, Rose said.
"We should also be able to improve the U.S. 301 corridor and bring new life to neighborhoods around the city's core," Rose said. "As the mayor of the city of Wilson, I am so delighted with anything that can help create jobs and make our city a better place to live, work and raise our families."
The EPA Revolving Loan Fund grant includes $600,000 for hazardous substance and $400,000 for petroleum cleanup projects. The cities of Wilson and Greenville are partnering in the program and will develop guidelines for loans, expected to be at low-interest, for property owners interested in cleaning contaminated sites. The loans will become available on a case-by-case basis in October and the funding will last three years, with the possibility of supplemental EPA funding, Lentz said.
Heather McTeer-Toney, administrator of the EPA'sRegion 4, said that the success of the program could lead to additional funding and she encouraged city leaders to continue their partnership efforts.
"These funds will give communities and businesses a chance to return to economic development and sustainability to underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the assessment and cleanup of abandoned properties and industrial and commercial areas," McTeer-Toney said. "This is what helps return communities from blighted conditions back into productive, safe and healthy uses."
Butterfield was recognized during the event for his support of downtown development. In 2009, Butterfield secured federal funding for downtown revitalization projects that provided the Nash Street Lofts with $550,000 and the Wilson Furniture Lofts with $200,000. The properties also benefited from EPA brownfield grants, said Holton Wilkerson, developer and managing partner of CommunitySmith.
Butterfield said that the EPA funding will help Wilson economically and recognized McTeer-Toney for her leadership and the EPA's role in assisting communities.
"Cleaning up and reinvesting in contaminated sites protects the environment and it reduces blight," Butterfield said. "Our administrator understands that without financial support from our national government, rural communities like Wilson will continue to decline in prosperity and so her work and those that work with her is very much appreciated."
Wilson is one of nine communities in North Carolina awarded EPA grants this year. The awards are part of a larger $67 millionEPA grant list for brownfield assessments, revolving loan funds and cleanup awarded across the nation.
The recent EPA award is one of several the city has received since 2010 when more than 70 properties were identified as having potential contamination. More than half were along the U.S. 301 corridor.
Wilson received two $200,000EPA grants for the assessment of possible petroleum contamination and $200,000 for hazardous substance assessment. Assessments resulted in finding such problems as stored petroleum at the former MelloButtercup site and asbestos and lead-based paint at Nash Street Lofts and Wilson Furniture Lofts.
EPA brownfield funding is possible following the passing of the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act in 2002 and designed to empower states, communities and other stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely cleanup and sustainability reuse brownfields.
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