EPA 'Smart Growth' grant helps communities revitalize

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Communities such as Carter County which have found themselves in a Catch-22 over need for jobs and industry vs. no place to put it and no money for infrastructure can find assistance in converting local eyesores into community assets.
   On Wednesday, EPA announced $405,000 in grants to nine communities across the nation under the "Smart Growth: Saving Open Space, Revitalizing Brownfields" program. None of the award-winners were from Tennessee.
   According to EPA, development greatly impacts the environment. Open lands, or greenfields, often make up important parts of a region's watershed, or are used as habitats for endangered species, such as the Appalachian Elktoe in our area. They also are an important link in processing the world's greenhouse gases which cause global warming, EPA says.
   Open lands usually are preferred for development. As regions feel pressured to make way for new growth, these lands are absorbed by industries which settle into an area for several years and then leave town. Some of those industries not only leave behind a hole in the tax base, but a legacy of pollution which makes the land unattractive for future development.
   A "brownfield," according to EPA, is land that is not in full use. It has potential, but redevelopment is not done because of real or perceived concerns about contamination, liability, and federal regulatory requirements.
   Larry Gilliam, former director of the Division of Solid Waste for Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said in December that the former North American Rayon site could be eligible for Brownfield designation if sold to a third party.
   "Seldom, I guess, is it the case that you can't clean up something to where it can be safely and environmentally reused," Gilliam said.
   Brownfield designation can help communities transform "white elephant-type property" which people perceive as being contaminated beyond use, into an economic asset which will better serve the needs of the community, he said.
   The nine communities announced Wednesday each will receive $45,000 to use smart growth approaches in the redevelopment of brownfield properties.
   "With hundreds of thousands of brownfields needing attention across the country, it is clear that we must choose areas with real redevelopment potential," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
   EPA hopes the nine communities will pave the way for others by demonstrating the environmental and economic benefits that can be gained by using smart growth in their brownfields revitalization efforts.
   When the "Smart Growth" program was announced in January, President Bush said one of the best ways to stop urban sprawl "is to develop brownfields and make them productive pieces of land where people can find work .... By one estimate, for every one acre of redeveloped brownfields, we save 4.5 acres of open space," Bush said.
   An added benefit of reusing brownfields is that infrastructure required by industry is already in place.
   Mystic Valley Development Corp. of Massachusetts, one of Wednesday's award recipients, plans to capitalize on a 207-acre former industrial site by putting its money toward a new housing initiative.
   EPA currently is receiving applications through Aug. 30 for a National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, with winners to be recognized Nov. 19 in an awards ceremony in Washington.
   Applicants must be public sector entities -- from city councils to planning departments, to economic development commissions -- which have adopted or completed activities between Aug. 1, 1999, and July 31, 2002.
   The award categories consist of "Built Projects," such as single- or multi-family residential, retail, or office space; "Policies and Regulations" that have removed barriers to smart growth or which have encouraged smart growth through zoning ordinances or tax incentives; "Community Outreach and Education" efforts to educate the general public, developers, or others about smart growth; and "Overall Excellence in Smart Growth," recognizing an outstanding comprehensive approach to smart growth.
   Applicants must complete an entry form detailing what they have done to revitalize brownfield areas in their community and specifying how it meets EPA evaluation criteria. The application can be downloaded in either Word format or PDF file from the EPA website (www.epa.gov/livability/awards.htm).
   For more information concerning the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement Program, contact Tim Torma of the EPA at (202) 260-5180 or e-mail him at torma.tim@epa.gov.