City hears update on grant
by Chris Norwood
TALLADEGA — The city hosted an hour long public meeting at the library Tuesday night to kick off the second $400,000 Brownfield assessment grant it has gotten through the U.S. Department of Environmental Management. Like the first grant, awarded in 2009, this one includes $200,000 for petroleum and underground tank clean up and $200,000 for other contamination testing.

According to Wanda Jennings of the EPA, the federal government gives Brownfield grants for site assessment, clean up, job training and regional planning. The focus of the program is on abandoned or under utilized industrial sites, and about 30 percent of those tested come back clean.

“They can be gas stations, dry cleaners, warehouses, bus stations, landfills, anything, really,” she said. “And we manage the grants cradle to grave, including technical assistance and reading reports.”

The Brownfield program also includes a revolving loan fund for redevelopment.

The program was created in 1995, and since then 3,100 grants totaling $924 million have been awarded. These grants have resulted in cleanup and redevelopment worth $18.3 billion and are credited with the creation of 75,000 new jobs.

Nationally, some 70,000 acres of industrial property have been cleaned up. This year alone, 245 grants were awarded in 39 states, out of more than 500 that applied. These total $70 million. In this region, 20 were selected out of 113 applications.

Altogether, the 2009 grant for Talladega resulted in phase one inspections at16 different sites, including the WehadkeeYarn and Dye plants, which are owned by the city. Phase two testing was also conducted at these sites. Issues were identified, but none would be an impedimented to redevelopment as industrial properties.

City manager Brian Muenger said that the emphasis this year is on properties that can be redeveloped or sold quickly. “These reports have a 10 year shelf life, so we don’t want to have to wait very long.”

This year’s project will also involve excavation and testing of underground gas tanks at the muffler shop behind the Chamber of Commerce. A phase one examination of this site was included in the 2009 grant.

Larry Norris of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management then explained the state’s voluntary clean-up program, which partners mainly with private property owners to mitigate pollution for redevelopment and to market properties for redevelopment. They also work with cities on municipally owned properties, such as the two Wehadkee mills in Talladega.

“Contamination can be an issue if it’s real or if it’s perceived,” he explained. “A developer is usually willing to pay us a fee to review documents and studies to make sure than can protect their workers without having to pay more for cleanup than they need to. And they know it stops at the property line. If a contaminant spreads beyond that, then it is the original property owner’s responsibility to clean it up. Most of the time, it’s a lot cheaper and faster to redevelop an existing facility than it is to build a brand new one and get the infrastructure out to it.”

The state also offers revolving loan funds to cities for cleanup of Brownfield sites.

According to city planner Joel Wiggins, the 2009 project was anchored by Wehadkee and centered around the Battle Street corridor from Talladega College to the square. The current project will expand beyond that. Leslie Noble and Dave Koch of Terracon, the city’s consulting firm for both projects, explained that they would review historical records and documents during phase one and conduct sampling during phase two for cities that lack the expertise to do this sort of thing in house. Koch said he has been doing this since 1998, and cited the success of the small Iowa town he wrote his first grant for. Among other accomplishments, the town’s population grew by 50 percent after the cleanup was complete. He also said that what the cleanup and redevelopment really amounted to was a massive recycling project.

John Paradise of the Alabama Department of Revenue was the last speaker, explaining how tax incentives could be used to entice new industries in old buildings. All non-education related sales and use taxes can be abated during construction, and property taxes can be exempted for up to 20 years after the new facility opens.

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© 2012