The Impact Of EPA Budget Cuts On Pulaski
President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, as the White House seeks to eliminate climate change programs and trim initiatives to protect air and water quality.
The EPA would sustain the biggest cut of any federal agency in the White House 2018 budget, as President Trump seeks to clear away regulations he claims are hobbling U.S. oil drillers, coal miners, and farmers.
The proposed cuts are a starting point, and Congress could temper them in its budget deliberations. But those deliberations have yet to begin.
The President’s proposal would slash funding for enforcing regulations, fighting water pollution, cleaning up sites contaminated by toxic waste, called Brownfields. (More on Brownfields, particularly OUR Brownfields below.)
Environmentalists blasted the plan, saying it would return America back to 1977 when smoggy skies and polluted rivers pushed lawmakers to strengthen federal clean air and clean water laws. President Trump’s proposed budget would harm the EPA’s ability to respond to environmental emergencies and also hurt day-to-day efforts on keeping air and water clean to protect human health.
These are cuts and policies that will impact Pulaski in many ways, but a great concern to me is the possibility of EPA cutting Brownfields Grants. These Grants have and are continuing to drive the economic upswing of the Town of Pulaski and are improving the quality of life for us who live here, for those who visit, and our children who will inherit our town.
What is a Brownfield, Where are Ours, And Why Should I Care?
A Brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases the local tax base, furthers job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improves and protects the environment.
A Bit Of History.
Pulaski was a late 19th century manufacturing center noted for heavy industry and manufacturing, first, foundries then primarily textiles and furniture. As employers faced pressures from competition, these industries moved, consolidated, or closed. The Town was left with over a dozen abandoned and deteriorated sites that total almost 60 acres. Storm water from these sites pose threats to Peak Creek, a tributary of the New River, that flows through Town. These sites were not contributing to the tax base of the Town and were becoming hazardous to the quality of life in the Town and County as left over pollutants and contaminates filtered into the air, the land, and Peak Creek and then flowing into Claytor lake and on into the New River.
In 2008 Draper Aden Associates was awarded a contract by the Town to begin the process of evaluating existing Brownfields sites for reuse as public facilities and/or for redevelopment as viable residential, commercial, industrial or mixed-use properties.
The Town of Pulaski, along with its Economic Development Board, working with Draper Aden Associates’ guidance went through the complicated application process and applied for our first Brownfield Grant in 2008.
As a member of the Economic Development Board and The Brownfields Task Force, I and the other members, crossed our fingers, smudged our work rooms, said our prayers, held our breaths, and waited until the grants awards were announced in Spring 2009. Against the odds, we were successful. We applied again in 2013, and once again we were successful.
We have received two $200,000 EPA Assessment grants (no local $$ match), one in 2008 and one in 2014. Assessment grants provide funding for a grant recipient to inventory, characterize, assess, and conduct planning and community involvement related to Brownfields sites. These grants have allowed us to assess sites contaminated by hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.
The purpose is to lower the level of anxiety a potential buyer might have about purchasing a suspected old building or site, thus stimulating investment in those site. These funds leverage public investment. For example, without the assessment and remediation activities it would have been more difficult for SHAH to purchase and re purpose the Dunnivant Building.
The grant allows to us test with Phase I and II environmental assessments.
Phase I researches background information and determines the historical use of the property through records review and visual site inspections to determine the possibility of contamination. Phase II involves actual physical sampling and scientific analysis of soil, air, groundwater and/or building materials to determine contamination.
The First Grant focused on the south side with assessments for Jefferson School, the Hill Plant (now purchased by the Pulaski County Industrial Development Authority), buildings on Main Street (now purchased by West Main Development), and the Dalton Building (now owned by Shah Development).
The Second Grant focused on First Street, based upon the Redevelopment Study of David Gall.
We have used these funds to assist in the acquisition of the former Virginia Church Furniture buildings (Shah Development), the Virginia Wood Products Building (demolished to make way for parking at the Jackson Park Inn), the former Dunnivant Building (now the Jackson Park Inn), testing at the Iron Bridge (with work by the Friends of Peak Creek (FOPC), and, of course, testing at the General Chemical Foundry (GCC) site.
In the meantime we have built on the Peak Creek Corridor Study and leveraged EPA funds to apply for funds from the Virginia Brownfields Assessment Fund (VBAF). Through this process, we received four additional grants that have allowed us to expand testing and even remediation. It is VBAF whose funds allow us to clean up the former General Chemical Foundry site contaminated by lead. Most of the $240,000 match has already been satisfied with only about $55K needed. That funding is in the Town’s 2018 budget.
Our success is based on plans (Gall and the Peak Creek Corridor) and in securing investors. In addition, we have applied for an additional assessment grant — this time of $300,000 to focus on areas along East Main and Third Street. If we are fortunate enough to receive this third EPA Assessment Grant, we will be able to expand our reach to include major areas of the Downtown heading toward additional funding opportunities through the Virginia Enterprise Zone program and the Department of Housing and Community Development.
We have assisted in the elimination of blight (VA Church Furniture and the Wood Products Building), and will have eliminated a health concern at the GCC site and will have primed that area for redevelopment.
That’s not counting any additional tax revenue and jobs created. The Hill Plant is no longer empty. The Dunnivant Building (now the Jackson Park Inn) has received private investment of over $4MM and employment, meals, and lodging revenues add to the Town’s competitiveness. West Main Development, LLC has let bids on 94 and 85-89 W. Main Street. That entity will bring almost $1 MM to Main Street. The Dalton Building’s future is secure
Plans are unfolding.