A year into a three-year grant-funded process of identifying, testing and qualifying Lake County commercial properties for hazardous materials cleanup and repurposing into housing or businesses, several sites are now in the second phase seeking public comment and community involvement.

Ginger Casto, regional director of South Central Oregon Economic Development District (SCOEDD), provided an update at the Wednesday, Oct. 16 Lake County Commissioners meeting regarding the Brownsfield Assessment Program, which has in its initial stages collaborated with six currently unused local properties.

To qualify as a Brownfields project property, sites must be pending transfer for repurposing into useful community assets from one owner to another. These sites may contain environmental hazards from the property’s previous use, such as the presence of pollutants or contaminants resulting from previous sites of gas stations, repair shops, warehouses, industrial facilities, landfills and dry cleaning operations.

Engineers and consultants have completed testing on the Alger Theater, the Lakeview mortuary building, Lakeview Lumber, the Carlon Mill in Paisley, the Fremont Mill and Lakeview Lockers. Phase 1 identifies the projects and Phase 2 encourages public comment. Of these, all are in Phase 2 of the Brownfields process, except Lakeview Lockers which remains in Phase 1.

“One of the biggest qualifiers is that the property is moving from one owner to another for one purpose to another,” said Casto. “For instance, the Lakeview Lumber Mill site, the Carlon Mill in Paisley – those owners are wanting to sell. It is likely that those property owners might have difficulty moving it on because investors and banks on those industrial properties are asking for at least a Phase 1 Brownfields test study done before they agree to a loan. It’s sort of like a house inspection when purchasing a new home, you want to know what’s there before you invest in the whole thing.”

The Brownfield Program, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), works with property owners to study sites for potential environmental hazards such as soil contamination or chemicals present in groundwater. If potentially hazardous materials are discovered, the EPA will work with property owners to determine best methods for site cleanup.

“The Brownfield Project is not just about clean up of hazardous materials and petroleum, they are also involved in planning after the fact,” said Casto. “Unused sites could be used for things like a new grocery store, or more housing. I am excited that we are getting to this point, now we are at the point where the community can get involved.”

The EPA defines Brownfield properties as those with hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants, which may complicate redevelopment or reuse. EPA estimates there are 450,000 brownfield sites in the United States. Clean-up and reinvesting serves to take pressure off under-developed open land, utilizes existing infrastructure, facilitates job growth, increases local tax bases and protects the environment.

“The EPA is pretty helpful in helping plan after the Phase 1 and Phase 2 are done, about what next steps would be for them to cleanup,” added Casto. “Sometimes they have loan programs to assist with that, it just depends on what is found and the potential price tag. Every property is on a case-by-case basis. We got two grants; one was for petroleum products to test, and the other was for hazardous substances, because of the types of industry that we had going on here.”

“We have the low hanging fruit for our first group, there are other properties I feel would qualify but the owners have chosen not to participate in the program,” added Casto. “Maybe as time goes on and they see how the process goes, they will feel more comfortable.”

Community meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5 at noon at the Paisley Community Center, and in Lakeview at 5 p.m. the same day at the Commissioners meeting room at the Lake County Courthouse to discuss projects and brainstorm ideas. Lunch will be served at the Paisley meeting.

For more information about the Project contact SCOEDD at 541-947-6013.

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