The City of Chadron is currently looking into grant funding through the Environmental Protection Agency to assist with properties that require removal of certain materials prior to development, more commonly known as “Brownfields.”
City Manager John Sutherland explained Brownfields are properties which have been contaminated in one way or another with hazardous materials. “There was a lot of prominence back in the 1990s,” he said, “over leaky undergrounds storage tanks.” In particular, he added, this occurred with gas stations and properties that were abandoned.
“Those kinds of properties, in a lot of cases, become barriers to economic development because people won’t touch them. It’s going to cost them money to clean up the hazardous spill. Petroleum, for instance. In the case of leaking underground storage tanks gasoline has migrated into the soil.”
Sutherland recalled there were a couple such properties on the Main Street of Lamar, Colo., the last community he served in. One was abandoned for a few decades. “Nobody would touch it because they knew it was riddled with asbestos. It was a prime development corner, but it just sat there and got uglier and uglier.”
As for the Brownfields that need addressed in Chadron, Sutherland said the list isn’t set, and part of the pursued grant is doing necessary records checks and preliminary site inspections to identify potential Brownfield sites. From there, owners will be contacted and their cooperation sought to clean up sites when the money will be available.
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Sutherland further explained, “One of the things that happens with the grant is the funding is there for researchers to look at records — property records, property transfer records and so forth — and see what kind of activities existed at one time.” Among these, he said, are old railroad properties, junkyards and landfills that may have transitioned and now have buildings on top of them.
“We have a couple properties on the top of our list,” Sutherland said, including the old Chadron hospital and three lots on Maple Street vacated by the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT). The Brownfields movement in Chadron happened as a result of the Panhandle Area Development District’s study in relation to the hospital property.
The City hired the services of Ayres and Associates to assist in writing the grant application for the study, Sutherland said. Once the study is done, it opens the door to the next step in the process, which is securing grant funding to do the remediation.
Sutherland noted the grant is a rolling award provided when the federal government has the money for it, and the maximum amount was recently increased to $500,000. “You could get a lot of work done with that.” But even though it’s a lot of money, the investigative and community engagement pieces are extensive and will take some time.
“It’s not something where all of a sudden we’ve got a grant and everybody expects magic is going to happen. Remember, this is government so it grinds along at its own pace. You have to assemble all the data and all the information. Then you make a pitch, based on the community engagement and what [a lot] could be developed as, for the next grant award.”
Though the former library was at one point considered a spot for the Chadron Public Library, another idea is to use it for residential property.