BELFAST, Maine — The community has won $400,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help assess potentially toxic land within city limits.
The money cannot be used for actual cleanup of contaminated sites if any are identified, according to Thomas Kittredge, the economic director of Belfast.
But the city plans to work with private property owners to have their land assessed to identify sites containing hazardous substances and petroleum products.
According to the city’s application to the EPA, Belfast has “more than 100 potential brownfield sites within city limits.” About 20 of them are on the waterfront, which is the city’s focus for the funding.
In fact, only 10 brownfields in Belfast are listed on the Maine DEP website. But Kittredge provided a separate DEP list of potential sites, which may not have been fully evaluated, designating more than 100 locations, including Belfast High School, Bank of America’s childhood development center, YMCA, Rite Aid, the library and the post office.
Private property owners might not want to test their land to see if it has been contaminated, for fear of it in fact containing toxic substances that then have to be cleaned up, Kittredge said. He expects this to be a challenge for Belfast. He said property owners can be afraid of contaminated land as much as children fear the bogeyman. The city will have public forums starting in a couple months to see what interest there is to use the grant funds to assess sites.
The city would like to assess properties as quickly as possible starting this fall.
“There is no reason to sit on this money,” Kittredge said.
Kittredge doesn’t think it will take long to go through the $400,000 grant because one potential brownfield alone could cost up to $100,000 to fully evaluate.
With the grant money, the city will hire an engineer. Once private property owners volunteer to have their land evaluated, that engineer will begin to look through historic records to learn if there is reason to think the property is contaminated. Then, if there is reason to go on, the engineer might take soil samples and do lab work. The engineer will then tell the property owner what his or her options are and how much fixing the problem might cost.
According to a recent EPA press release, the federal agency has awarded about $12.5 million in brownfields grants to New England communities to assess, clean up and redevelop abandoned or contaminated properties.
Among other grant recipients in Maine are: $400,000 for the City of Augusta (2 cleanup grants, American Tissue site); $200,000 for the Town of Canton (cleanup grant, former Brindis Leather Co. Mill and Whitney Brook Dam); $400,000 for Greater Portland Council of Governments (communitywide assessment grant); $1 million for Kennebec Valley Council of Governments (revolving loan fund for communitywide work); and $550,000 for Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission (communitywide revolving loan fund supplemental funding).