Bangor to apply for $400,000 EPA contamination testing grant that worries some councilors

Posted Jan. 13, 2014, at 10:20 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council on Monday gave its city manager permission to apply for a federal grant to test potential development sites for contamination, but the proposal has some councilors worried a federal agency might clamp down on the city based on what those checks reveal.

The city will apply for a $400,000 grant through the Environmental Protection Agency, which would give the city funding to implement a brownfields assessment program. The city would use that money to test municipal or privately owned sites, which could spur redevelopment of underused properties.

“It’s really an economic development tool from our perspective,” Jason Bird, business development officer for the city, said during a recent committee meeting about the proposal. Bird said such testing would be done on a volunteer basis as a means of giving potential developers a glimpse of how much work would be needed to prepare a site for development.

Councilors were hesitant.

“My big concern is letting an agency of their stature and power into our little nest,” said Councilor Jamie Gallant during the committee meeting.

Gallant and Councilor David Nealley were outspoken in their concerns about what the grant might lead to — EPA cleanup mandates and fines. They said that if this voluntary testing reveals contamination, the EPA might direct the city to clean it up, possibly without offering the city any funding mechanism to pay for it.

Bird said the voluntary testing could lead to other grants down the road for cleanup phases of projects. He also said the EPA likely would work with the city on a manageable timetable if cleanup is needed.

“I’m a little concerned about going down this road and finding a half dozen or dozen places that [the EPA wants] now to see certain actions on certain timetables and we don’t have the dollars available, nor do they,” Nealley said.

During Monday night’s council meeting, the question of whether or not to apply for the grant passed on the consent agenda without discussion. But the questions and concerns likely will resurface if the city’s grant application is approved. Councilors will revisit the grant if it is approved to determine whether to accept it — or how to administer it without drawing the ire of the EPA.

Also during that meeting, the council:

• Approved a new 10-year lease with the Transportation Security Administration for screening and passenger security at the airport. The group leases a 3,185-square-foot office space and 30 parking spots for employees. The terms of the lease are unchanged, but will be adjusted for inflation.

• Authorized a $331,860 bid to Otis Elevator Co. to refurbish the escalator in the Bangor International Airport terminal as an early step in the airport’s $8 million terminal renovation project. Otis was the only bidder. The airport’s escalator set is one of three in the city — the others being at Macy’s and the Cross Insurance Center.

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