BANGOR, Maine — The federal government has offered Bangor $400,000 to find out whether plots of land in the city are contaminated in order to clear the way for potential developments.
“This may be the first time we’ve ever received this funding,” and it should serve as a valuable economic development tool, said Jason Bird, community and economic development officer for the city.
In late-May, the Environmental Protection Agency announced $3.8 million in Brownfields Assessment Grant funding would be coming to Maine, divvied up among 10 communities and organizations. Bangor applied for its grant early this year.
“The bulk of it will be to issue a request for proposals for a qualified engineering consulting firm that does these environmental assessments and will be working with us not only to identify the properties, go through the eligibility pieces and help us with the reporting but also to physically do the testing,” Bird told the city’s Business and Economic Development Committee during a meeting Tuesday evening. The grant also will cover some city staff time.
Bangor would use the money for two phases of environmental tests. The first phase of testing typically costs $1,000-$5,000 depending on what the site has been used for in the past and the complexity of testing the site. The second-phase assessments can run about $30,000 or higher, according to Bird. There isn’t yet a list of properties that the city plans on testing.
“Properties can sit vacant for decades because potential developers are hesitant to spend that much money up front without knowing if their project will be viable or not,” Bird said. The findings of these tests could alleviate those concerns and spur hesitant developers, or it could give the city and developers an idea of what sort of cleanup investments would be needed to move a project forward.
Bangor city councilors will decide whether to accept the grant during their regular meeting on Monday, June 23.
Some councilors expressed concerns about the Brownfields program in the past, in large part because they worried that if the testing finds contamination, the city might be saddled with the cost of a cleanup regardless of whether development might happen.
The city’s economic development team has assured them that won’t be the case.
“Just because a site has been tested and found to have contamination, it does not mean that the EPA or Maine Department of Environmental Protection will enforce fines and penalties or require immediate cleanup,” Bird said. “This is a voluntary program where landowners are able to withdraw at any time.”