GARDINER — Maine communities and organizations have received more than $24.2 million in federal funds to help assess and clean up contaminated and degraded sites for future development.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding is part of the $1.5 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Act approved in November 2021 and designed to invest in infrastructure across the United States.
A number of communities, including Gardiner and Waterville in Kennebec County, each receive $500,000 in Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup Grants to address contaminated sites, known as brownfields, in those communities.
The EPA has also provided grants from its Revolving Loan Fund that allow communities and organizations to provide loans or sub-grants to clean up brownfields. When the loans are repaid, according to EPA officials, the loan amount is returned to the fund and made available to other borrowers.
Tracey Desjardins, director of economic and community development at Gardiner, said that when applying for funds, communities need to identify areas to target for assessment.
Gardiner has been home to industry for over two centuries, which has resulted in industrial pollution, particularly along the banks of the Cobbosseecontee Stream. The EPA has identified more than a dozen brownfield sites across the city, according to an agency database.
City officials have identified the Cobbossee Corridor as a target for development in the city and the funds are expected to support the continuation of work that city officials have started on the TW Dick site on Summer Street, which has been redeveloped into housing for labor and commercial use.
“It will be funds if someone is interested in buying a property (these appraisal funds) are a good way to find out what’s on the site,” she said.
Normally, she says, the grants are smaller and not all the communities that apply for the funding have received it.
“It’s a pretty cool thing for Gardiner to pull off,” she said. “We didn’t get any last year.”
Evidence of industrial contaminants continues to emerge even though the source of the contamination may have stopped decades ago.
More recently, workers digging dirt for the Bridge Street Bridge Replacement Project found industrial pollutants in 2019, prompting the state Department of Environmental Protection to step in and clean up the contaminated materials.
By the end of the cleanup project, DEP had removed 3,700 tons of soil contaminated with No. 6 Residual Oil, the type of fuel that was used in the right-of-way furnaces and boilers under Bridge Street and a site just upstream. from the bridge.
Among the suspected sources of contamination was the former Gardiner shoe factory, which operated for decades on Water Street, just up the Bridge Street bridge.
If developers are interested in potential brownfield sites, Desjardins said, funding would be available to determine whether remedial action would be needed.
“We would be able to promote that to people, that if people are interested in buying a property, that’s a good way to find out what’s on the site and whether there’s there will be problems.”
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