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Oct. 7 - EPA "Brownfields" Assessment Grant for MLK/Montgomery Ave. corridor is topic of public meeting

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

October 7, 2015 – The City of Savannah’s Environmental Services & Sustainability Dept., led by Nick Deffley, held the first of two required public meetings to review the City’s plan to submit a grant application for a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Brownfield Assessment Grant” for the MLK/Montgomery Ave. corridor of Savannah.

The meeting, held at St. Luke’s Church off MLK Jr. Blvd., drew a turnout of 40 area residents, including environmental disparity activists from Savannah’s black community. 

The City applied for the grant last year, but was not successful, according to Keith Ziobron, Principal Engineer of Resolute Environmental & Water Resources Consulting, who joined Deffley in explaining the EPA's Brownfield program.  Only three people attended last year’s public session – public interest helps to strengthen an application, Ziobron explained.

A “brownfield” is an area with polluted soil, water or air.  Deffley said there is no information yet about any known polluted sites in this corridor, but based on known types of businesses that previously existed or are currently there, there is reason to believe that there may be sites that need to be cleaned up.

Ziobron, who is not a paid consultant by the City, spoke as a member of the Georgia Brownfield Association which has worked in other parts of the state, and is now moving its support and educational activities to Coastal communities, Deffley explained in an interview before the meeting got underway.

Last year’s grant application by the City did not include enough information on known “health outcomes” in the MLK/Montgomery Ave. corridor, which will be added to this year’s grant to improve the City’s chances of receiving $400,000 from the EPA to begin the assessment process.  The work will include data on owners of lots that are abandoned - some of those are now owned by the City - and some do not have clear title.  

On a map available for attendees to see, Deffley explained that the core “Brownfield” area that the City wants to study runs from the I-16 flyover area, south to Exchange Street, and West to the railroad tracks in the West Savannah neighborhoods of the City.  “But the area for assessment could be expanded,” he added.

The first grant is for $400,000 for the Assessment Phase.  This will allow funds to develop data on potentially polluted private and commercially zoned property, and offer to do testing.  The assessment will “probably focus on 10 primary sites,” he said, such as lots that had historic gas stations on them or drycleaners.

It will not be mandatory; property owners will be advised about potential brownfield status, though lists developed of potential sites will not be confidential.   

No information on the health issues already identified by the City was discussed. (The SBJ has filed an FOI for whatever data the City will file with the grant application.)  “We have data from the two hospitals and there is Census tract data available,” Deffley explained after the meeting. 

Ziobron said that the bederal Brownfield program has been in existence since 1990s, and has been utilized by cities and communities across the country “to effect positive change by quantifying environmental associated with under-utilized properties.” 

“Each dollar of EPA funding awarded has leveraged more than $17 in private investment,” Deffley stated, adding, “Successful community programs have seen property values increase 5% to 13%.”

Property owners can decline to have their property screened by an Assessment Committee that would be established to target inactive and blighted property. 

“You’re doing this for the protection of the environment.   If there is environmental problems, we want to get it out of this corridor,” he explained.  “The strongest piece is that we want to create economic development.”

“You’re trying to make the property attractive for development,” was the response by someone in the audience.   

He singled out The Majestic Cleaners location.  To our knowledge I don’t see it being active. It does fit in terms of a candidate.”

Bernita Lanier, who has been active in environmental disparity issues in Savannah for many years, asked questions about the process of informing the public.  “There is a level of trust when it is resident driven, versus heavy handed top down.”

Based on the history of the corridor, including a former textile mill, there is a reasonable level of belief that there are potentially a lot of the potential hazardout materials that are potentially out there,” Deffley reiterated.  

The Brownfield Assessment will discuss how the project will protect the health and welfare of the area’s residents, and focus on potential hazardous contaminants in two areas – fuels and gasoline and chemicals such as lead paint, heavy metals and chemicals.

If the first grant is awarded, the City can then apply for other successive grants to work on remediation if any is needed. There are also matching loans to help the property owner complete needed cleanup, or to be able to sell the property.  It’s this last part that had attendees concerned.

“People in this area don’t want to have to move,” said one woman. And, Alicia Blakely, who is a candidate for Alderman-at-Large, Post 2 and attended, spoke to the audience saying, “We are in charge of this. We are the majority.”  She also spoke about gentrification concerns of Savannah’s black community – that property improvements could lead to escalating property values, as is being experienced along Broughton Street. 

“We don’t want to cash out,” another person said.

Included in goals down the road – if successive grants are received - will be to look at Affordable Housing; Green Space; Community Health Centers and Healthy Food Options. All of these are issues in that corridor according to those in attendance.

Of course, the City could begin the process on its own with only the $400,000 price tag of the first grant award.  Deffley agreed that if that was completed, then the City might have the opportunity to get other grants, including the clean-up matching funds the EPA offers. 

If the first $400,000 grant is won, a bid will be issued for a consulting firm to manage the assessment phase, explained Deffley, and a normal bid award process will follow. 

The City’s Environmental Services and Sustainability Office

Ashley Helmholdt, previously with the City’s Community & Development department, has now joined Deffley’s department. She is working on the health data, and also participated. The Environmental Services and Sustainability Office provides services to create and maintain a healthy environment for citizens, provide operational cost savings through environmental compliance support, and promotes resource reduction policy and community engagement, including for water and solid waste management.  They are also responsible for developing and maintaining a comprehensive sustainability plan to guide compliance with City energy use and carbon equivalent reduction commitments; to assist with environmental compliance efforts in regulated activities of City operations; and to develop and implement community education, outreach, and forums for stakeholder engagement.

New Georgia Regulations Became Effective in 2014

On October 14, 2014, new and improved regulations for the Hazardous Site Response Act (“HSRA”) will became effective in Georgia. At the request of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, the Georgia Brownfield Association (GBA) was a stakeholder in the process to amend the HSRA regulations, and the GBA spoke in favor of these amendments at the DNR Board meeting held on August 26, 2014. 

“GBA believes these HSRA amendments will result in more efficient site clean ups and will further promote the redevelopment of brownfield properties around the State of Georgia.  GBA sees the HSRA amendments, coupled with the Georgia Brownfield Act revisions effective in July, as significant improvements and progress for Brownfield properties around the state,” according to the Association.

Here are some highlights of the new Georgia HSRA amendments:

1. Amendments Specific to Brownfield Properties

     a. Double reporting for Brownfield sites is eliminated.   HSRA notification is not required for a release to soil that is undergoing cleanup under the Brownfield program.  If a release has been reported to EPD by a prospective purchaser under a Brownfield application, a notification to EPD under HSRA is excluded.

     b. 90-day listing deferral can by requested.  HSRA rules now allow a petition to EPD to defer the listing of the property on the HSI for 90 days so that testing and corrective action can be performed.

     c. Delisting of Type 5 sites with a UEC.  If a Uniformed Environmental Covenant is placed on the property, the HSRA amendments now allow for a Type 5 site to be removed from the HSI.


2. Other HSRA Amendments

     a. No more delineation to background.  The amended HSRA regulations now require delineation of soil impacts to residential risk reduction standards, NOT to background.  In delineating soil, Type 1 or 2 RRS can be used.  For groundwater, delineation is the primary Maximum Contaminant Level (“MCL”).  If not available, then delineation is to the higher of:  secondary MCL, the detection limit, or background.

     b. MCL is the new notification for groundwater, not background.  HSRA now requires notification of groundwater impacts only if the MCL is met, not “naturally occurring background.”  If not the primary MCL is not available, then to the higher of:  secondary MCL, the detection limit, or background.

     c. Single publication required.  A single public notice for a CSR or a CAP is required in the legal organ (newspaper) of the local government.  The requirement to also publish in a major newspaper of general circulation has been eliminated.

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