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Brownfield assessments done at 4 Norwalk sites

Cary Ashby • Mar 13, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Norwalk city council recently received an update from public works director Josh Snyder about the brownfield site work in the city.

Snyder said the targeted properties are unused/vacant and underused buildings and the goal is for the structures to get their “highest and best use.” Additionally, once the assessments are done, the engineer said a potential buyer will have “the peace of mind” that many lenders require.

A city consultant performed assessments at four Norwalk sites: Norwalk Bargain Center, 499 U.S. 250; Price family property, 115-117 Jefferson St.; Emerald FX, 502 Industrial Parkway; and the former Clark gas station, 78 Benedict Ave. 

“These assessments were done throughout different times in 2018,” Snyder said.

The consultant performed a Phase I environmental site assessment at all four properties. Snyder said that type of assessment doesn’t require access to the building and involves going through aerial photographs and ownership records. 

“Phase I is the most cursory,” the engineer added.

There was a Phase II environmental site assessment at Emerald FX and the former Clark gas station. That involves digging into the ground, drilling, etc. and looking for possible contaminants. There also was a tank removal at the gas station. Phase II requires permission from the property owners.

Snyder said Norwalk is looking into having assessments done at the former fire station, 42 Whittlesey Ave., and and the PIPO building, 75 Ontario St. 

Also during 2018, the consultant performed a hazardous materials assessment at the Norwalk Bargain Center. That process involves identifying the material in a building.

In late 2017, Norwalk was one of 172 communities and organizations across the country selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for brownfield site revitalization. The city received a $300,000 grant. Snyder said the assessments were authorized for 2018.

When asked to define a brownfield, the city engineer said it’s “an industrial or commercial site that may need environmental remediation” and where there may be some environmental contamination.

“The sister word is greenfield, which is a virgin field,” Snyder said, referring to farm land or unused property. 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in a prepared statement, has said the agency “is committed to working with communities to redevelop brownfields sites which have plagued their neighborhoods.”

“(The) EPA’s assessment and clean-up grants target communities that are economically disadvantaged and include places where environmental clean-up and new jobs are most needed,” he added. “These grants leverage considerable infrastructure and other investments, improving local economies and creating an environment where jobs can grow. I am very pleased the president’s budget recognizes the importance of these grants by providing continued funding for this important program.”

Previous EPA brownfields grants to Norwalk funded assessments for several sites, including the former Home Lumber property, 108 Whittlesey Ave. The new fire station is there now. 

Studies have shown that residential property values near brownfield sites that are cleaned up increased between five and 15 percent and can increase property values in a 1.24-mile radius of that site.

As of 2017, a study analyzing data near 48 brownfield sites showed an estimated $29 to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after being cleaned up.

That is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to those brownfields.

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