DALLAS -- Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the City of Austin for receiving $400,000 in grants to assess up to 20 blighted properties and fuel redevelopment and revitalization. These properties, called brownfield sites, are abandoned or under-utilized properties where reusing the land potentially has been complicated by previous use of hazardous chemicals, pollutants or contaminants.
“This funding is a major win for Austin,” said Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. “In addition to reducing public exposure to hazardous materials, these grants will be a catalyst for economic development, job creation, and neighborhood sustainability and beautification in areas that need it most.”
The grant funds will be considered for City Council approval through the City’s fiscal year 2015 budget process. Property assessments will begin in fall 2014, focusing on sites to be redeveloped as affordable housing, transit-oriented developments, parks, community gardens and commercial business, in alignment with the City’s Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. All assessments will be complete by 2017. Austin and Houston are the only cities in the EPA’s five-state region to receive these grants.
“Sustainability becomes increasingly important to cities as they grow and as they adapt to impacts of climate change,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “The grants help revitalize abandoned properties and hopefully attract green development that further benefits the community.”
The City received a $200,000 grant to assess potential sources of petroleum, such as gas stations and businesses with storage tanks, and a $200,000 grant to assess sites that may be contaminated with other hazardous materials, such as, asbestos, lead-based paint, hazardous chemicals, mine-scarred lands, and drug labs.
Two phases of assessment are involved: Phase I identifies environmental concerns, and Phase II investigates the identified concerns to determine if the property is impacted by contaminants. Austin Resource Recovery plans to apply for additional funding in fall 2014 to help with the cleanup of the properties identified during the assessment phases.
“The ultimate goal of brownfield redevelopment is to ensure sustained livability within the Austin community into the future,” said Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert. “We will work with residents, nonprofits, the business community and other City departments to identify sites that can be redeveloped into community-serving assets.”
The City will hold community meetings to engage stakeholders during the assessment, cleanup and redevelopment process. Nonprofits and local government entities can apply for a property assessment at www.austintexas.gov/brownfields, and may apply on behalf of a private developer if a redevelopment is of community benefit.
The City’s Brownfields Revitalization Office partners with the community to bring projects to fruition. For example, the Guadalupe-Saldaña Net Zero Subdivision was built on a former brownfield site. Due to illegal dumping for many years, the site was littered with household and construction debris, rebar, hundreds of tires and vehicle battery casings. The City worked with community members, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA to remediate the site, which is now an energy-efficient affordable housing community. Other examples of former Austin brownfield sites include The African American Heritage Cultural Center, Mabel Davis Skate Park, the Homewood Heights Community Garden, and El Sapo, a restaurant located on Manor Road.
Nationwide, 171 communities will receive EPA grants totaling $67 million in brownfield funding to clean and redevelop contaminated properties, boost local economies and leverage jobs while protecting public health and the environment.
For more information about the grants, the public engagement process, or to sign up for email updates about the City’s brownfield program, visit www.austintexas.gov/brownfields.