Leaders gather to discuss Brownfields

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Local officials from around the Valley gathered on Friday, April 7 to listen to a program provided by Community Builders of Colorado. Representatives from the non-profit organization took turns offering an educational program to the attending crowd and helped answer questions from local real estate agents and property owners wanting to revitalize or reuse their old abandoned buildings throughout the Valley.

The definition of Brownfields is as follows “a term used in urban planning to describe land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses. Such land may have been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution or is feared to be so.” Several areas around the Valley have old industrial buildings or property that fall under the definition of a Brownfields site and hopes are to use them for future projects.

The presentation began with Project Manager Spencer Bollacker with Community Builders who explained the basis behind the program. Bollacker began by explaining that many people, when looking for a place to visit or even reside, look for what he referred to as “walkable places.” The term loosely refers to areas where people can walk to look at storefronts, artistic areas of interest, entertainment like theaters and other businesses that can occupy time and increase interest.

He continued to show the attending crowd how Brownfields sites can be used to make “walkable” locations and showed some success stories from other Colorado communities like downtown Rifle, where an old building was turned into a live theatre and revitalized the town. Through the Colorado Brownfields Partnership, the town was able to gain funding to help with the project as well as help with the cleanup of potentially dangerous material or chemicals from the previous occupants of the building.

“The program helps create self-sustaining areas of entertainment, parks or other walkable areas that boost the economy,” stated Bollacker. He then introduced the next presenter, Jesse Silverstein, senior economist with Community Builders.

Silverstein started the conversation off with pointing out that many people see Brownfields sites all the time and may not realize they are even there. “Most sites are from what we call legacy industries where dangerous chemicals were used in the past,” began Silverstein.

Silverstein continued by asking the attending crowd if they thought Brownfields sites were considered superfund sites by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Silverstein responded to the answers by stating, “no, they are not usually deemed superfund sites by the EPA.” The presentation then went into explanation of what the program could do to help clean up the possible site and the procedures they would take to ensure future safety after the removal of potentially dangerous materials.

“Brownfields sites are usually not dangerous; they just need cleaned up and revitalized so that they can be used for other things in the future,” Silverstein continued. He also provided links to the group for possible grants that could help fund certain projects and gave a brief outline of the time frame it takes to apply for funding. “You can make a place safe without extensive amounts of money, thanks to recent scientific advancements in this day and age.”

Several area officials and business owners were pleased to learn that under the Voluntary Redevelopment Act, there could potentially be up to $525,000 in tax credit if they were to use grant funding to help with a cleanup project. The Colorado Department of Public Health also provides tools to help with any potential Brownfields sites; the attending crowd was urged to look into funding options that were available. For more information or a list of links, visit www.communitybuilders.org.



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