New Rules Impede Efforts to Clean Up Brownfields
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Four local sites are undergoing environmental assessments under the Clean Ohio program, but local officials are concerned that funding remediation at the sites will be more difficult under rules now in place for the program.
The new rules have eliminated the development-ready track for the program, leaving in place a track providing funds to remediate sites with an end user identified for a property, said Dan Mamula, manager of the Mahoning River Corridor Initiative.
“That might work in some places but there are certain areas of the state that doesn’t work because of the number of brownfields and the size of those brownfields,” Mamula said Monday at the general policy board meeting for the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
“We have thousands of acres of brownfields and we’ve been addressing them, but one of the problems we have is that we don’t always have an end user,” he continued. Under the development-ready track, sites that were identified as having potential for future development could receive funding. But no more.
Under Gov. John R. Kasich's administration, the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund is focused on “attracting known end-users to assess and remediate sites for potential job creation,” which is the “highest and best use” for this type of state investment, said Stephanie Gostomski, public information office for the Ohio Development Services Agency.
“Job creation on the site is the only way the site can truly provide a return on the state’s investment,” she said. “The Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund has always prioritized known end user projects.”
The Mahoning Valley has four sites that received funds for Phase II assessments under the old guidelines, prior to Clean Ohio being moved into JobsOhio, the public-private economic development agency formed by the General Assembly under Kasich. To get funds for remediation, however, will require having an end-user for the sites, which total more than 160 acres, Mamula said.
“In one case we may be able to do that,” but finding an end-user might not be as easy for the other sites, he said. He argued that the changes aren’t consistent with the spirit of Clean Ohio, “the original concept of how to deal with heavily impacted brownfield sites.”
ProgressOhio, a liberal interest group, filed a lawsuit questioning the legality of JobsOhio, and the state Supreme Court recently agreed to review whether it has proper standing in the case.
Among the local sites undergoing Phase II assessments is the 67-acre former US Steel property along the Mahoning River in McDonald. Nearly a year ago the village was awarded a $291,649 grant for the Phase II assessment.
“Before you knew what was going to happen under the old Clean Ohio rules,” said Mayor Glenn Holmes, who took office Monday as chairman of Eastgate’s general policy board. Without a specified end-user for the site, funding for cleanup is “tenuous.” But with the oil and gas industry coming into the region it is important to be proactive, he said.
“There’s a lot of inquiries” but “we don’t have a solid lead,” Holmes reported.
“We’re not quite sure how [the new rules] are going to impact us -- it eaves us up in the air,” he said.
Other Mahoning Valley sites undergoing Phase II assessments are in Youngstown, Warren and Niles.
Sites undergoing Clean Ohio-funded Phase II assessments are eligible to apply for project remediation once those assessments are complete, Gostomski said. “As per past policies, every time an applicant applies they are subject to the standing policies as of the date of the application,” she said.
After more than $1.5 million has been spent on Phase II assessments for the sites, Mamula said it was “ludicrous” not to grandfather them.
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