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Senator Mike Crapo's Column - Cleanup, Redevelopment and Jobs

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For years, the Linen Building at the northwest corner of 14th and Grove Streets in Boise was vacant due to concerns about contamination stemming from its historic uses involving commercial laundry, fuel storage and cleaning solvent storage. This historic property, in the heart of Boise's downtown, was cleaned up, redeveloped and now houses businesses, an event center, an art gallery and a parking area. The Environmental Council of the States reported that development of the Linen Building led to the purchase and development of more than 60 percent of the buildings, most of which were formerly vacant, in this area and the formation of the six-block Linen District.

Similarly, lead and asbestos contamination was removed from the 120-year-old former Albion State Normal School teacher's college providing for its redevelopment into a convention center, family reunion retreat, day camping, RV parking, recreation and special events center. Twenty people are employed on this property that sat vacant for more than 50 years, and its value has more than doubled.

With assistance provided through the Brownfields Program these sites are being revitalized, enabling their redevelopment and use. Prior to their restoration, these properties were like the 450,000 properties across the country identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as brownfields. A brownfield is defined by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality as a vacant or underutilized property where redevelopment or reuse is complicated by actual or perceived environmental contamination. These sites may include former gas stations, mine sites, timber mill sites, bulk fuel storage and distribution sites, and landfills. Even when Brownfields do not pose a threat to human health, the mere perception of contamination can discourage redevelopment.

The Brownfields Program provides assistance to clean up any contamination and prepare the site for redevelopment. Working with property owners and communities to clean contaminated sites to enable business and job growth is a step in the right direction toward achieving progress and furthering job opportunities. Since the program began, the Brownfields Program has been credited with assessing more than 20,000 properties and creating more than 86,000 jobs nationwide.

That is why I joined Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) in introducing bipartisan legislation to modernize and improve key elements of the EPA's Brownfields Program. The "Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013" would improve the existing grant process by increasing the limit for cleanup grants and expanding grant eligibility for certain publicly owned sites and non-profit organizations. The bill would authorize EPA to make multi-purpose grants, which provide greater certainty for long-term project financing. In addition, the legislation identifies opportunities for waterfront properties and brownfield sites appropriate for clean energy development, allows grant recipients to collect administrative costs, and provides technical assistance to small, rural and disadvantaged communities. Finally, the bill would reauthorize the program at current levels through Fiscal Year 2016.

There are currently 224 brownfield eligible sites in Idaho alone. The best way to grow jobs on these properties is by working together in a timely manner to clean up and redevelop the properties. I will continue to work with my colleagues toward advancing this legislation that can help more Idaho communities redevelop properties into productive businesses.


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