NCC talks to Bethlehem about Brownfields application



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Bethlehem and other regional towns may be the beneficiary of additional Brownfields funding. Although the North Country Council has yet to formally name sites, this location on Pleasant Street is on the minds of staff. Damage from a fire several years ago is still evident. An assessment of the conditions at locations in Bethlehem may be funded from Brownfields grant monies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Darin Wipperman/The Littleton Courier. (click for larger version)
November 14, 2012
BETHLEHEM — The North Country Council (NCC) reached out to the town recently on possible new Brownfields funding. At the Nov. 5 Board of Selectmen meeting, the town expressed an interest in new grant funds that would assess potential hazardous waste sites in Bethlehem.

The term Brownfields has existed for two decades. Abandoned sites with possible hazardous materials can be added to Brownfields lists, making them eligible for federal assessment and clean-up funds.

Michelle Moren-Grey addressed the board about the grant application. She said that the NCC is doing research on the need for further Brownfields funding in Bethlehem. Moren-Grey specifically mentioned the building on Pleasant Street that was severely damaged by fire several years ago.

"I think we can show the need," Moren-Grey said to the board members. She hopes to discuss possible sites with various town departments. The grant application, due November 19, is for $200,000 of federal funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Moren-Grey said that a Brownfields assessment is the first phase of the process. This would be similar to the assessment that was completed at the Maplehurst site in April 2008. That site had a range of hazardous materials concerns. This led to the very delicate demolition process that was completed earlier this year.

Jack Anderson, Bethlehem's Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director, appreciates NCC's interest in other potential Brownfields. The assessment phase is important, he said, because sites must first "be recognized as a distressed property."

The demolition of the Maplehurst Hotel was the town's most recent experience with such funds. Anderson noted that the $400,000 grant financed the effort to bring down and remove the old eyesore. The new town library will grace the site next year.

Later in the week, Moren-Grey said that she was happy that town officials support the grant application. She was promised a letter of support from the board that will be included in the application. Regarding town officials, Moren-Grey said, "They were open and excited to meet with me."

NCC is very interested in identifying and cleaning up Brownfields sites. She said that "driving through our region," staff looks for "classic signs of a Brownfield." This includes vacant sites, like old service stations. These locations may still have storage tanks that are decades old, Moren-Grey said.

Additionally, there may be aesthetic or safety issues with old structures and hazardous waste. As an example, "an abandoned building next to a school is not an ideal situation," Moren-Grey said.

In the NCC's annual plan, the devotion to Brownfields work is apparent. The report notes that a potential regional Brownfields inventory has been growing. The NCC has also "distributed outreach material to communities throughout the region," the report said.

NCC is interested in working with North Country leaders and residents to identify possible Brownfield sites. Long-time town residents can be very helpful to NCC's efforts. The NCC would be happy to get input from people about "any property that has a potential history of contamination," Moren-Grey said.

Cleaning up sites can be crucial to NCC's focus on economic development in towns, Moren-Grey continued. She hopes that the latest grant and future work leads NCC to assist towns "put some of these properties back on the tax rolls." Rehabilitation and development of old sites can increase economic activity throughout the North Country, Moren-Grey suggested.

Anderson noted that the Pleasant Street site in Bethlehem has been through bankruptcy and tax liens. The town has yet to take possession of the property, he said.

Any funds received from the latest Brownfields assessment effort may be used throughout the region. Moren-Grey hopes that the funding will be received, which would allow NCC and towns to advance the mutual goal of economic revitalization.

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