The Town of Altavista has been selected to receive a grant of $300,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a Brownfields cleanup program. The news came initially from a press release by the EPA, announcing that six Virginia communities had been selected for the grants “to assess and clean up contaminated properties under the agency’s Brownfields program.”

EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio explained, “These grants will help communities in need transform contaminated sites into community assets that not only create jobs and jumpstart economic development, but also improve public health and the environment. These funds are going to areas that need them the most. Several of the selected recipients are receiving Brownfields grants for the first time or targeted to areas within Opportunity Zones.”

A Brownfield, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a property that has been used in the past for industrial or commercial purposes and which is limited or unavailable for redevelopment because of existing or potential environmental problems. These problems include pollution, contamination, and hazardous materials.

Altavista Town manager Waverly Coggsdale clarified that the grant “is for assessment of different properties that have environmental concerns that keep them from being developed.”

Altavista’s grant is focused on assessment, and per the EPA, “assessment activities will focus on the town’s downtown district and an adjacent former industrial district. Priority sites include the Lane Furniture Plant and the English Alley Triangle.”

Coggsdale reported that the town would be working with international firm Cardno’s Ashland, VA Office to complete the assessment, develop a plan, and remediate the properties. “The goal is to get them to the point where they could be redeveloped,” he elucidated.

The global firm Cardno provides environment, infrastructure, and international development solutions and is headquartered in Brisbane, Australia.

The Lane Company’s Altavista plant has been closed since 2001, and while parts have been repurposed by other industries and businesses, some parts of the property remain vacant. English Alley is the small lane a block to the southeast of Main Street, between Broad Street and Campbell Avenue. There had been some petroleum storage in that area, Coggsdale noted, so there is a risk of ground contamination. He added that some other Brownfield areas in town might be included in the assessment.

According to the EPA, “Grants awarded by EPA’s Brownfields Program provide communities across the country with an opportunity to transform contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and achieve broader economic development outcomes, while taking advantage of existing infrastructure. For example, brownfields grants are shown to:

“Increase Local Tax Revenue: A study of 48 brownfields sites found that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional local tax revenue was generated in a single year after cleanup. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of these sites.

“Increase Residential Property Values: Another study found that property values of homes near revitalized brownfields sites increased between 5 and 15 percent following cleanup.”

Congressman Morgan Griffith (VA-09) observed, “Cleaning up and redeveloping old industrial sites can be an enormous challenge for local governments. The EPA’s Brownfields program offers vital assistance in getting the job done. The grants awarded today are a significant investment in our region’s environmental renewal and economic opportunity.”

A total of $1.7 million will go to the six municipalities around the Commonwealth. The other five (in addition to Altavista) include Bristol, Jonesville, Pulaski, Saltville, and Waynesboro. On the national scale, $65.6 million will go to brownfield projects in 151 communities.