STERLING – After years of unsuccessfully chasing an EPA assessment grant for the Lawrence Brothers site, the city has turned its attention to finding money for cleanup.
The city had applied for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Assessment Grant every year since 2011, but finally decided to take matters into its own hands.
The Sterling Industrial Development Commission authorized using $125,000 that was part of the state’s now dissolved Revolving Loan Fund program to jump-start the assessment.
In April, engineering firm Fehr Graham did the Phase II testing and gave the city alternatives for cleanup. The firm, which was used to do the assessment applications, now is working on an application for a $250,000 U.S. EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grant.
The project area is just for a portion of the structure – Building 3 – which is on the far east side of the site. The cleanup grant plus the city’s 20% match would cover the $256,800 budgeted to clean up that area.
“The worst contamination problems are under the three-story building on the east side,” City Manager Scott Shumard said.
The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the application and the match, which would come from the city’s capital fund. The resolution must be included with the application, which is due at midnight on Dec. 3.
While it would be nice to have the money to clean up everything on the site at once, doing it piecemeal should be enough to facilitate the development part of the process.
“Dividing it up into parcels will allow you to develop a portion of the site while other parts are being cleaned up,” said Joel Zirkle, a Fehr Graham owner and head of the firm’s site assessment and remediation division.
While the city can now shift its focus to cleanup, history tells it that the assessment process isn’t over.
“Until we’re enrolled in the state’s cleanup program, we won’t know the full extent of what we’ll have to do for remediation,” Shumard said. “The IEPA could make us do more assessments – we learned that from cleaning up the mill site.”
The city has reached a point, however, at which it can make an educated decision on whether to demolish or redevelop buildings. The last estimate received for demolition came in at $1.6 million, but that was from 2011 and it didn’t include cleanup costs.
“Now that we have a good idea of what contamination is there, we had two options – apply for another assessment grant or go after a cleanup grant,” Mayor Skip Lee said. “We felt we had better odds of getting a cleanup grant. This one needs a match and we thought that the EPA would feel better if we had skin in the game.”
While the decision isn’t final, the city is leaning heavily toward saving the building and redeveloping it.
“The building has to be cleaned up regardless, and demolition and cleanup costs could be close to $10 million,” Lee said. “We’re pretty much convinced that there is more value in keeping the building than tearing it down, but that’s not to say parts of it won’t come down.”
There are two developers, which the city declined to name, that are interested in the site once it is cleaned up.
“The property has value – it’s in a unique area, with the river and scenery a selling point, but it’s also in a rural market which can make it a tougher sell,” Shumard said.
The city says it must be creative and consider all options for developing the site. A need for affordable housing keeps the residential component in play. Events and conference space and a hotel also could be viable options.
The cleanup grant winners usually are announced in June. If Sterling receives one, work wouldn’t start until October at the earliest.
Subsurface contamination of most concern:
SVOCs (Semivolatile organic compounds)
Asbestos must also be removed from building materials.