County seeks funding for brownfield projects

The Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority is hoping to tap into federal dollars for environmental assessment and clean-up projects.

The authority has authorized staff to issue a request for proposals from qualified environmental consulting firms to provide grant application assistance, project management and assessment implementation for funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grant program.

This will be the first time the county agency, which includes four members of the Anoka County Board, has sought grants from the EPA.

According to Karen Skepper, county director of community and government relations and executive director the housing and redevelopment authority, the county has been talking with Stantec, an environmental consulting firm, for some time about seeking EPA brownfields dollars.

The impetus to submit an application has come from cities who have requested the county take a lead role in applying for federal dollars for brownfields assessment and clean-up programs, Skepper said.

They include St. Francis, Columbia Heights and Coon Rapids, which is completing work on its own projects after receiving a brownfields assessment grant from the EPA a few years ago, she said.

“The idea is that the county will be a central repository for the funds,” Skepper said.

Cities won’t have to be part of the county housing and redevelopment authority to be eligible for brownfields dollars, she said.

For example, Coon Rapids has its housing and redevelopment authority.

The county will be seeking two grants, $200,000 for assessment and $200,000 for cleanup, Skepper said.

According to information from the EPA provided to the housing and redevelopment authority, assessments grants are for brownfields inventories, planning, environmental assessments and community outreach.

Cleanup grant provide direct funding for removing contamination at specific sites, the EPA information states.

That could include removal of underground petroleum tanks at closed-down gas stations and cleaning up groundwater contamination from any leaks from tanks, Skepper said.

According to Skepper, the county is will hire a consultant through the request for proposals process because it will be able to fold the cost of the fee charged by the consultant, some $6,000, into the grant award.

If the housing and redevelopment authority chose to bring a consultant on board without issuing a request for proposals, then the consultant’s charge would be borne by the authority, Skepper said.

The request for proposals process is anticipated to take about a month and the grant application has to be submitted to the EPA in October, she said.

The EPA is expected to award grants in April or May 2014, Skepper said.

According to the EPA information given to the county housing and redevelopment authority, the brownfields program “is designed to empower states, communities and other stakeholders to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse brownfields.

The EPA defines a brownfield as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.”

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]