The Clay County Board of Commissioners has agreed to participate in an effort to clean up contaminated properties in the county.
In a public hearing following its most recent meeting, the board decided to proceed with the application process for an Environmental Protection Agency grant which would be used to identify and rehabilitate contaminated properties, or "brownfields."
According to Jim Coffenberry, an economic development specialist with the West Central Indiana Economic Development District, brownfields are "piece(s) of property suspected of being contaminated with hazardous substances or other threat(s) to human safety."
The commissioners have enlisted Coffenberry to aid in the application process for the EPA grant. As a technical adviser to the Clay County Redevelopment Commission, Coffenberry has served as a liaison between the board and the agencies distributing funds for brownfield improvements.
"Ultimately, the goal is to establish the case to get money from the government to make these sites useful," he said.
The $197,000 grant would pay for the two-phase assessment of suspected brownfields. The designation of an assessed site as a brownfield would make it eligible for additional grants, which the county would direct toward rehabilitation of the property. Coffenberry said he expects to hear back from the EPA in spring 2006.
The eventual benefits of brownfield assessments can already be observed in neighboring communities. Coffenberry said the rehabilitation of the site of a burned-out downtown building in Carbon facilitated the construction of a community center on the property.
The idea of brownfield assessments of private properties has given some landowners pause, Coffenberry said, but he stressed that property owners would only benefit from program.
"An owner of a brownfield property can't sell the property because they're liable for anything that happens there," he said. "It's not to spite the property owner, it's to help the property owner out."