County wins only EPA award in New York
Niagara County officials pointed to hard work by economic development staff as the reason Niagara County was the sole county in New York to receive an award for brownfields assessment from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The $400,000 award, the result of a nationwide competition open to all local governments, states, tribes, quasi-governmental organizations and nonprofit entities, was the only one issued in New York - a fact the chairman of the Niagara County Legislature's Economic Development Committee, Legislator Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, said is no accident.
"Niagara County has made reclaiming lands contaminated by industrial and commercial processes a top priority of its economic development efforts over the past dozen years," Updegrove said. "The Niagara County Center for Economic Development has a track record of success leading efforts to restore contaminated properties and return them to the tax rolls, and this grant will further that effort."
Updegrove noted the specific funding request, developed by Brownfields Development Corp. President Amy Fisk, a senior planner at the county's Center for Economic Development, would be used by the county to assess potential brownfield sites throughout the county for rehabilitation. The award is actually a pair of $200,000 grants: One will be used to assess petroleum-contaminated sites, and one will focus on hazardous substance sites.
Fisk and Updegrove also stressed the county placed an emphasis on assessing tax-delinquent parcels. This includes both phase one and phase two environmental site assessments, which range from review of paperwork and database information to on-site sampling and testing.
"Determining the level of contamination will allow these properties to be remediated and returned to productive use, returning them to the tax rolls and allowing the private sector to create jobs there," Updegrove said. "Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands."
The grant will allow assessments countywide. Municipal government leaders are encouraged to contact Fisk at the Center for Economic Development about potential sites within their jurisdictions. Funding is not directly available to businesses or municipalities, but economic development staff will work with interested businesses and municipalities to determine potential sites for assessment.
Fisk noted funding may be utilized for sites countywide, and known priority sites within the county's Brownfield Opportunity Areas would likely be targeted. These spots include the Buffalo Avenue area in Niagara Falls, the City of Lockport downtown tourism area, the City of North Tonawanda Brownfield Opportunity Area, and the Highland Avenue area in the City of Niagara Falls.