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Brownfields bill in Senate could help Ohio sites

At least 18 Toledo locations, over 250 in Ohio on act’s list

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Three smokestacks remain standing as demolition of the old Toledo Jeep Assembly plant continues.

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The former sites of Toledo’s North Towne Square mall, old Jeep plant, downtown steam plant, and Autolite factory are among at least 18 in the city that could benefit from legislation Congress is considering to help abandoned “brownfields” be put back into use, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio).

Senator Brown on Wednesday was promoting a bipartisan bill he has co-sponsored.

The bill, in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, could benefit more than 250 sites around Ohio, including at least two in Defiance County, seven in Erie, one in Sandusky, and one in Wood, according to a county-by-county breakdown provided by Senator Brown’s staff.

Brownfields are sites where previous industrial practices have left so much pollution it is impractical for them to be sold and redeveloped for any use without expensive cleanups. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a program that allows for them to be restored to more affordable, limited re-use as long as measures are taken to avoid further degradation.

The bill under consideration, called the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act, or BUILD, would make nonprofit organizations eligible for site-assessment grants, as well as cleanup grants.

It would authorize the federal EPA to award grants for more elements of a project, which is intended to streamline cleanups. More technical assistance for rural and low-income communities also would be provided, as well as more assistance for waterfront sites and renewable energy sites.

“There are literally thousands of them across the country. We have to clean up our environment and make new investments,” Senator Brown said.

Sites range from abandoned corner lots with underground gasoline tanks to large industrial complexes. The average brownfields cleanup project in Ohio costs $600,000. The bill allows a $200,000 federal limit on such projects to be increased to $500,000, Senator Brown said.

It also provides stable funding through 2016, he said.

“It’s an example of private-public partnerships we talk about but don’t do often enough,” Senator Brown said.

EPA has said it supports brownfields programs because they have dual land-use benefits: When dormant industrial property is put back into use, that helps preserve undeveloped green space.

Because a lot of undeveloped land lies just outside cities, reducing developmental pressures helps curb urban sprawl, land-use planners have said.

The former Jeep site, along Jeep Parkway, has already undergone an extensive cleanup under management by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

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