The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 6, 2012

Ashtabula County hopes to reclaim brownfield land with grants

Effort is all about taking development to next level

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Two grant applications submitted this week to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aim to help the county reclaim thousands of acres of brownfield land for development.

A brownfield site is abandoned or under-used industrial or commercial land that suffers from the stigma of its prior use. The land may or may not be contaminated; assessments are required to make that determination, and those assessments expensive. Usually, neither the owner of the property nor a potential buyer is willing to make the investment. Further, if contamination is documented as a result of that process, the cost of cleaning up the site becomes yet another barrier to selling or developing the land. As a result, it remains an idle asset, often a blight on the landscape.

Sean Ratican, executive director of the Ashtabula County Port Authority, estimates there are 3,000 acres of brownfield land in the area of Lake and Middle roads in Ashtabula Township. He said there are many other brownfield sites in the county, ranging from former gasoline stations with soil contaminated by petroleum products to abandoned manufacturing sites in Andover and Orwell.

The EPA offers grants for brownfield assessment. Earlier this year, the authority partnered with Ashtabula County commissioners and the City of Geneva to apply for this funding.

Ratican said commissioners put up the $5,000 to hire a consultant, GT Environ-mental of Westerville, to assist with the grant applications.

“These grant applications were made possible by the commissioners, who agreed to give (the authority) a grant to cover the cost of developing this application,” Ratican said.

Jennifer Brown, Geneva’s assistant city manager, and Janice Switzer, director of the county’s department of planning and community services, also assisted with the research and grant preparation.

Ratican said the effort is all about taking development to the next level.

“Ashtabula County has vast amounts of untapped resources,” Ratican said. “We are at a crossroads in the re-development of this county. In order to spur economic development and growth within our county, we believe it is essential to leverage these dollars to re-invest in our county.”

Had the port authority sought the grant on its own, the award would be limited to $200,000. However, by partnering with the county and city, the potential award rises to $600,000. Ratican said that in the past, Geneva Ashtabula and Conneaut each received a $200,000 grant for brownfields in those municipalities.

Ratican said the $600,000 grant will not be restricted to any one area.

“These dollars will be used for phase one and two assessments of sites throughout the entire county,” Ratican said.

He said the cost of doing an assessment, and cleanup, varies widely, based upon prior use, degree of contamination and what has already been done in way of remediation.

No local match would be required for the assessment money.

The second application submitted this week is for $1 million, which would be used to establish a revolving loan fund for brownfield work. Ratican said the loan amounts would range from $20,000 to $200,000 each. A match of 20 percent would be required, but in-kind services could be used for that match. Interest rates would range from 0 to 3 percent.

“We envision doing almost a dozen loans out of that,” he said.

The port authority plans to administer the grant money itself and contract for the revolving loan administration.

“In order to maximize the impact in the community of this revolving loan fund, the authority is going to contract with the 503 Corporation and utilize their expertise,” Ratican said.

The authority probably won’t know a decision on the applications until mid-spring. Ratican said the board sees these applications as the first step in a brownfield program that will be ongoing for years to come.

“Over the next five years, the port authority, in conjunction with the county commissioners, is going to be really active in the development of these under-utilized resources in this county,” he said.

The port authority’s Plant C has a permit to draw 200 million gallons of water from Lake Erie every day, but only a tenth of that capacity is being used. By remediating the brownfields in the area served by Plant C, the area would be much more attractive for industrial development, Ratican said.

“By redeveloping the land in this county, we believe we can position ourselves to be attractive to potential growth both from within and outside this county,” he said.