For brownfields, ‘What happened here before?’ is the $64,000 question

Formed in 1993 and chartered as a 501-C3 (private, not for profit) organization, the BDC is the designated economic development organization for Brooke and Hancock counties. The BDC is dedicated to creating jobs and encouraging private investment in the northern panhandle. The BDC gets its support from the WV Development Office, WV Economic Development Authority, USEDA, USEPA, private investors, Brooke and Hancock Counties, and the cities of Weirton, Wellsburg, Beech Bottom, Bethany, Follansbee, and New Cumberland. (Submitted photo)

Local, state, and federal leaders have been touting brownfields redevelopment as a strategy for attracting investments, creating jobs, and cleaning up the environment. But before any of that happens, investors need the answer to one important question: What happened here before?

The answer to that question comes from historical research and soil samples, all of which have a price tag. But thanks to another round of Targeted Brownfields Assistance (TBA) funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle, in collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), will begin to investigate the history of the remaining vacant 72 acres at the Three Springs Business Park.

“The assistance of the USEPA and WVDEP will help our investment group fulfill a commitment we made to this community,” said Eric Frankovitch representing the local investment group, “to reclaim this former strip mine and weave this site back into our community as an employment generator.”

The purpose of a TBA is to minimize the uncertainties surrounding an abandoned or under-used industrial or commercial site where redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. The environmental assessments, performed under a TBA, are conducted by a USEPA contractor. Services include site assessments, remediation options, and cost estimates. The TBA program helps municipalities and non-profits redevelop contaminated parcels.

“The regional concentration of six TBAs in the northern panhandle illustrates the economic opportunities in the northern panhandle and commitment of our local leaders to pursue all funding opportunities,” said Patrick Kirby, Executive Director of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center. “USEPA assistance has catalyzed the repurposing of the former mills and abandoned properties in Hancock County, including TS&T pottery site in Chester, Memorial Stadium in Newell, Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton, and surplus land of ArcelorMittal in Weirton.”

According to BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford, this TBA is necessary to make way for business recruitment and conventional financing.

“The TBA program has been instrumental in providing security to businesses and industries looking to invest in the northern panhandle,” said Ford. “A $50 million investment on this Park Drive property, that we anticipate creating over 600 jobs, will require financing at various stages of the phased development and the findings of this targeted brownfields assistance will be instrumental in securing future businesses and industries on this site.”

The USEPA has invested over $3 million in brownfields projects throughout Brooke and Hancock counties since 2009. These USEPA grants have funded environmental assessments for over two dozen sites in Brooke and Hancock counties and the cleanup of multiple sites in the northern panhandle.

The USEPA’s investments have leveraged over $160 million in private, public, and philanthropic investments in Beech Bottom, Wellsburg, Follansbee, Weirton, Newell, and Chester.