Berkshire County lands $1.1M from EPA for brownfield work

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PITTSFIELD — A new batch of money from the federal Environmental Protection Agency will propel efforts to find and remove hazardous materials from sites around Berkshire County.

The EPA this week awarded $1.1 million to four brownfield projects in the county, three overseen by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and one handled by the community of Williamstown.

The awards will bring to the county one-fifth of all new EPA money allotted to Massachusetts to address pollution legacies that impede economic development and pose threats to public health and environmental quality.

"If my math is correct, we are receiving around 2 percent of the total available nationally, both in amount and number," said Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

Statewide, the EPA awarded $4.92 million for 17 brownfield projects; the total nationwide was $56.8 million for 172 projects.

"We're just thrilled to have such great success in Berkshire County," said Melissa Provencher, the commission's brownfield program manager.

The money will be used to assess the need to clean up toxic remnants of industry or commerce throughout the county. The $1.1 million for Berkshires projects breaks down this way:

- $300,000 for the commission to assess hazards at sites throughout the county.

- $300,000 to North Adams for site assessments in the area of the Delftree Building on Route 2, across from the Eclipse Mill, and at a former gas station.

- $300,000 for Great Barrington for site assessments, particularly in the village of Housatonic.

- $200,000 for Williamstown to aid cleanup at the former PhoTec property at 330 Cole Ave. That long-closed manufacturing site, now owned by the town, is being redeveloped as affordable housing in a roughly $14.5 million project by Berkshire Housing Development Corp.

Andrew Groff, Williamstown's director of community development, said the money will enable the developer to address the presence of asbestos and other possible hazards as it pursues a new use for the former mill structure.

"To get this thing moving forward," Groff said, "and prepare it for future use."

Provencher said the grant awarded to the commission could be tapped for brownfield projects anywhere in the county over the next two years or so, but will likely focus on three known issues.

Some of the grant proceeds may be used to better understand hazards that exist on the site of the former J.B. Paper Co. mill on Elmvale Place in Pittsfield. That building was knocked down after a fire last year. An initial survey of hazards, paid for by the city, recommended further study.

Money may also be used to further assess environmental hazards present at the site of the former Stetson Cleaners in downtown Pittsfield or to gauge environmental problems on land near the former Redwood Motel in North Adams, now a hospitality and resort project called Tourists.

That property is being redeveloped in conjunction with nearby open space and the former Blackinton Mill, Provencher said, and the EPA funding could be used to reveal whether other legacy hazards pose problems in the area.

"Past history indicates that this green area has been used as something of a dumping ground," she said of a property that's part of the project.

PICKING TARGETS

In picking brownfield projects, the commission consults with the EPA's Boston office and tries to keep its options open, enabling it to zero in on the most pressing assessments.

"These sites are very unpredictable. There's always some nuance that becomes significant and meaningful," Provencher said.

Though the Trump administration proposes to cut EPA funding by as much as a third, the agency is now operating, as is the entire federal government, on a continuing budget resolution that is largely maintaining spending levels from the past administration.

While pleased with the new awards, Provencher is concerned about future funding.

"I think the EPA overall is still vulnerable, and this program is vulnerable," she said of brownfield work. "We're in very precarious times when it comes to budget and grant programs."

That's the case, she said, even though brownfield work is popular across the country, regardless of party politics, because it spurs development that expands the tax base, as well as helping to safeguard public health.

"There's something for almost everyone to find in the program to feel good about," Provencher said.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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