Federal greenbacks fund Maine brownfields cleanups

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PORTLAND — Thompson’s Point could provide a good example of how federal money boosts economic development.

The federal, state and local officials who declared this at Cellardoor Winery on Jan. 19 also want people to know there is $1 million more in hand for the same uses.

The press conference at one of the businesses now filling the Brick North building at Thompson’s Point detailed how brownfield-designated areas – places contaminated from past industrial or residential uses – can be returned to environmental health and economic vitality.

“If you can’t deal with the legacy of the past, you can’t build a new field,” Curt Spalding, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator,  said.

Spalding visited Thompson’s Point on his last full day with the EPA; he left as the administration of President Donald Trump arrived. His local legacy is oversight of remediation funds being granted throughout the state, including to the 26-member Greater Portland Council of Governments.

Since 1994, Spalding said, the state has received more than $70 million in grants, and the New England EPA region gets 15 percent to 20 percent of the national grant funding, spread through 10 regional offices.

The key is organization and getting applications through to the agency.

“It is an investment about the environment and building a community,” Spalding said.

Assessment and remediation grants have also helped pay for redevelopment at the former Sensata manufacturing plant on Route 35 in Standish, the former South Portland Armory on Broadway, and the former Main Street Fire Station in Gray, GPCOG Economic and Community Planner Caroline Paras said in a Jan. 18 press release. 

Joining Spalding at the press conference were U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, Portland City Councilor Brian Batson and Dave Burns, director of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Solid Waste and Remediation Bureau.

Travis Kennedy and Sara Holmbom-Lund from the offices of U.S. Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, also attended and spoke.

GPCOG Executive Director Kristina Egan said it has been six years since GPCOG made a $60,000 grant to Thompson’s Point developer Chris Thompson to help clear the property the beginning stages of redevelopment.

“There was a lot done at the end of the Point,” Thompson said. “There was some demolition and clean up from construction in the ’70s and ’80s.”

A snowstorm cancelled a walking tour around the skating rink and snow tube slide built on remediated grounds, but Thompson was able to point out the rink becomes an outdoor events venue in warmer months.

He said residential development of 58 market rate housing units is expected to begin later this year.

Burns said the state DEP also provided $60,000 to help clean up Thompson’s Point, adding the entire state received $7.33 million in federal brownfields funding last year.

Based in Portland, the GPCOG members extend north and west to Bridgton and Harrison, north and east to Freeport, and as far south as Scarborough.

Paras said the $1 million in funding available can be used for assessment and clean up services, with $700,000 of that awarded to GPCOG last year. The remainder is leftover unused funding.

Just as GPCOG took an early interest in cleaning up Thompson’s Point a decade ago, Paras said the agency has targeted areas for assessment and mediation. The Mountain Division Rail line running from Westbrook, Gorham, Windham and Standish enroute to Fryeburg is one area. Other sites include Portland waterfront areas and rural areas where economic development could be combined with housing and green space.

Paras said the agency may have target areas, but is working with a clean slate and open to proposals from developers. Of the $700,000 awarded to GPOC last year, $400,000 is specifically available for site assessment services. She invited property owners and developers of brownfields areas to call her at 774-9891.

GPCOG has also provided grant funding and revolving loans to clean up the East Bayside area in Portland near the base of Munjoy Hill. On Thursday, Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. the area cleanup advisory committee will meet at Rising Tide Brewing Co., 115 Fox St.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Thompson’s Point developer Chris Thompson said Jan. 19 that a federal grant to help clean up the property also helped attract new tenants. Local officials said more funding is available.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.