Greater Portland among communities getting funds for land detox

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PORTLAND — Local, state and federal officials on Friday gathered at the former Mirada Adams School on Munjoy Hill to announce nearly $3 million to assess, clean up and redevelop contaminated lands.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments was awarded $400,000 in assessment funding and the Southern Maine Regional Planning Association received $500,000 for a revolving loan account.

Caroline Paras, GPCOG community and business development specialist, said some of the new funding will likely be used to assess environmental hazards at Thompson’s Point, an industrial site that is expected to become a new arena, convention center and offices.

It is the second time the state has been awarded the Environmental Protection Agency grant to clean up so-called Brownfields, a designation for properties where redevelopment may be impeded because of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

Developers of the former Adams School at 48 Moody St. received part of $400,000 awarded two years ago to GPCOG.

Prior to becoming a school in 1958, the site housed several different industrial uses, including a trolley repair facility, a lead paint company and a grenade factory.

City Councilor Jill Duson, an affordable housing advocate, said the EPA grants are critical to make it feasible for people to clean up and redevelop former industrial sites.

“Brownfields represent a costly and challenging hurdle to reclaiming blighted and neglected properties,” Duson said.

Ethan Boxer-Macomber, Avesta Housing’s director of acquisitions and assets, said the agency received about $70,000 to conduct an environmental assessment of the former school.

Boxer-Macomber said the funding is critical for planning asbestos abatement, which totalled $100,000, and other environmental issues associated with the former industrial site.

“Mostly, what we’re dealing with here are urban fills,” he said of the $300,000 in soil clean-up associated with redevelopment.

In addition to the assessments, the program funded the removal of an underground storage tank and a pre-demolition survey, GPCOG said in a press release.

The Adams School project is also receiving remediation grants from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, according to the release.

Boxer-Macomber said Avesta has largely completed the removal of asbestos, including 17,000 square feet of tile. In the coming weeks, crews will begin deconstructing the building, a process expected to take three weeks.

He said the project still needs final site approval by the city’s Planning Board in July.

If approved, Boxer-Macomber said he hopes to break ground this fall on 19 affordable town houses, a public playground and a park on the 1.5 acre property. That would put the development on track to be completed by next summer, with units suitable for a family of four expected to sell for about $250,000.

Paras said the last round of funding was used to assess five other sites in addition to the Adams School.

Two projects are currently being eyed for the round of funding announced on Friday: the Maine Rubber Factory in Westbrook and the proposed, $100 million development on Thompson’s Point.

Paras said she had been contacted about another clean-up effort in South Portland, but could not release details.

The $3 million in funding is part of $76 million in Brownfields money being distributed nationwide, including $12 million to communities in New England.

GPCOG Executive Director Neil Allen said the ongoing efforts to clean up Brownfields requires partnerships between federal, state and local officials, as well as nonprofit agencies and community leaders.

Other agencies to receive funding are the city of Augusta, $400,000; town of Belfast, $400,000; town of Canton, $200,000; and the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, $1 million.

Maine DEP Deputy Commissioner Pattie Aho said there are 2,000 potential Brownfield sites in Maine. 

“The grants are being invested in cleaning up the past,” Aho said. “But the payoff truly is a healthier environment and a revitalized economy for all of Maine.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings

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Neil Allen, executive director of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, speaks during a press conference Friday, June 10, at the Adams School in Portland about nearly $3 million in grants awarded to Maine to clean up so-called Brownfield sites.

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