The Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) has been awarded their eighth competitive grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess “Brownfields” sites in Franklin County. Brownfields are defined by the EPA as “property where the expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or containment.”
“I can think of no better organization than FRCOG to lead the way restoring polluted spaces across Franklin County,” said Congressman James P. McGovern. “This funding will support much-needed work assessing contaminated sites, preparing cleanup plans, and educating the public through community engagement activities. President Biden and House Democrats are delivering in every corner of America: supporting economic growth and job creation, and empowering communities to address the environmental, public health, and social issues associated with contaminated land.”
The FRCOG’s Regional Brownfields Program was launched in 1999 with a grant that established a brownfields clean-up revolving loan fund and then was expanded to include assessment activities in 2002. In total, FRCOG has been awarded nearly $3.5 million in EPA grants, which has led to over 70 sites in 22 Franklin County communities being assessed and/or cleaned up of contamination. Through this program, additional state and federal resources have also been leveraged to support clean-up and redevelopment sites across the county.
The 4-year, $500,000 award will allow FRCOG to hire a professional engineering firm to conduct assessment activities at commercial/industrial properties that meet state and federal eligibility requirements. These sites may be in public or private ownership. The work is conducted at no cost to the property owner or the municipality. Property owner permission is required for any on site activity. The purpose of assessment is to determine if there is contamination on site, and if so, to determine what it is, how much there is of it, and how best to remediate it. Eligible assessment activities may include researching historical uses of the property; sampling and testing soil, groundwater and/or building material for contamination, and planning for clean-up and site reuse. It should be noted that actual clean-up of contaminated soils, groundwater or building materials is not an eligible expense for this grant.
Jessica Atwood, FRCOG Economic Development Program Manager, stated that “conducting assessment activities is important when a municipality or a developer is considering acquiring or redeveloping a site. It provides information about what may or may not be encountered, and recommends how best to deal with it. It may also be required to secure financing for a project.”
FRCOG will conduct outreach to Franklin County member municipalities to invite them to submit sites from their community for consideration. The FRCOG Brownfields Steering Committee will evaluate nominated sites for inclusion in the program and prioritize their assessment according to pre-established criteria. Sites will be accepted into the program on a rolling basis, until grant funds are exhausted. The Steering Committee includes representatives from Franklin County municipalities, regional non-profit organizations and local banks with participation by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA Region 1 office.
A recent successful project of the FRCOG Regional Brownfields Program was the assessment and clean-up of the Ramage Paper Mill wood structure at 16 Depot Street in Monroe, which led to the creation of a new retaining wall and the Monroe Bridge Overlook Park in 2019.
Another successful assessment project was the former Railroad Salvage property at 11 Power Street in Turners Falls. Assessment conducted under the FRCOG Regional Brownfields Program supported the engagement of the U.S. EPA Region 1 office to conduct an emergency removal action that funded a nearly $1 million clean-up of the property in 2021. The site is now part of the Town of Montague’s Smart Growth Overlay District, which supports the creation of residential or mixed use development.