By Debbie Adams
In October 2019, the Town of Vinton was awarded its first EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant. This grant fund, overseen by EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization Branch, has been instrumental in revitalizing communities across the nation.
The purpose of the Brownfields Assessment Grant program is to return vacant or underutilized properties to productive reuse by providing funds for initial assessments and planning that will serve to incentivize investment and jumpstart redevelopment and revitalization.
The Town of Vinton is working with Draper Aden Associates, a multi-discipline consulting firm with a location in Blacksburg, on the Brownfields Grant. Its design engineer, Stephanie Houston, is the project manager.
Houston organized an online Brownfields Redevelopment Advisory Group (BRAG) session for June 2 which presented an overview of the grant program and what is to come. Community engagement and involvement is one facet of the grant program and quarterly BRAG sessions help meet that requirement.
According to the EPA, a brownfield is a property “for which the expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.”
Houston said that brownfields are not necessarily abandoned or even industrial sites; they could also be residential areas or private property with redevelopment potential.
Vinton received a total of $300,000 for sites potentially impacted by both hazardous substances and petroleum.
Activities covered by the funding include direct costs associated with:
- Cooperative agreement administration and required federal reporting, including a travel budget for town staff to attend national, regional, and state brownfields housing or economic development conferences
- Community engagement, including targeted, site specific efforts as well as broader community education about the program and its benefits
- Brownfields inventory, including initial site characterization, prioritization, access coordination, eligibility determinations, etc.
- Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), including Phase I and Phase II ESAs, asbestos/lead based paint assessments, geophysical studies, etc., along with associated work plans required by the program. (Phase I includes a review of records and visual inspection of the subject property and surrounding properties to assess the possibility of contamination on the property. Phase II includes soil and/or groundwater sampling to evaluate whether contamination is actually present on the subject property.)
- Planning for site remediation and/or redevelopment, which can include a target area or site-specific planning, such as feasibility studies, cost estimating, master plans, concept plans, etc. Grant funding does not actually cover any remediation of properties—just the planning.
No direct match is required for this grant. Grantees (in this case, the Town of Vinton) provide in-kind services toward grant oversight and contract with a qualified environmental consultant to carry out most of the administrative and technical aspects of the program.
The current three-year Brownfields Grant cycle will end September 30, 2022, but Houston said many grantees have seen great success in maintaining funding for many years with multiple grants.
Activities planned under US EPA Brownfields Grant include:
- Programmatic Activities: Quarterly and annual reporting to EPA; program management—progress meetings, managing sub-contracts, etc.
- Community Involvement: Brownfields Redevelopment Advisory Group (BRAG) meetings; community meetings; media relations– website, local news agencies, handouts
- Brownfields Inventory: Collecting list of brownfield sites in Vinton, information about those sites, and prioritizing the brownfields sites to assess
- Environmental Assessments: including Phase 1 and Phase 2
- Site Remediation and Redevelopment Plans: Site-specific remediation/redevelopment plans; supporting planning documents, e.g., market analysis, feasibility analysis, etc.
A summary of activities to date includes:
- The EPA Brownfields Grant was awarded to Vinton in October 2019
- Town of Vinton signed contract with Draper Aden Associates to manage the grant on January 7, 2020.
- Kick-off meeting between Town of Vinton and Draper Aden Associates was held on January 7, 2020, to review grant details, deadlines, and proposed activities.
- Progress meeting on EPA Brownfields Grant activities– February 25, 2020.
- Quarterly reports to EPA submitted January 29, 2020 and April 22, 2020.
- Five signs have been printed to be displayed on brownfields properties. Three signs have been placed on the following brownfields properties: hotel site, Gish’s Mill, 520 Hardy Road.
- Draper Aden Associates presented information about the EPA Brownfields Grant and the status of grant activities to Town Council at the March 3, 2020 council meeting.
- A short article was submitted to the Roanoke County Economic Development newsletter the week of March 16, 2020, summarizing the brownfields grant program and the Town of Vinton’s activities under this program.
- The virtual Vinton BRAG meeting was rescheduled for June 2 at noon.
- Inventory activity has begun to collect a list of and information about brownfield sites in Vinton to help prioritize brownfields to be assessed under the Brownfields Grant program.
- Inventory updated at February 25, 2020 progress meeting with the Town of Vinton and Draper Aden Associates.
- Former WBHS Annex on 156 Highland Road was added to the inventory on May 13, 2020.
- A Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP) for the hotel site was sent to the US EPA for approval and was approved March 31, 2020. A SAP is required prior to any Phase II assessment to outline sampling, analysis, and safety procedures.
- Sampling efforts began for the Phase II assessment of the Vinton hotel site April 28, 2020. Soil samples have been collected, and samples from groundwater monitoring wells are scheduled to be collected in the coming weeks and depending on weather.
- Five Property Approval Questionnaires (PAQs) have been submitted for the following properties:
- Hotel site at Pollard and Cedar. Actions taken include Phase II ESA and Hotel Market Study. These properties have been EPA approved.
- 522/528 E. Cleveland 522 and E. Cleveland St. 528 E. Cleveland St. Phase 1 completed. EPA approved.
- Pine/Jackson Properties at 314 Pine St., 709 E. Jackson Ave. 705 E. Jackson Ave. Phase 1 completed. EPA approved.
- 520 Hardy Road (former Auto Repair shop). EPA approval pending
- WBHS Annex 156 Highland Rd. EPA approval pending. Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACM) / Lead-Based-Paint (LBP) survey.
- A hotel market study has begun with a focus on the hotel site. The study will evaluate market conditions and hotel demand at the site and within the surrounding area and provide an assessment of hotel characteristics (occupancy, average room rate, etc.) that would be appropriate for the hotel site. DPC Hospitality was contracted on February 18, 2020 to conduct this study. Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters says the hotel market study is underway, delayed briefly because the consultant is including pre-and post-COVID-19 market data.
- The Town of Vinton and Draper Aden discussed the possibility of a housing market analysis for the Town of Vinton. Because the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission (RVARC) has already commissioned a housing study that includes Vinton, the decision was to wait for this report to become available.
- The Town of Vinton will be applying for a disaster assistance grant for Gish’s Mill from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. As part of the application effort, Draper Aden an initial structural assessment has been conducted to determine damage to the structure by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.
An extensive list of some 30 brownfields sites has been prepared and prioritized. Peters noted that the list is fluid and somewhat dependent upon private sector interest in particular sites.
BRAG members include Brandon Gann from the Vinton Finance Office, Brian Hill from Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, Kenny Sledd from Vinton Public Works, Justin Davison from Member One FCU, Tom Rowley from Roanoke County Economic Development, Annette Patterson from The Advancement Foundation, Janet Scheid (Town Council, and Vinton Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission), Vice Mayor Keith Liles, Planning and Zoning Director Anita McMillan, Principal Planner Nathan McClung, Bob Benninger (citizen and former Western Virginia Water Authority Director), Don Altice (Roanoke County Fire and EMS, lifelong Vinton resident, and property owner), Assistant Town Manager/Economic Development Director Pete Peters, and Lori Kroll and Srikanth Nathella from Draper Aden.