By Debbie Adams
In October 2019, the Town of Vinton was awarded an EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant in the amount of $300,000. 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.
This grant fund, overseen by EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization Branch, has been instrumental in revitalizing communities across the nation.
The Town of Vinton signed a contract with Draper Aden Associates—a multi-discipline consulting firm with a location in Blacksburg–to manage the grant on January 7, 2020. Draper Aden Associates Design Engineer Stephanie Houston is serving as the project manager.
A Brownfields Redevelopment Advisory Group (BRAG) was formed early on in the process made up of 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), Vinton Town Councilman 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), Town Manager Pete Peters, and Lori Kroll and Srikanth Nathella from Draper Aden.
In June 2020, Houston organized an online BRAG session which presented an overview of the grant program and what was to come. On January 4, 2021, she updated the Town of Vinton and the advisory group on progress on the grant activities that have been completed or are in the works. Another virtual meeting is planned for later in January.
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 the total of $300,000 for sites potentially impacted by both hazardous substances and petroleum.
Activities planned under the U.S. EPA Brownfields Grant include programmatic activities, community involvement strategies, and conducting Brownfields Inventories.
Programmatic activities include quarterly and annual reporting to the EPA and program management through progress meetings, managing sub-contracts, etc. Houston advised that quarterly reports on the progress of the grant were submitted to the EPA on July 30 and October 30, 2020. Two annual reports were submitted to the EPA on October 30.
Community involvement is demonstrated through BRAG meetings, community meetings, and media relations through websites, local news agencies, and handouts. An article in the Vinton Messenger on June 8, 2020, summarized the EPA brownfields program and activities to date. A summary was provided of activities-to-date to BRAG on November 20.
Brownfields Inventories have included collecting a list of brownfield sites in Vinton, collecting information about the specific brownfield sites, and prioritizing brownfields to assess. In her update, Houston detailed these activities-to-date:
- As of January 4, 2021, eight Property Approval Questionnaires (PAQs) have been submitted for funding approval by the EPA and approved and are in various stages of completion.
- Proposed Phase II actions including the Phase II ESA (Environmental Site Assessments) with soil and/or groundwater sampling to evaluate whether contamination is actually present on the subject property, and a Hotel Market Study have been completed and approved for the hotel site bounded by Pollard Street, First Street, and Cedar Avenue. A Marketing RFP has been proposed and approved and is on-going.
- A Phase II ESA was completed for the hotel site using funds from the EPA Brownfields Grant and the Virginia Brownfields Assistance Fund (VBAF) grant. DPC Hospitality completed a hotel market study for the Vinton hotel site on July 13, 2020, which was soon after presented to town council.
- The market study indicated there is a market justification for a limited-service hotel in the area, that occupancy will most likely stabilize at 73 percent by 2025 (with an opening in 2023), and that its Internal Rate of Return will be 20.2 percent. DPC will now begin a targeted search for developers, prepare RFP’s, and review proposals to select a developer for the project.
- Phase I assessments (a review of records and visual inspection of the subject property and surrounding properties to assess the possibility of contamination on the property) have been proposed, approved, and are pending for properties on Cleveland Avenue, Pine Street/Jackson Avenue, and Hardy Road properties.
- Phase 1 inventories have been proposed, approved, and completed at the former William Byrd High School annex on Highland Road, along with an ACM/LBP survey (Asbestos-Containing Materials/Lead Based Paint). A Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment was completed at the annex in August 2020 which allowed the developer to obtain a loan and move forward in redeveloping the site.
- A Phase I inventory has also been proposed, approved, and completed at the former Steve’s Garage on Jackson Avenue. A Phase II inventory at that property is pending. A Phase I ESA at the garage was completed in September 2020 which allowed the town to move forward with possible options for redevelopment into a recreational area or event space. The redevelopment of this site will support the town’s Downtown Revitalization and Walnut Avenue Bike/Pedestrian Accommodations Project.
- An initial structural assessment for storm damage at the historic Gish’s Mill site was completed on June 22, 2020, as part of a Virginia Department of Historic Resources disaster relief grant.
No direct match is required for the EPA Brownfields Grant. Grantees (in this case, the Town of Vinton) provide in-kind services toward grant oversight and contract with a qualified environmental consultant (Draper Aden) 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.