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EPA funding will assess potentially contaminated sites

The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $600,000 to evaluate 34 Rogue Valley brownfield sites.

The federal watchdog agency is funneling the funds through the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, supplying $300,000 to assess sites contaminated with hazardous substances, and $300,000 to assess petroleum contamination.

Actual cleanup funds come from another grant program, RVCOG Natural Resources Manager Greg Stabach said.

The EPA said assessment activities will take place in Jackson and Josephine counties, centering on Medford, Grants Pass, Central Point and White City.

With urban growth boundaries expanding, municipalities wanted to identify and mitigate contamination to reduce urbanization of agricultural land. Brownfields, including closed mills, abandoned gas stations and former auto sales and service locations, are considered a significant impediment to economic development.

The assessments are the first step in restoration and redevelopment of vacant and underutilized properties. Sites will be inventoried and prioritized.

The grant provides opportunities to enhance neighborhood safety, affordability and mobility, RVCOG Executive Director Michael Cavallaro said, including "revitalizing formerly auto sales and service dominated areas, revitalizing industrial and commercial areas, creating new jobs that can be accessed through public transit, and increasing the available supply of affordable and working-class housing.”

Stabach said 120 potential sites were examined before paring the list down to 34, including Timber Products, Boise Cascade and Spalding & Son Lumber properties.

"Part of the process is to make sure the sites are available for us, and the process to be eligible for cleanup funding," Stabach said. "People want to know if there is contamination, how much is involved, and if they can recoup their investment or obtain grant funding."

Stabach said this is the region's first community wide assessment grant, although a previous bid was unsuccessful.

"EPA wanted more public involvement," he said.

The grant enables RVCOG to schedule and budget for assessment or cleanup activities, as well as field investigations including sample collection and lab analysis.

Medford City Manager Brian Sjothun said the announcement sets a lengthy process in motion.

"Once we know if sites are contaminated, we can apply for cleanup funds," Sjothun said.

RVCOG is one of 172 applicants selected for assessment and cleanup funding in 2017. Across the country, $56.8 million in funding will be granted. Ontario, Nyssa, Vale and Malheur County received $600,000. Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments, along with Newport, Toledo, Lincoln County, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, received $600,000. St. Helens received $300,000. Eugene, Springfield and Lane County received $500,000.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.