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EPA grants $500,000 to assess local ‘brownfields’

United States Environmental Protection Agency sign on the Clinton building
Money will be used to assess environmental hazards and develop cleanup plans for a half-dozen properties between Medford and Talent

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted the Rogue Valley Council of Governments $500,000 to help the agency assess environmental hazards and develop cleanup plans for a half-dozen “brownfield” properties between Medford and Talent along the Bear Creek Greenway.

The brownfield assessment grant will prioritize six contaminated properties damaged in the Almeda fire that include a former log truck service station, three former gas stations and a former fruit orchard, according to a news release from the EPA and RVCOG’s grant application.

The funds are part of more than $254 million in federal money — which includes Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding — addressing brownfields across the country, including $8.3 million across Oregon, according to the EPA.

Brownfields are defined by the EPA as “properties that are not being used to their full potential in part because of the presence of petroleum or hazardous substances,” according to RVCOG’s website. The local public agency facilitates grants for privately and publicly owned properties that are underutilized, vacant or abandoned, with issues related to petroleum or hazardous substances.

In fall 2020, RVCOG identified 132 brownfields — consisting primarily of former gas stations and auto service facilities potentially contaminated by petroleum, heavy metals and solvents, according to RVCOG’s Fiscal Year 2022 Brownfield Community-Wide Assessment Grant Application. Of those Southern Oregon brownfields, about 40% were substantially impacted by the fire.

Grant priorities include roughly 10 acres in Talent, including a 4.5-acre site in the 100 block of South Pacific Highway that was formerly used for log truck service and repair, and about six acres between 1209 and 1309 Highway 99 that was formerly a gas station and auto repair facility that was a total wildfire loss.

Prior to the fire, the Talent Urban Renewal Agency was working to revitalize the former log truck repair station site with workforce and senior housing, retail and food service, a makerspace building and a public plaza, but the site may have a leaking underground storage tank.

Another priority site with a leaking storage tank problem is a one-acre site near Medford at 3628 S. Pacific Highway, which prior to the fire was a gas station and auto repair facility. More than 10 single-wide trailers and a gas station building were destroyed by the fire. Once cleaned up, the vision for the property is commercial or “cottage industrial.”

Priority brownfields in Phoenix include a 0.55-acre site at First and Main streets, a 0.91-acre property in the 600 block of North Main Street that combines a vacant former gas station and a plumbing business destroyed in the fire, and 22.5 acres west of Phoenix on Dano Drive that was a former fruit orchard.

The site combining 604 and 608 N. Main St. is close to vacant lots that were once a gas station in the 1930s and an auto repair shop in the 1970s. RVCOG’s grant application described the locations as “an opportunity for a larger land assemblage.” Adjoining the property to the east is the Bear Creek Greenway, which experienced substantial fire damage.

The Dano Drive property is “ideally suited for new affordable housing,” according to RVCOG’s grant application, but the property is precluded from housing uses because the past use as an orchard indicates potential pesticide contamination.

The strategy for redeveloping the property for affordable housing will be to use the federal money to conduct assessments to identify and resolve the environmental hazards they find, then to conduct planning activities that support the affordable housing initiative.

To find information on RVCOG’s brownfield assessments and learn how to nominate a public or privately owned property, see bit.ly/3weesei

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.