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Other Views: Innovation in Baker City

It might sound contradictory, but environmental contamination is turning into a boon for Baker City.

Not only are some polluted buildings and properties being cleaned up, but those doing the work include Baker High School students learning valuable job skills.

It all started a few years ago when the owners of a contaminated property donated it to the Baker School District.

The district received a $200,000 federal grant to clean up the property, the site of a former machine shop, then sold the land for $45,000.

The district used the proceeds to pay Megan Alameda, who teaches environmental science at the high school and at Baker Technical Institute, and to take students on field trips to learn more about "brownfield" projects.

The newest project involves the Odd Fellows Building on Main Street, parts of which are contaminated with, among other things, lead and asbestos.

As with the Balm Street property, the school district's plan is to clean up the property, sell it, and use the money for the next job.

Not only are hazards being eliminated, but properties that otherwise would be difficult to sell could again contribute to the local economy.

At the same time, local students gain experience that might be otherwise unavailable — even on a college campus.

And considering the number of older buildings in the nation, and the ubiquity of substances such as lead and asbestos in such structures, it seems likely that people who know how to deal with those hazards will be in demand.