by Cyrus Moulton
WORCESTER – The economy is humming. The real estate market is good. But thousands of potential development sites in Central Massachusetts have a hidden problem: contamination.
The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission now has a $300,000 grant to help.
“Despite the real estate market doing better than it has in decades around here, we feel there are still sites that could use a little push in the region,” Andrew Loew, project manager and team leader in community development at the CMRPC, said in an interview Thursday. “We would love to get the word out that we can help get these sites back to active use.”
The CMRPC has received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help fund environmental assessments at eligible brownfields sites, meaning underutilized industrial and commercial properties where contamination or suspected contamination inhibits development.
Grantees will not be given the money; rather, CMRPC will direct environmental professionals from Fuss & O’Neill Inc., to assess sites for contamination on behalf of local governments, nonprofits, businesses and developers. Cleanup planning assistance is also available. A third of the program budget is committed to studying brownfields contaminated by petroleum-related substances, while the remainder will be used to investigate other kinds of hazardous substances.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, more than 4,600 contaminated or potentially contaminated sites have been reported in the CMRPC’s region in central and southern Worcester County, comprising 40 cities and towns. Several hundred still require additional assessment or cleanup work, or both, before they can be safely returned to productive use.
Mr. Loew said the specific sites for assessment will be chosen based on a number of factors, including location, project feasibility, and benefits of site reuse.
“We’re happy to talk to businesses who want to expand on an adjacent site, developers interested in old mills, and nonprofits,” Mr. Loew said. “We’re particularly interested in sites that may help with job creation, affordable housing, and quality-of-life improvements, particularly in environmental justice communities.”
Applications for the grants are accepted on a rolling basis and will be reviewed every two to three months. The deadline for the next batch of sites is Oct. 3.
More information and applications are available at www.cmrpc.org/brownfields.
“With so much happening around the region and in the real estate market, we’re hoping that with a little push on our end we can get (these brownfield sites) moving,” Mr. Loew said.