FRCOG awarded $500K to assess contaminated sites

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-27-2023 2:46 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin Regional Council of Governments has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess brownfield sites across the county.

The money will enable FRCOG to hire a professional engineering firm to determine if certain commercial and industrial properties are contaminated and how any contamination can best be remediated, according to Jessica Atwood, FRCOG’s economic development program manager. Eligible assessment activities to be funded over the next four years might include researching historical uses of the property; sampling and testing soil, groundwater and/or building material for contamination; and planning for cleanup and site reuse.

Atwood noted, however, the work to actually clean up contaminated soils, groundwater or building materials in FRCOG’s 26 member municipalities is not an eligible expense under the grant.

“We have an existing brownfields program,” she said. “This recapitalizes that and so it will allow us to do environmental site assessments.”

The EPA defines brownfields as properties “where the expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or containment.”

Atwood said FRCOG hopes to soon hire an environmental consulting firm. She said it is difficult to determine how many sites can be assessed for $500,000.

“Each site is so different, the cost of doing that assessment work can range,” Atwood said.

Sites will be accepted into the program on a rolling basis, until the grant funds are exhausted. Property owner permission is required for any on-site activity.

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FRCOG will reach out to member municipalities to invite them to submit sites from their community for consideration. The FRCOG Brownfields Steering Committee will evaluate nominated sites for program inclusion and prioritize their assessment based on pre-established criteria. The committee includes representatives from Franklin County municipalities, regional nonprofits and local banks, with participation by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA’s Region 1 office.

A recent successful project of the FRCOG Regional Brownfields Program was the assessment and cleanup of the Ramage Paper Mill wood structure at 16 Depot St. in Monroe, which led to the creation of a new retaining wall and the Monroe Bridge Overlook Park in 2019.

Another successful assessment project was the former Railroad Salvage property at 11 Power St. in Turners Falls. Assessment conducted under the FRCOG Regional Brownfields Program supported the engagement of the U.S. EPA Region 1 office to conduct an emergency removal action that funded a nearly $1 million cleanup of the property in 2021. The site is now part of Montague’s Smart Growth Overlay District, which supports residential or mixed-use development.

“I can think of no better organization than FRCOG to lead the way restoring polluted spaces across Franklin County,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said in a statement. “This funding will support much-needed work assessing contaminated sites, preparing cleanup plans and educating the public through community engagement activities.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.

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