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After a year assessment into a three-year grant-funded process of identifying, testing and qualifying Lake County commercial properties for hazardous materials cleanup, most of the designated sites are now in the second phase seeking public comment and community involvement.

Ginger Casto, regional director of South Central Oregon Economic Development District, recently updated Lake County Commissioners regarding the Brownsfield Assessment Program, which has in its initial stages collaborated with six unused local properties.

The Brownfield Program, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, works with property owners to study sites for potential environmental hazards such as soil contamination or chemicals present in groundwater. If potentially hazardous materials are discovered, the EPA will work with property owners to determine best methods for site cleanup.

To qualify as a Brownfield Project property, sites must be pending transfer for repurposing into useful community assets from one owner to another. These sites may contain environmental hazards from the property’s previous use, such as the presence of pollutants or contaminants resulting from previous sites of gas stations, repair shops, warehouses, industrial facilities, landfills and dry cleaning operations.

“The EPA is pretty helpful in helping plan after the Phase one and Phase two are done, about what next steps would be for them to cleanup,” said Casto.

“Sometimes they have loan programs to assist with that, it just depends on what is found and the potential price tag. Every property is on a case-by-case basis. The mill properties will cost more money to test and cleanup, it depends on what they find. We got two grants; one was for petroleum products to test, and the other was for hazardous substances, because of the types of industry that we had going on here.”

Engineering consultants have completed initial phase testing on the Alger Theater, the Lakeview mortuary building, Lakeview Lumber, the Carlon Mill in Paisley, the Fremont Mill and Lakeview Lockers. Phase one identifies the projects and the potential hazards present, Phase two encourages public comment. Of these, all are now in Phase two of the Brownfields process, except Lakeview Lockers, which remains at Phase one.

“One of the biggest qualifiers is that the property is moving from one owner to another for one purpose to another,” said Casto. “For instance, the Lakeview Lumber Mill site, the Carlon Mill in Paisley – those owners are wanting to sell. It is likely that those property owners might have difficulty moving it on because investors and banks on those industrial properties are asking for at least a Phase one Brownfields test study done before they before they agree to a loan. It’s sort of like a house inspection when purchasing a new home, you want to know what’s there before you invest in the whole thing. They will require that before they do the loan, and if there is something substantial they won’t approve the loan. Or if the property owner refuses to go along with it through Phase one then there is no deal. It is good to know what you’re getting into.”

The EPA defines Brownfield properties as those with hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants, which may complicate redevelopment or reuse. EPA estimates there are 450,000 Brownfield sites in the United States. Clean-up and reinvesting serves to take pressure off under-developed open land, utilizes existing infrastructure, facilitates job growth, increases local tax bases and protects the environment.

“The Brownfield Project is not just about cleanup of hazardous materials and petroleum, they are also involved in planning after the fact,” said Casto. “Unused sites could be used for things like a new grocery store, or more housing. I am excited that we are getting to this point, now we are at the point where the community can get involved.”

“The EPA is pretty helpful in helping plan after the Phase one and Phase two are done, about what next steps would be for them to cleanup,” added Casto. “Sometimes they have loan programs to assist with that, it just depends on what is found and the potential price tag. Every property is on a case-by-case basis. We got two grants; one was for petroleum products to test, and the other was for hazardous substances, because of the types of industry that we had going on here.”

Community meetings regarding Brownfield sites are scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5 at noon at the Paisley Community Center, and in Lakeview at 5 p.m. the same day at the Commissioners meeting room at the Lake County Courthouse to discuss projects and brainstorm ideas. Lunch will be served at the Paisley meeting. The purpose of these meetings is to brainstorm ideas for repurposing of properties.

“It is not a witch hunt,” Casto stated. “It used to be everyone was afraid of EPA thinking they would come in and shut you down. It’s not that way. They really do want these properties back functioning and on the tax rolls. So far it’s been a good experience, the property owners have been incredibly helpful and excited about finding out if there is anything on their property they need to deal with. The mill sites I am excited about are large enough that I think they have the potential for some amenities that our communities haven’t had the Carlon site in Paisley and the Lakeview Lumber site in Lakeview. The mortuary and Alger Theater are amenities the community really needs to continue. Things like abatement for asbestos, lead and mold are considered for the Alger and mortuary. (The mortuary) is on the market, and findings could affect transfers of property.”

Among the ideas that have been proposed for the mortuary building is possibly a brewpub or microbrewery, with macabre names to match the structure’s former purposes.

“We have the low hanging fruit for our first group, there are other properties I feel would qualify but the owners have chosen not to participate in the program,” said Casto. “Maybe as time goes on and they see how the process goes, they will feel more comfortable.”