By KAITLYN NAPLES
The city is constantly working towards cleaning up vacant properties, or brownfield properties, and is hoping to work with the state and federal government to help move the process forward.
Last week, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy paid a visit to the city and toured some of the brownfield sites that are available for development. The city’s Grants Administrator Robyn Bugbee explained to the senator that her office has been working to secure various grants to help pay for clean up of these properties which are typically contaminated.
For example, the former H.J. Mills box factory property took years to be cleaned up, and just last year it was turned into a municipal lot. Now the city is working on the Sessions building on Riverside Avenue, which has $819,000 in tax arrearage alone, and would cost about $600,000 to clean up.
“Trying to find a developer to take on all of that is pretty close to impossible,” Bugbee said at last week’s meeting with the senator. Bugbee added that the city got a $150,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put towards the assessment of that property. She said the EPA gives a maximum amount of $200,000 for Brownfield sites, and she said there needs to be more incentive for developers of these properties. “We just can’t clean an entire site for $200,000; it just doesn’t cut it,” Bugbee said.
Murphy said the EPA grant money that municipalities get needs to be spread out to as many properties as possible.
“There is an enormous need out there (for these grants),” he said.
Bugbee explained how important it is to maintain the Sessions building since it is a historic structure that was built in the 1800s. Right now, parts of the building are rented out to small companies, but to develop the entire building would require some incentive to make it more appealing. She added the city is looking at properties that are at the gateways of the city, and clean them up so people driving in and out of the city will see how it maintains its properties and develops them.
Another property, 894 Middle St., is also contaminated and the city wants to clean it up and market it to developers.
Bugbee also said that the EPA cleanup grants only allow for one year of post ground water monitoring, when the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection requires two years. The cost can be between $50,000 and $100,000 for the two years.
Murphy said he will look into what can be done to ease up that cost for the municipalities.
The senator said there is no way Connecticut can get its economy back up to par without addressing the brownfields and their clean-up.
“There’s no space to build,” the senator said. “It is a problem; we have so many beaten up sites.”
Murphy toured some of those sites with the mayor and other city officials last Friday.