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Northern Panhandle communities hoping for brownfield assistance

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Fresh from landing a $225,000 federal grant targeted to environmental assessments at an old steel mill property in Beech Bottom, Northern Panhandle leaders are trying for another $1 million in grants to address contaminants at other industrial properties throughout the area.

The City of Wellsburg is seeking about $200,000 for environmental assessments, while the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle and Brooke-Hancock Planning Council each applied for about $400,000.

While there's some project overlap, they said project duplication underscores the need and increases the likelihood of getting funded.

"In the past, we only had one application from the whole region so all of our eggs were in one basket," BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said during a meeting of the Brooke-Hancock Brownfield Task Force. "What's improving the odds this time is that we have multiple agencies going after the same pot of money, which we believe improves our odds of getting funded."

A decision on the funding is expected in July.

Among their priorities: securing funding for Phase II assessments at the old Newell and Weirton football stadiums; an old post office in Weirton; the former Brooke Glass, Gen Pack and Riverview school property in Wellsburg; Wheeling-Pitt's old crude oil production and storage site in Follansbee; the old Taylor, Smith and Taylor property in Chester and the old steel plant in Beech Bottom, now a business park.

Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne said securing the funding is critical to the panhandle's economic future.

"We're in the heart of steel country — mills that employed thousands of people are (gone) but the buildings have been left behind," Henne said. "We're trying to get them cleaned up, but we need help."

Henne describes assessment grants as "seed money to be able to reinvent ourselves."

"It's a way to keep our economic choices alive by cleaning up old properties," he said.

John Brown, executive director of the planning council, said prospects tend to shy away from brownfield properties unless they come with a clean bill of health.

"We find it's a major stumbling block to someone trying to redevelop a site," he said. "But brownfield sites strategically are located downtown and the infrastructure is already there."

He said that makes them especially attractive once the Phase I and II assessments are done.

"It can be a fantastic building block for jobs in the Northern Panhandle, no question about it," he said.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funded Phase I and II assessments at the old Wheeling Corrugating property in Beech Bottom, now owned by the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle. The funds, administered by WVDEP, will address land and buildings between West Virginia Route 2 and the Ohio River.

And the government previously picked up the tab – roughly $80,000 – for Phase II environmental assessment, sampling and analysis at the former Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery in Chester, another BDC project. The agency also gave the BDC $200,000 for TS&T site clean-up.

Ford said the BDC has applied for a separate targeted brownfield assistance grant for the riverfront at the TS&T site.