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EPA Gives Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties 200K to Redevelop Brownfields

Release Date: 6/21/1999
Contact Information: Luzerne County Office of Community Development 570-824-7214 & Regional Brownfields Team 215- 814-3129

PHILADELPHIA - Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties will receive a combined grant of $200,000 today from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up and redevelop brownfields -- abandoned industrial properties where redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived contamination. They are among 57 recipients nationwide, each receiving a $200,000 grant.

"Brownfields grants empower those groups interested in economic redevelopment to bring life and economic vitality back to a community. The long-term benefits will include new jobs, an increased tax base, and a better partnership between public and private sectors. Reuse of brownfields also preserves open space, or greenfields," said EPA Regional Administrator W. Michael McCabe.

The two counties, with a combined population of 547,246, share an industrial past beginning with the mining of anthracite coal in the late 1700s and continuing with the textile and steel industries until the early 1930s when the industries began to decline. As businesses shut down, the area’s economy followed. The population fell nearly 30 percent from 1930 to 1970. This decline continues today as urban sprawl and unplanned growth deplete the region’s greenfields and leave brownfields to blight nearby residential neighborhoods. The counties, which contain 116 municipalities, have an unemployment rate of approximately 7 percent.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Environmental council has taken the lead in establishing the Brownfields Development Opportunities Task for Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. The Keystone Opportunity Zone program is also in effect which provides tax abatement and preferential state redevelopment funding for designated areas.

The task force will develop and implement a joint county brownfields redevelopment strategy that will focus on economic development, including an increased tax base and the creation of jobs, protection of greenfields, safeguarding public health and protection and improvement of land and water supplies. Objectives include:

* Creating a brownfields inventory to be included in a geographic information system (GIS) database.

* Developing criteria for screening and prioritizing brownfields sites

* Conducting assessments on three priority sites

* Establishing a public outreach program to include four community workshops for identifying brownfields and educating communities about the process.

* Expand task force membership to include land owners, utilities, chambers of commerce and other business leaders.

Congress has recognized the relationship between protecting greenfields and redeveloping brownfields. Legislation will soon be introduced to offer "Better America Bonds," making it easier for state and local governments to offset the cost of purchasing open land in order to preserve it. They could issue nearly $10 billion in bonds, pay no interest and take up to 15 years to pay back the principal. Investors who buy the bonds receive tax credits from the federal government equal to the amount of interest.

"Sometimes, the best way for a community to ensure that it retains a certain amount of open space is to purchase that space, outright. Better America bonds will help make that possible for communities on tight budgets," said McCabe.

The EPA also awarded brownfields grants to several other local communities today, including Delaware County, Neville Township, and Mifflin and Montgomery Counties. Call the above contact for more information on these and other brownfields grants.