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City awarded Brownfields funds

July 16, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Hagerstown has been awarded a $200,000 federal grant for a pilot project to develop strategies for reuse of old commercial and industrial properties, officials said Wednesday.

Hagerstown was the only Maryland community to receive a Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative grant in this round. EPA has funded more than 200 of the demonstration pilots since 1995.

The grant is the first brownfields money the city has received, said City Planner Kathy Maher, who applied for the grant in March.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity for us. I think it's going to allow us to do some things we need to do, especially if we're going to put new businesses in where old industrial business was," said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

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Most of the money will be used for environmental studies on three or four sites selected by a committee of people from neighborhood, economic development and environmental groups, Maher said.

Under the pilot project, the land assessed must be a brownfields site, meaning it must be contaminated or perceived to be contaminated, Maher said.

"It's the thinking it's contaminated that really hurts us," because that prevents business people from investing and redeveloping the land, she said.

The area the funds can be used to study includes 1,500 acres in the city's center and almost 13 miles of land along every railroad track and spur in the city, Maher said.

The area includes the Hagerstown roundhouse complex, the favored site for a new baseball stadium near Interstate 81 and the old Maryland Metals property near County Market, she said.

The Central Chemical site is not eligible under the program because it is a Superfund site with severe environmental concerns, Maher said.

The money cannot be used to help Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc. officials raise $500,000 for cleanup costs or find a government agency to take over legal responsibility from CSX Real Property for any environmental problems that might arise in the future, Maher said.

City officials must hire a consultant and assemble a committee to create an inventory of brownfields sites within the eligible area and prioritize the sites, Maher said.

Environmental studies and background checks will be done on three or four properties, she said.

When the studies are complete, the consultant and committee will devise strategies to help property owners redevelop the land, Maher said.

The grant cannot be used for redevelopment, but the land could be eligible for other state and federal funds, she said.

Brigid Lowery, regional brownfields coordinator, said one reason Hagerstown was selected for one of 71 grants totaling more than $14 million was "we thought it'd probably be a good model for a small industrial community in a rural region."

The city is to receive the grant in October and has two years to use the money, although extensions can be granted, Lowery said.

Baltimore City and Baltimore County have received brownfields grants in the past, Lowery said.

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