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'Brownfields' redevelopment boosted

EPA chief, Congresswoman launch Charles Town-Ranson initiative.

EPA chief, Congresswoman launch Charles Town-Ranson initiative.

October 07, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

An abandoned reservoir could become a community lake. A large, now-vacant warehouse could be transformed into a community gym and meeting place.

Other areas might become a professional office campus, ball fields and parks.

Right now, about 100 acres consisting of empty buildings, a 7-acre parking lot, the reservoir, an old scrap yard, former granaries and land along the southwest side of the Charles Town-Ranson line is abandoned or underutilized - but ripe for redevelopment, officials said.

One term for such spaces is "brownfields," or a site that was once productive but has been abandoned and not redeveloped because of the real or imagined fear of environmental contamination.

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Friday afternoon, more than 75 people stood inside the stifling former Dixie-Narco warehouse to hear U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman officially launch the Charles Town-Ranson Commerce Corridor Brownfields Initiative.

Charles Town and Ranson are handling the commerce corridor project together.

The EPA awarded a $250,000 grant toward the project, $50,000 of which is to be used to turn some of the land into green space, Ward said. The rest will be used for environmental and economic re-use planning, he said.

This area is one of hundreds that received federal money to revitalize brownfields, Ward said. Of that land nationwide, one-third turned out not to be contaminated as feared, he said.

Locally, some suspicions exist about portions of the 100 acres, but additional study will determine if those fears are warranted. Ward said he does not suspect any contamination present would be enough to halt development. Federal funding could be used to clean the land, or if a private party is responsible, they might pay clean-up costs, Ward said.

A strict timeline has not been established for the project, but Ward said the rest of this year will be spent assessing and addressing any environmental conditions at the brownfields. Next year, officials will begin economic redevelopment planning, with input from business leaders and residents, Ward said.

"We're not going to force any plan on the community," Ward said.

By next summer, Ward said, officials hope to have a plan in place that will allow them to recruit businesses into the area.

Some of the land in question is owned by either Charles Town or Ranson, while other areas are privately owned, Ward said.

Back at the old warehouse, meanwhile, Whitman shook hands even as she waited to be interviewed by reporters. She said for every acre of brownfield space redeveloped, 4.5 acres of open space is saved.

Many people shook hands with Capito and Whitman.

Tobey Pierce, a Shepherdstown, W.Va., resident, said he hoped to discuss with Whitman the Bush administration's energy policy, which includes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Pierce had hoped to discuss what he called the most important issue facing the world - global climate change - but, before he had the chance, Whitman hopped into a large SUV and drove away.

Pierce and Susan Ford Pritchard, of Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., shook their heads in unison, having just pointed out in a nearby parking lot a number of SUVs, which they said are not fuel efficient.

They gave credit to Whitman, however, after seeing a bumper sticker on the back of her SUV that indicated it runs on alternative fuel. Both Pritchard and Pierce drive hybrid cars, they said.

Although the two said they favor the brownfields plan, they said Capito's voting record is not especially environmentally friendly.

Capito said drilling in the Arctic, which she voted in favor of, has nothing to do with the brownfields initiative.

"I don't see a conflict at all," she said.

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