By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The Lakes Region Planning Commission has been awarded $400,000 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to perform environmental assessments and prepare remedial plans for so-called "brownfield" properties in the 30 cities and towns in Belknap, Carroll, Grafton and Merrimack counties it serves.
As the Laconia City Council ponders the purchase of the the site of the former Laconia State School on North Main Street, which last housed a correctional facility, funding distributed by the EPA's Targeted Brownfields Program represents a significant factor in its final decision.
Jeff Hayes, executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, said the Laconia State School site is among the high priority properties identified by the commission.
The 2016-2017 state budget directs the Department of Administrative Services to sell the Laconia State School property. The agency will list the property on the open market for approximately six months before granting the city an opportunity to exercise its right of "first refusal" to purchase it, if necessary by matching the highest and best offer submitted.
The EPA defines "brownfields" as abandoned or underutilized commercial or industrial properties, the redevelopment of which is hindered by real or perceived environmental contamination. The Lakes Region Planning Commission has identified some three dozen sites within the region, some that have been cleaned up, but most that are currently in the program, which are ranked in order of priority.
The process of preparing a brownfield property for redevelopment falls into three phases, beginning with a Phase I, or "screening assessment," which profiles the likely contaminants on the site based on the records of its past uses and observation of its current condition. A Phase II assessment, or "full site assessment," includes sampling to identify the extent and measure the level of contamination. Preparing a "remedial action plan," or RAP, to clean up the property is the last step in the process.
In 2010, Credere Associates of Westbrook, Maine, conducted a screening assessment of the Laconia State School property with some $200,000 in funding from the EPA. In 2012, Nobis Engineering Inc. of Concord, with funding from the EPA, assessed the Blood Building, one of some two dozen buildings on the site, and estimated the cost of removing or remediating hazardous materials before razing the structure at between $225,000 and $365,000. A year later, Credere Associates projected the cost of cleaning up the entire property could fall between $2 million and $3 million.
The city need not own the property to apply for funds to assess it, but must own the property to apply for funds to clean it up. The EPA can contribute up to $350,000 for a Phase II environmental assessment of the property, which Credere Associates anticipates will be sufficient to assess the entire site.
The EPA Brownfields Cleanup Program awards grants of up to $200,000 per property parcel for as many as three parcels a year, with a 20 percent local match in cash or kind. By subdividing the contaminated portion of the site into three separate parcels, the city could apply for as much as $1.2 million in a two-year period to fund clean up at the site. In addition, the EPA provides grants of up to $1 million to municipalities and economic development corporations, like the Belknap Economic Development Council, to capitalize revolving loan funds, which provide low or no-interest loans to for-profit and nonprofit entities for cleanup operations.
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