SMDC awarded $300,000 grant

Kathie Bailey stands near the entrance of the Broadway Apartments building, just one of the Central Montana properties Snowy Mountain Development Corporation’s brownfield programs have benefitted.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Central Montana has a new resource for property cleanup and redevelopment: A $300,000 federal grant to help property owners assess contamination was awarded to Snowy Mountain Development Corporation.

Kathie Bailey, SMDC executive director, said the money was an EPA brownfield assessment grant the nonprofit applied for last December.

“This is an assessment grant,” she said. “Assessments are the first step in cleaning up properties that have hazardous materials.”

Brownfield is a term coined by the EPA to refer to contaminated properties, and its definition covers a wide range of pollutants, from underground fuel leaks to lead-based paint. SMDC went after the grant with the goal of helping local businesses and entrepreneurs, according to Bailey.

“If a property is perceived as being contaminated, banks won’t loan you money,” she said. “They can’t.”

This means the owner cannot sell the property unless the buyer does not need a loan. Additionally, they cannot develop the property unless they also do not need a loan to pay contractors.

Bailey explained the cleanup is not cheap either. First, the site needs a two-part assessment to determine what contaminants are there. The second step is a formal cleanup plan, followed by the cleanup itself. Each step, Bailey said, comes with its own price tag.

“We estimated that phase one [of an assessment] would be about $3,500,” she said. “To go in and look at the hazardous substance, phase two, we estimated it would be about $25,000 to $30,000. That’s more than the property’s worth, in most cases.”

Bailey noted private individuals struggled with the cost, especially because loans are not an option.

“That’s why these properties stall, stay stagnant and remain undeveloped,” she said.

It’s also why Chris Rindal turned to SMDC for help with a brownfield he and his father own, the old Ernie’s Auto property.

“The assessment was done as a result of SMDC getting involved,” he said.

Rindal estimated the targeted brownfield assessment would have cost roughly $30,000 without the nonprofit’s help.

“We had exhausted everything we could think of,” he said, including loans.

Banks did not want to be involved with the property, according to Rindal.

“[That’s] Because the chances were pretty good the cleanup was going to be more than the property was worth,” Rindal explained.

For 20 years, the father and son owners had been held back by costs. Now Rindal feels the site has potential.

“It’s saleable, it’s developable,” he said. “Before, there was no ability to use it, other than leaving it exactly as it was. Now it has a future.

Rindal and private owners are not the only ones trapped by finances. Lewistown City Manager Holly Phelps said municipalities can struggle with cost, too.

“That’s a huge financial impact for anyone, even Lewistown,” she said.

Phelps cited the Mill Building as the latest example of a City brownfield. She worked with SMDC to fund a targeted brownfield assessment that found lead paint and mold.

“They’ve worked with us to do the grants for those assessment funds, and the access to EPA money,” she said of the nonprofit. “It makes doing the right thing financially possible.”

SMDC’s help with brownfield sites has been for crucial Phelps, who takes a cautious approach on any possibly property. “If in doubt, check it out,” is her motto.

“We, the City, use it a lot as a whole and have been very successful, but it’s been used throughout the community as a whole, too, and it’s been an asset,” she said.

For Phelps, the proximity of SMDC and its program is as valuable as any funding.

“This keeps it local instead of the City having to go to the EPA,” she said. “If this service, or access to those kind of programs, were not local, it would be a lot harder.”

Bailey explained why: When any entity, private or public, requests assistance from the EPA or DEQ, they are subject to the timing and funding limits of those federal departments.

Now, with $300,000 for assessments, Bailey can offer assistance from a local source. The nonprofit has already designated the funds, with $200,000 marked for hazardous material assessments and the remaining $100,000 going towards assessment of potential petroleum products.

Bailey knows the need is there.

“I think we did around 10 assessments in the last year and a half,” she said.

Bailey plans to start working with potential brownfield assessment sites Aug. 1. She said SMDC is looking to help properties with the potential for projects or redevelopment. For more information on the nonprofit’s brownfield programs, call Kathie Bailey at 535-2591.

“Of course, all of us want to have a clean and healthy environment in Montana,” Bailey said. “It’s important for our lifestyle. Even more than that, if these hazardous materials or petroleum products aren’t cleaned up, they can contaminate the water our children play in.”

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