ROCHELLE – There are many properties spread throughout Rochelle that at one time were functioning businesses, factories or residences. However, they are now sitting vacant and possibly contaminated with hazardous substances.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a nationwide initiative called the Brownfields Program to help assess and clean up these properties. A location is classified as a Brownfield by determining the past use of the property.
The City of Rochelle recently acquired a grant from the USEPA to assess some of the locations within the community in an effort to clean up and redevelop them for future use.
“In 2014, we received a grant for $400,000 to assess properties in the community for potential contamination,” explained Michelle Pease, community development director.
After receiving the grant, the city had several community meetings to prioritize the Brownfield locations within the Rochelle. The next step was to reach out to the property owners for their approval before going forward with the site assessments.
When assessing properties, the process consists of two separate phases. Phase one involves determining the past use of the building and if it were a gas station, a dry cleaner or a factory. Then phase two involves actually going in to the location and cleaning up the contamination. Workers are looking for a multitude of different contaminates when assessing the properties.
“We look for any soil contamination, water contamination, lead based paint, asbestos and many different things,” said Pease.
While property assessments are done to find contaminates and clean them up, there are times when no contaminates are found in a location that was thought to have been contaminated.
“The new rickhouse behind the distillery used some of the grant dollars for an assessment and there was an underground tank on that property,” explained Pease. “We were worried that it was an oil tank, and it was actually just a cistern that was used to catch rain water.”
The main goal of the Brownfields Program is to foster development in the community. The grant Rochelle received has helped tremendously in the cleanup and redevelopment of these properties. According to the USEPA Brownfields grant final report, there have been 23 phase one site assessments completed and 10 phase two site assessments completed, along with remedial planning being completed for one of the sites.
The money from the grant was used for assessing locations across town, but benefited the owners of the properties as well.
“This was a grant that I enjoyed because we could take the federal dollars and be able to help a property owner move their project forward,” said Pease.
Along with the site assessments being completed, Rochelle has leveraged $60,900 in city funding and $2,386,900 in private investments.