Brownfields assessment grant will lead to evaluations of Eureka, Mill No. 1

A $600,000 grant to the Catawba Regional Council of Governments (COG) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will fund some environmental assessments of potentially contaminated sites, called “brownfield” sites in Chester, Lancaster, Union and York Counties. In Chester County, these funds will allow assessments to be conducted at the Eureka Mill site in Chester and the Republic Mill No. 1 site in Great Falls.

The Council of Governments’ assessment grant application was selected from among a national pool of applicants. This is the second EPA assessment grant that Catawba Regional COG has received. The funds will be spread over the four-county region.

The funds will be used for the Phase I and Phase II of the environmental assessments to be done, said Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart.

The assessment will allow the municipalities in eligible sites to come up with a plan to address any procedures to abate or clean up any contaminated sites, Stuart said.

“Basically, the assessment will determine what’s in the ground, what sort of chemicals are at those sites. That’s the Phase I of the assessment and if something is found, they would have to go to a Phase II, which is to come up with a plan to mitigate any contaminants,” said Stuart.

“I’d love to see what a Phase I assessment would yield at the Eureka Mill site, because that’s a site that is here close, and one that needs to be addressed,” said Stuart.

The assessment could be the first step towards reinvigorating a scarred community, said Stuart.

“I grew up around the Eureka, and that’s such a blighted community; it needs something to bring it back to life. If you could get the mill site fixed so that it would bring something better into the area, I’m sure that would spawn interest in bringing some more growth there,” Stuart said.

“It would mean so much to get these areas cleaned up and viable again,” he said.

COG Senior Planner Robby Moody said the primary focus for the assessment grant would be former textile mill sites in the region served by Catawba COG.

“This is actually the third grant we have received in the last 15 or so years for assessment and it is the largest. We anticipate working in all four counties, looking at old mill sites and moving those closer to cleanup and redevelopment. That’s the real purpose of the grant,” he said.

COG has spent time and resources previously working with the Springsteen Mill site, said Moody.

The assessment will determine what kind of materials might be at these different sites, Moody said.

Moody said COG worked with local communities and local governments in the course of writing the grant application to identify which sites might be priorities.

“We had a pretty good handle on which sites, and we sort of filtered the choice through criteria such as location and which ones had access, because access to the site is very important; although there are no cleanup activities, we do still have to have access to the site to conduct sampling of the water or the soil to determine the level or extent of contamination. Access is key,” said Moody.

“The Springsteen site would not be a choice for this grant, because it has already received assistance. The Eureka Mill site at the time of that grant was in private ownership (it still is, but the disposition of that for an assessment is more favorable now). The Republic Mill No. 1 has always been a priority site for the Town of Great Falls. COG has worked with them over the years developing a plan for cleaning up and redeveloping that site and one of the big hurdles has been access to assessment funding,” he said.

Moody said the assessments should begin in the fourth quarter of this year. This will not be a quick process, he points out.

“I would add that the sites didn’t get in the condition they’re in overnight; it took a period of time. And the cleanup process also takes a period of time,” he said. “It’s really just up to the individual communities and their resources and how much they make it a priority,” Moody said.

By Brian Garner, Staff Reporter with The News & Reporter