Grass Valley and one of its charter schools have been tapped for a combined $1 million from the Environmental Protection Agency as part of $62.5 million in funds awarded to assess and clean up abandoned industrial and commercial properties.
Of the locally awarded brownfields funds, the municipality will get $400,000 for community-wide cleanup, and Yuba River Charter, which is developing a 16-acre site near the intersection of Rough and Ready Highway and Adam Avenue in Grass Valley, was awarded $600,000 to apply to three locations.
Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which might be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands, according to the EPA’s website.
“This is great for the community,” said Jeri Amendola, Grass Valley’s economic development coordinator.
The EPA’s funding is part of more than $62 million awarded to 140 communities across the country, which represents 240 grants to be awarded later this summer, ranging from $200,000 for assessment and cleanup grants to $1 million for revolving loan fund grants. Orange County’s Brea was the only other California community to garner funding.
“These grants will go a long way to bring areas in Grass Valley back into productive reuse while involving community members in the process,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a statement.
“EPA is pleased to be able to fund these local projects that will revitalize neighborhoods, spur economic activity, and address the legacy of gold mining contamination.”
Plans for Yuba Charter’s 23,000-square-foot, $8.5 million new school were approved at an April 11 Nevada County Planning Commission meeting, but the matter will be heard again at a May 23 meeting due to a procedural error at the original hearing.
The proposal for a new school calls for the construction of six different buildings at the 16-acre site.
Plans for the proposed school feature several K-8 classrooms, a library, a main lobby, about 800 square feet of administrative space, an art studio, an amphitheater, general parking and several play fields for different grade levels.
The EPA funds will go toward a 3-acre portion of the site on its northernmost border that was once part of the Kenny Ranch project, which housed Grass Valley’s burn dump for 50 years beginning in the 1870s and that currently features contaminated soil with a high concentration of lead.
“It’s crucial for making sure we can clean up the site,” said Caleb Buckley, director of Yuba River Charter. “This long-term dump site will finally get cleaned up.”
Remediation activities are slated to include removal of contaminated soil, hauling it to an approved disposal site and capping the disturbed area, all of which will be monitored by the state Department of Toxic Substances, which pledged in April to fund half the costs of the cleanup, Buckley said.
“We’ve been trying to make the case that this is the only way to clean up this site, is for a school to be built,” Buckley said. “We can bring the funds to clean up this site that a private agency would never be able to raise.”
Contamination at the old dump site was a significant hurdle to moving forward with a proposed new campus for the school, its officials noted in a joint statement with the city.
The proposals were written by Jane Sellen, grant writer for Nevada City non-profit Sierra Streams Institute, who partnered with Nevada City on four EPA-funded abandoned mine assessment and remediation projects.
“We could start the cleanup as early as September, but it will probably be the following spring before we break ground,” Buckley said. “The plan would be to open the school in August 2015.”
Grass Valley’s funds will be used to conduct approximately 30 brownfields hazardous substance site assessments throughout the city.
Properties poised for sale or development can be hampered by the incumbrances of potential previous uses. With the EPA funds, properties can be assessed, moving the process along, Amendola said.
“This is what is so great, this helps private property owners,” she said.
Results from these site assessments will be used to create and rank inventories of hazardous substance and petroleum sites and develop cleanup strategies, the municipality said in a statement.
“Once you get these assessments done... (funds) can also assist with determining if the site needs to be rezoned,” Amendola said. “That allows opportunities to accommodate property so zoning can be reconsidered for better use.”
This is the third EPA grant Grass Valley has garnered, the first of which was awarded in 2009, a hazardous material and petroleum substances grant for $400,000.
The second, $200,000, grant was awarded in 2012 for site-specific clean up for The Village of South Auburn, which is a three-year project.
— Staff Writer Matthew Renda contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.