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Scott pushes effort to rehab brownfield sites

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 5:08 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers are reviewing over $200 million in one-time investments in Governor Phil Scott’s budget proposal, including an initiative to rehab dilapidated properties and brownfield sites.

There are hundreds of blighted properties across Vermont from a time gone by. Governor Scott wants to use one-time funding to convert these eyesores into new projects, like one taking shape in Montpelier.

The old Grossman’s Lumber property off Route 2 has sat abandoned for three decades. “Nobody was able to step up to the plate and redevelop the project,” said Patrick Malone, the owner of Malone Properties. The developer specializes in cleaning up and redeveloping brownfield sites, old commercial or industrial buildings that are deemed to pose an environmental risk. Through a state program, he received $100,000 -- and liability protection -- to develop the site into a mixed industrial site slated to open next month.

Many of Vermont’s brownfields lie in downtown centers, reminders of our storied industrial past. They include the Putnam Block in Bennington and the Jones and Lamson building in Springfield, among others. “These sites are like the missing tooth in a downtown. Oftentimes, they are difficult to deal with. They stay vacant or rundown for a long period of time,” said Vt. Commerce Deputy Commissioner Brett Long.

Cleaning up projects like Grossman’s can cost millions, from assessment and regulatory red tape to actually getting shovels in the ground. “This is not money you can go get loans for from a conventional lending association. You have to have funds available or have a way to identify them,” said Trish Coppolino with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

In his budget proposal, Governor Scott wants to funnel $25 million toward redeveloping brownfield sites. Vermont gets about $2 million annually from the EPA for this purpose, but there are strict limitations on how that cash can be used and there’s fierce competition.

Democrats in the Legislature applaud the initiative but are looking to take it a step further by getting shovels in the ground before a budget is passed this summer. “Our money would have less strings and restrictions than the federal EPA monies that are out there,” said Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden County.

As the lawmakers grapple with how to responsibly maintain and redevelop our past, state officials say there’s a growing need for help. “We’re seeing a few dozen being enrolled in that program every year. There’s certainly no limit to the pipeline of opportunities that are coming in,” said Kristie Farnham, the state’s brownfields program manager.

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