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A DRONE picture of a dilapidated property in St. Joseph is one of the beginning steps in qualifying for an EPA brownfield grant. (Pictured by Cliff Palmer, executive director of LaMATS)

Local dilapidated properties and municipalities could benefit from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) brownfield land program, according to Cliff Palmer, executive director of Louisiana Municipal Advisory and Technical Services Bureau (LaMATS).

Brownfields are properties, usually rundown and overgrown, that may contain hazardous substances, pollutant or contaminant, according to EPA.

The governmental organization offers numerous grants in its brownfields’ programs for training, assistance and cleaning of such properties.

“This area is in desperate need,” Palmer said. “We have a brownfields assess program that could help communities like Winnsboro and Wisner.”

Winnsboro Clerk Julia Jackson said she heard about the program in a webinar and signed up for more information.

“One of our goals in Winnsboro is to work on the properties that fall into (brown fields) category,” Jackson said.

Wisner Mayor Marc McCarty said his administration was interested in the program and was looking into LaMATS assistance.

Additionally, the program would be a good fit for communities such as Clayton and Ridgecrest that have older properties scattered throughout their corporate limits.

“I have seven houses that could benefit from this program,” said Ridgecrest Mayor Veller Ray Carroll.

With LaMATS’ program, Dr. John Sutherlin, brownfields assessment projects director, looks at areas throughout the state that may qualify for EPA grant money.

“Dr. Sutherlin basically goes to towns that I make arrangements for, and he will do a windshield tour of the town and identify properties that could potentially be moved into the brownfields program.”

Sutherlin identifies properties in the municipality that would interest the EPA for its brown fields program.

“Most of the projects (LaMATS) initiates are going to be grant applications for reports are done by doing research, finding the property owner and looking at past records to see what the use of the property was. We are going to help the municipality to receive grant funds to look at the properties.”

The program is designed to empower communities and stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse brown fields, according to EPA’s website.

EPA launched the program in 1995 by providing small amounts of seed money to local governments that started hundreds of two-year brownfields pilot projects.

“The properties must be privately owned,” Palmer said. “The whole idea around brownfields is to get private property owners to realize their responsibility to the municipality and the community and to do something about these properties that almost always have some type of contamination.”

The LaMATS group was in St. Joseph March 31 inspecting the Rosenwald school site. The school has been shut down for decades and has holes in the roof and overgrown weeds.

The mayor of St. Joseph, Matt Alexander, envisions the site to be a future park for his town.

“This is a real investment to get the cleanup done quickly,” Palmer said. 

Grants are awarded once a year in November or December and funded in March or April by the EPA.

“This is not a get out of jail free card for property owners,” Palmer said. “It is not the government coming to clean it up because you are nice and you get to flip it because it is now worth 20 times as much. If the government pays to clean it up, it has to be put into public use such as a park or training facility.”

Palmer advised municipalities to take advantage of the EPA’s program as other states have for years.

“If you will listen, work and focus we will help you through the process,” Palmer said. “I believe we will have success this year if nothing else by the number of applicants statewide.”

LaMATS does not charge for their services for its brownfields’ assessment program.

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