COLUMBUS COUNTY (WECT) - Columbus County won a $300,000 federal grant to inspect properties of all types for possible environmental damage, and now county leaders are accepting applications to select which locations to inspect.
The $300,000 grant is from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield Program. The county was awarded the money in October 2018.
The purpose is to inspect brownfield sites, which refers to land, buildings, or property that might have environmental concerns. The pollution doesn’t even have to exist, as long as the threat is enough to keep the land vacant and unused.
“What the grant really will do for us, it will allow us to do assessments of buildings that have not or are not being used in our downtown areas throughout Columbus County," said Gary Lanier, Economic Development Director for Columbus County. "We will survey those buildings and determine if they have any environmental issues that need to be cleaned up before they are put back in productive use.”
At a community meeting Thursday night in Whiteville, Lanier spoke along with representatives from Terracon, an environmental consultant/contractor working with the county to select and inspect brownfield sites.
Examples of brownfield sites include retired gas stations, laundromats, landfills, and illicit dumping sites.
“This is a real benefit to building owners, because to do these kinds of assessments could cost some significant amount of money, and this is federal grant to encourage revitalization to actually pay for these kinds of assessments using federal moneys," said Lanier.
Thursday’s gathering was the first public information meeting for the grant, and another meeting is planned in Chadbourn next week. After that, Columbus County and Terracon will begin spending the money on environmental inspections of chosen sites.
“We’ve got people locally that want to see our downtown revitalized, and see businesses opening up in our downtown store fronts that are empty right now," said Lanier.
After the environmental inspection reveals the extent of the problem or lack of contamination, the owner can move to open the property back up, sell it to a new owner, or clean up the contamination.
“This program is the best program out there to assess a downtown area and get buildings that are sitting idle back into productive use," said Lanier. "Developers are scared to deal. They don’t want to take on the liability of working on a building or remodeling a building that may asbestos tiles from the 1940′s on the floor.”
The ultimate goals are to facilitate jobs, increase the local tax base, help utilize existing infrastructure, reduce blight, and clean up the environment.
Participation in the program is voluntary. You can learn more and apply to Columbus County’s Gary Lanier, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 640-6608.