From polluted to prime, Missoula applies EPA brownfield funds to redevelop urban properties
(Missoula Current) Funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and revolving loans have helped the City of Missoula make progress in cleaning a number of contaminated properties for redevelopment – a process expected to achieve several large milestones next year.
Tyler Walls, the city's brownfields programs specialist, said that without the funding and local management of the loans, a number of contaminated sites would mar the city's core with vacant, worthless properties.
“We're here to protect the human health and the environment by facilitating the redevelopment or reuse of properties that may be complicated by the presence, or potential presence, of a hazardous substance, pollutant or containment,” Walls told members of the City Council on Wednesday. “Redevelopment increases the tax base, spurs job creation, and often kick-starts revitalization within a neighborhood.”
The city already has a number of successful brownfield projects to point to, largely related to nonprofit partnerships. The Poverello Center received $60,000 in funding to clean up hazardous building materials prior to the construction of its shelter in 2013, as did the Missoula Food Bank, which received $76,000 to clear contaminated soil in 2016 as it began building its new facility.
Others have included Garden City Harvest and the Lee Gordon House, which now provides affordable housing in the downtown district.
“A major barrier to redeveloping brownfields is that contaminated property has marginal economic feasibility after considering remediation costs,” Walls said. “We're providing grants and loans to carry out cleanup and providing other public and private funding sources to stimulate redevelopment of brownfield sites for neighborhood revitalization.”
Part of Missoula's Past
Brownfield sites represent abandoned, idled or under-utilized properties where redevelopment is challenged by environmental contamination and the cost of cleaning it up. Missoula has many such properties given its industrial past, and most lie along the railroad, according to Walls.
Others include former gas stations along the West Broadway corridor, old dry cleaners and factories, such as the Old Sawmill District. The city received a $1 million revolving loan fund from the EPA in 2004 and applied most of it to clean up the Sawmill District for redevelopment.
Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars in private redevelopment has since taken place including housing, retail and office space. The district now provides student housing, private housing and headquarters for one of Missoula's largest tech companies.
“The Millsite revitalization loan is being paid back by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. We essentially loaned ourselves and that money is staying local and it's coming back into the revolving loan fund, where we get payments from MRA every six months,” said Walls.
Payback will be completed in 2028, at which time the city's revolving loan fund will have an additional $1.8 million on hand for other projects. A second and similar loan of $500,000 was also made to Riverfront Triangle Partners, which plans to redevelop seven acres in downtown Missoula.
“There's a lot of benefits from the program,” said Walls. “The feasibility of some of these projects on brownfield sites really requires us to come in and help relieve that piece of the overall development of the property, as it can be expensive to remediate these sites.”
Clark Fork Inn, Sleepy Inn and Other Properties
The city is using other elements of the EPA brownfield program on other properties, including a $300,000 assessment grant on the Clark Fork Inn, which will eventually house veterans. A Phase 2 analysis was also completed on the Sleepy Inn, where brownfield funding will be used to abate asbestos and lead as the site is cleared and prepared for redevelopment.
Walls said the city also is nearly finished with a soil management plan for its Scott Street property, which will soon provide several hundred housing units, including 70 deed-restricted condos and townhomes. He believes the Montana Department of Environmental Quality should give the site a green light in January, clearing the way for developers to begin road and utility work next summer.
The city's next target lies at the Montana Rail Link Triangle off Johnson Street, which also has plans for redevelopment.
“We were awarded a cleanup grant in 2020 for $320,000 to clean and delist the MRL Triangle as a state Superfund site, and we have the means to move this forward,” Walls said, crediting MRA for moving that forward by providing the required funding match.
“It's going to take time for us to walk through the state voluntary cleanup plan, which is the process of delisting the site,” Walls added. “We see minor soil remediation needed on the north half of that property, and we found asbestos in two of the buildings on site. We'll be working on abatement as soon as next summer.”
Once that work is done, Walls said the city will begin to design potential uses for the site, which includes several acres of prime real estate. The early vision includes mixed-use development with multi-story housing and ground-floor retail.
“We have a significant amount of money designated for redevelopment planning,” Walls said. “We actually get to go in there and start visioning what this looks like for the city. This will entail quite a bit of community engagement and involvement.”