Missoula County will use $300K grant to assess ‘brownfields’ for environmental cleanup

Missoula County will assess areas around Milltown State Park for any possible brownfields work that might be needed. (File photo)

With the completion of one more last-minute form, Missoula County will soon receive federal brownfields money to assess commercial properties for contamination cleanup.

On Thursday, the Missoula County commissioners approved the signing of a routine form guaranteeing that the county won’t use any part of a $300,000 federal grant to pay for lobbying for or against issues regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Missoula County grants administrator Sindie Kennedy thought she was finished with all the requirements for the brownfields assessment grant last week, after completing a work plan and filling out one other form. But when she submitted the county’s package to the EPA, she was told they’d forgotten to give her the lobbying form.

The EPA notified the county in June that it had been awarded the grant, after the county was unsuccessful in two previous years. So Kennedy didn’t have much time to compile a package before the deadline.

Now, the EPA and the county will sign a contract, and then the county will have three years, starting Oct. 1, to use the money to assess properties to determine if they qualify as brownfields.

A brownfield is a property where redevelopment may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. The EPA estimates there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.

The EPA provides assessment grants to help pay for the assessment of contaminated areas and the development of cleanup plans, so commercial properties can once again become economically viable. However, property owners are responsible for paying for their own cleanup. The grants can’t be used for personal property unless it involves meth labs that require cleanup.

“It’s predominantly for businesses,” Kennedy said. “The main theme is economic development, so brownfields is really popular on both sides of the aisle. It’s one of those things that gets well funded.”

The city of Missoula already has brownfields funding that has been used on sites such as the Riverfront Triangle. But this will be the first time that the county has funding to evaluate sites for cleanup outside the city limits, Kennedy said.

In the grant application, Kennedy gave examples of where assessment might be needed, such as property around the new Milltown State Park, the transportation corridor between Missoula and East Missoula, and south of the Flathead Reservation near Evaro.

“It’s a voluntary program. We did name those areas just to demonstrate that we do have brownfield sites in the county. But at this time, nobody is committed,” Kennedy said. “But we do have the funding to help them assess whether there’s contamination.”

Tim O’Leary is one property owner that is already excited about the funding. He wants to develop an accessibility ramp from the Kettlehouse Taproom and amphitheater to the Blackfoot River, and there may be issues with contamination in the riverbank he wants to excavate. So the money will help him find out whether he needs to clean that up before constructing his ramp.