MN communities get helping hand to re-work contaminated sites

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Minnesota has more than 10,000 brownfield sites, which are abandoned or idled properties in need of contamination removal. State officials will soon provide grants to help retail corridors in underserved areas assess their own environmental threats

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is using $2 million from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to carry out the initiative. Over the next five years, 64 site assessments and up to 15 specific cleanup plans will be funded.

Amy Hadiaris, supervisor of the voluntary investigation and cleanup program for the MPCA, said they are specifically trying to help transform family-owned businesses and other commercial sites that have long suffered from environmental injustice.

“They don’t have the resources needed to turn over those properties, to investigate them, to put them to higher use,” Hadiaris explained.

While owners and communities from across the state will be able to apply, four specific sites already have been identified for priority cleanup and brownfield redevelopment.

Skeptics of the government programs said while there is an environmental benefit, they sometimes push out longtime residents of low-income neighborhoods after a site is redeveloped. Hadiaris suggested they hope to avoid such outcomes when the grant money is applied, and projects move forward.

“Our goal is to support redevelopment projects that are important to the community,” Hadiaris emphasized. “Maybe that’s small businesses or affordable housing, nonprofit services; maybe even green space, like a pocket park in a neighborhood that doesn’t have much green space.”

One of the targeted sites is the West Broadway corridor in North Minneapolis. The redevelopment is being led by Justice Built Communities, which said one of its goals is to prevent gentrification and displacement.

As for other possible sites around Minnesota, applications will be accepted throughout the program’s five-year window. Funds will not be available until later this year.

Mike Moen is a writer for the Minnesota News Connection.