MANATEE -- Revitalization of blighted Tamiami Trail has long been a priority of governmental and business leaders in Manatee and Sarasota.
That effort got a push Monday from the Environmental Protection Agency, which announced that $1 million of a $7 million grant package being awarded to 10 Florida communities is going to the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Local MPO officials say the grant money will be used to assess “brownfield sites” along the Tamiami Trail: gas stations, auto repair shops and dry cleaning businesses, some of which have been abandoned, and some of which may be contaminated.
The assessment of the suspected brownfield properties will help determine which properties need to be cleaned up, and get them on track to be put back into productive use, said Michael Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee MPO.
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Preliminary surveys pinpoint 241 petroleum-contaminated sites and 19 dry cleaner-contaminated sites in Manatee County, with about 25 percent of those being in the Tamiami Trail area, said Michael Maholtz, transportation planner for the MPO.
Surveys for Sarasota County show 258 petroleum-contaminated sites and 28 dry cleaner-contaminated sites, about one-third of them along the Tamiami Trail, Maholtz said.
“Once the contaminants are removed, the sites would be much more marketable,” Maholtz said.
After the MPO receives official notification of the grant, they can request bid proposals for the site assessments starting in October.
“Ironically, we actually applied for the same type of assessment funds a little over two years ago and missed winning the grant by a couple of points in the national competition. We have been working on it about three years. The MPO board is to be commended for continuing to pursue this,” Howe said.
In these tough economic times, the value is two-fold, Howe said.
“You’re improving the environment and you’re helping the economy with jobs,” Howe said. “We are very pleased.”
The award of the Florida grants were announced by the EPA in a press release.
“The Brownfields program encourages redevelopment of America’s estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites. As of May 2011, EPA’s Brownfields assistance has leveraged more than $16.7 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funding, and 69,700 jobs in cleanup, construction, and redevelopment,” according to the press release. “These investments and jobs target local, under-served and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods -- places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed.”
A brownfield site is one whose expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant, according to an EPA fact sheet.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said the EPA grant will be helpful with revitalization efforts.
“You can have a project moving forward and all of the sudden you have a brownfield right in the middle of it,” he said.
The Tamiami Trail, the area’s urban core, is a focus of the county’s main economic development effort over the next decade. “It’s the heart of the community,” said Cheri Coryea, director of Neighborhood Services for Manatee County.
She welcomed news of the grant award.
“It’s a win for everybody,” Coryea said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, may be contacted at 745-7021.