PALMETTO -- Palmetto is in high gear for redevelopment. It is the oldest city in Manatee County, and therefore most likely to have old gas tanks in the ground, asbestos in some of its buildings and lead in paint. But that hasn't stopped the city from dealing with unexpected contamination, or the prospect of it, when it comes to meeting its goals. CRA Director Jeff Burton says that without the many redevelopment grants Palmetto has received, most of the work could not have been done.
In a meeting Monday, Palmetto City Commissioners voted to include the Palmetto Community Redevelopment District as a brownfields area for the purpose of environmental remediation, rehabilitation and economic redevelopment.
During citizens comments, Ellen Leonard had a few questions. She wanted to know if the commissioners could wait until the next meeting to vote on the designation of the CRA district as a brownfield area. Leonard said, "It's not that I and others are against it, it is just we haven't had enough time to understand what it really means." She added "Can we opt-out?"
Leonard was followed by Chris Kelly, "I am very concerned too," said Kelly. "There hasn't been enough time". Kelly also felt he didn't know enough about what it all means and if there was a penalty for opting out for those who live in the designated area.
CRA Director Jeff Burton answered, "We sent out a letter and the required notice, but the answer to your questions is, yes, you can opt-out, and there is no penalty if you choose to do so." He then added, "But there is no reason to do so. It doesn't cost anything and if you needed it, you would be happy to have it."
Burton explained that, a brownfields classification offers assistance if you should need it. Being designated a brownfields allows property owners to apply for grants from EPA, West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND), Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and other organizations that have an interest in cleaning up the areas where contamination might exist.
The City of Palmetto is currently finishing a couple of projects where brownfields grant money was supplied by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Burton explained that, "there are state brownfield grants, like the MPO, and federal brownfields grants, such as those from the EPA."
Most community development grants are matching funds, usually on a 50/50 scale, but in a brownfield district, it's possible to stack them. For instance, the MPO will pick up half of the clean-up cost, then SWFWMD might pick up 15 percent and WCIND another 15 percent, to help protect inland and coastal waters. The owner then might only have to pay for 20 percent of the original project.
The cleaning-up of contaminated ground can take a long time and be very costly, bringing redevelopment to a stand still. Brownfields are designed to get the problem out of the way, in order to allow all with an interest to keep moving forward. All property with structures built prior to 1978 are checked for lead and asbestos contamination. Brownfields grants can pay for the incineration of the material and even to clean-up a contaminated well. There are hundreds of brownfields areas in the state of Florida that have helped to provide many millions of dollars in contamination clean-up.
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