New federal funding to clean up Kentucky brownfields touted as transformative

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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By Liam Niemeyer

Kentucky Lantern

For federal and state environmental officials, Louisville’s downtown soccer stadium is an example of what’s possible.

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The site of the 11,600-seat Lynn Family Stadium, the home of Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC, was a brownfield, one of thousands of properties across Kentucky that face challenges with redevelopment due to pollution or contamination.

In the case of the stadium, the impacted land had been home to a refinery, iron works and an auto parts business, among other enterprises. Through millions of dollars of investment, some of it from the state, developers turned the blighted property into a riverfront stadium. Since the stadium’s opening in 2020, the efforts have received a national award.

Standing in front of the stadium at a Monday news conference, those officials — including Jeaneanne Gettle, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 acting administrator — expressed hopes that almost $8 million to assess and clean up other sites in Louisville and across Kentucky can help transform properties that sit empty or go underused because of past pollution.

“We had a very strong history here in America as an industrialized society,” said Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman. “But that’s left an environmental legacy for us, not just here in Louisville for industrial sites, but also in Eastern Kentucky for some of our coal sites as well.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants announced in May, which come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, will go to a range of entities from a Western Kentucky school district to area development districts:

  • $1 million to the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government to boost an existing countywide revolving loan fund to clean up brownfield sites.
  • $1 million to the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection to also boost a similar revolving loan fund.
  • Nearly $2 million to clean up the former Hayswood Hospital in Maysville, which closed in 1983 and has remained vacant. An affordable housing nonprofit, Frontier Housing, plans to turn it into residential housing.
  • Nearly $1 million to clean up a 144,000-square-foot sewing factory and warehouse in Somerset.
  • Nearly $500,000 to Caldwell County Schools to clean up “hazardous materials” from an annex building, a part of a former high school, which will then be reconstructed into a space for recreation and community programs.
  • Nearly $500,000 to Beattyville to rehabilitate a downtown structure that was used as a jail, city hall and firehouse.
  • $500,000 to the Big Sandy Development District to conduct environmental assessments and create clean up plans for various sites in Prestonsburg.
  • $500,000 to Carroll County to create an inventory of polluted sites, conduct environmental assessments and create cleanup plans for various sites including a former furniture factory in Carrollton.
  • $500,000 to Ashland to create an inventory of polluted sites, conduct environmental assessments and create cleanup plans for various sites including a former hardware store.
  • $500,000 to the Green River Area Development District to create an inventory of polluted sites, conduct environmental assessments and create cleanup plans for various sites, particularly targeting the cities of Providence and Sebree.

Amanda LeFevre, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, said that seeing transformed brownfields, along with the possibility of future funding, will encourage smaller communities to begin their own inventories of brownfield sites and how they might be remediated.

“It’s a hard thing to do to look at a property and realize everything that has to happen from ‘soup to nuts’ to get it redeveloped,” LeFevre said. “It makes a big difference to our communities in what they can envision.”

The work to remediate former industrial properties in Kentucky is significant. Goodman, the cabinet secretary, estimated there are about 3,000 brownfield sites in the state that need immediate remediation or remediation plans. She said there could be up to 8,000 total sites throughout the state, ranging from small former gas stations to large former factory buildings.

LeFevre said over her career working with brownfield sites, she’s never seen the amount of money available before for remediating such properties and that it was an opportune time for communities to consider applying for such funding in the future.

“When you have more money out there, the barriers don’t seem as big, right?” LeFevre said.