Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $1.7 million in Brownfield Assessment Grants to four Michigan entities representing communities in Region 5, which oversees most Great Lakes States and is based in Chicago. The funding will be used for projects happening on blighted properties so that they can once again become a source of pride. St. Joseph County, along with Calhoun County Land Bank Authority, Calhoun County, and Ottawa County were project recipients.
As is common in many small Midwest communities, businesses that have pulled out for other locations or closed down have left contamination in their wake making redevelopment of the sites impossible. Brownfield Assessment Grants help to reverse the harm and begin revitalization. Under President Trump’s Administration, the EPA has delivered approximately $287 million in Brownfield grants directly to communities and nonprofits for cleanup and redevelopment, job creation, and economic development through the award of over 948 grants.
EPA Regional Administrator Kurt Thiede says, “[This] funding will provide communities the opportunity to transform these sites so that job creation can occur. These communities are ready to move forward with redevelopment; they just lacked the funding to take that next step.” Thiede further explained that for every $100,000 that a community receives in these types of grants, it realizes two to seven times the amount in investment and 8.5 jobs created and filled by local community members.
St. Joseph County will use community-wide the $300,000 in grant funds to conduct eight Phase I and eight Phase II environmental site assessments, as well as community involvement activities and develop cleanup and reuse plans. Assessment activities will focus on the City of Three Rivers downtown area, which is located in a Qualified Opportunity Zone. Priority sites include the Old Three Rivers Hospital; the vacant White House building, which operated as an appliance and furniture store, a manufacturer of hospital appliances, and an auto dealership; and a former Dodge Dealership. Funds will also be used on other projects throughout the county that have yet to be identified.
“On behalf of St. Joseph County and Southwest Michigan First which partners with the county on economic development, thank you to the EPA for what these funds will enable us to do,” said Cathy Knapp, partner at Southwest Michigan First. “One of projects is in Three Rivers Michigan at a place where three rivers come together, create beauty, and offer the potential for development. It is has been an area over time that has faded from use. The area has a robust economy and needs workforce housing. The funding will help us complete the necessary assessments to show developers the potential for the property which includes mixed use and housing opportunities.”
Since 2004, St. Joseph County has been awarded $1,900,000 in EPA Brownfield grant funding through assessment grants and cleanup grants. One of the key elements in the county’s ability to make successful grant applications has been strong partnerships forged with groups like Southwest Michigan First and Envirologic, an environmental consulting and services firm based in Kalamazoo. In fact, Envirologic has been the primary author of $1,500,000 of these grants and has been an active partner with St. Joseph County since the county received its first grants in 2004. The firm has worked with other communities too on their successful grant applications, including Kalamazoo County, said Jeff Hawkins, CEO and owner of Envirologic. “We look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve St. Joseph County,” said Hawkins.