Thursday, December 02, 1999

Industrial cleanup agency gets boost from chamber

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The agency responsible for cleaning up abandoned industrial areas and turning them into usable sites for business will receive most of its funding next year — more than $100,000 — from the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        That money will cover the director's salary, overhead and some marketing expenses for the Port Authority for Brownfields Redevelopment in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

        And the chamber, which approved its annual budget Tuesday, will continue to give the Port Authority office space and some equipment.

        The Port Authority was one of 300 pilot projects created by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1997. It is supposed to find brownfield sites, clean them up and get private developers interested in fixing them up.

        Brownfields are abandoned or idle industrial sites where redevelopment is difficult because of pollution.

        But with the federal grant set to expire at the end of this year, the Port Authority was scrambling to find money so it could stay in business.

        “No world-class city can be world class without a strong core,” said Joe Kramer, vice president of the economic development for the chamber. “As we look at how organizations tie in to that, part of revitalization is assuring the Port Authority is successful.

        “We think they're close.”

        In addition, Hamilton County will kick in $40,000 to cover potential legal bills facing the Port Authority in the coming year.

        “This keeps our doors open in 2000,” said Chip Gerhardt, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Port Authority. “It allows us to continue the work we began in 1999.”

        Some critics have said the Port Authority doesn't have much to show for the past two years of work.

        The brownfield it pursued in Cincinnati fell through earlier this year because the owner was unwilling to sell.

        After nearly a year of pursuing a former electroplating and metal finishing plant in the county, Green Industries in Sharonville, the Port Authority still hasn't gotten a deal.

        But they are getting close, said Lisa Lange, the Port Authority's executive director.

        “I understand the frustration,” Ms. Lange said. “I get frustrated that these deals don't move more quickly, too.

        “But it just exemplifies the need for an organization to do all of this legwork.”

        More than 350,000 gallons of toxins — such as liquid cyanide and chromic acid sludge — were pulled out of the ground on the Green Industries site. Another 70 tons of contaminated soil had to be hauled away.

        Now there are more than $1 million in liens against the property, and the Port Authority is negotiating for a reasonable buying price, while making sure no hidden costs will surface after it is purchased.

        “I think (brownfield redevelopment) is one of the most important issues facing us today,” Mr. Gerhardt said. “If you think about urban sprawl and farmland preservation, the answer to those problems is to have the urban core redeveloped.

        “But it's not an easy thing. It's much easier to plow down cornfields than it is to bring up PCBs.”

        Although Hamilton County has pledged some financial support, commissioner John Dowlin said it's important for the Port Authority to show results next year.

        “There is merit to some of the criticism,” Mr. Dowlin said. “It's time to buy and build something. We've got to get more done than a study.”


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