EPA to grant $4.9 million toward the cleanup of contaminated sites in Chattanooga

One of the priority areas for the money is the Wheland Foundry site, where the city plans to build the new stadium for the Lookouts

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – The Environmental Protection Agency announced almost five million dollars is coming to Chattanooga to help the city clean up contamination.

Back in mid-March, News 12 did a story about the city looking for $21 million to help start the cleanup of the old Wheland Foundry site to build new green spaces for a new stadium for the Lookouts.

The city asked the state government to help, but to no avail. So, the city went higher.

The EPA is making the Wheland Foundry brown field and others in the city the same color as cash: green.

“For every dollar the federal government invests in this program, there’s $20 more that gets returned in terms of economic development, job creation and that sort of thing. So, that’s what will happen in Chattanooga as a result of this money.”

The city will receive $500,000 for analysis of the sites, another half million for the cleanup of those sites, and 3-point-9 million for the city’s Revolving Loan Fund, which offers low-interest loans for brownfield sites.

Janet McCabe, a deputy administrator for the EPA, tells News 12 “When you take these blighted sites and you clean them up, you’re creating jobs for people in the community to help with the redevelopment. You’re empowering those neighborhoods to help make decisions about what they want to have in their neighborhoods. You’re increasing the tax base. You are increasing the property values. Property values go up 5 to 15%.”

This is a distinct difference from the mid-1960’s, when Chattanooga was considered the “Dirtiest City in America.”

Walter Cronkite once did a story about it on the CBS Evening News decades ago, saying “It’s blamed on an atmospheric inversion that’s kept the pollution from drifting away.”

But the old foundry sites that were thriving then are vacant now, and they’ve left behind a legacy of toxins.

McCabe: “There’s vapors. There’s metals in the soil. Often, they’re abandoned., OId gas stations. Old dry cleaners. Old industrial site are what we consider to be brownfields, and we want them to be greenfields. We want them to be functioning businesses that are giving back to the community, but they can’t be now because they’re dangerous. And they also can contribute to groundwater contamination, as well as air pollution, if there’s contaminated dust that gets … and they’re just ugly and not something you want to have in your community.”

Priority sites for the brownfields cleanup are the Wheland Foundry Site, U.S. Pipe, and the R.L. Stowe Mercerizing Mill.

The abandoned rail corridor right across the street from this station is also considered to be a part of the cleanup effort.

But, the EPA wasn’t finished with Chattanooga.

Some of the money the city will receive from the agency is already going toward the cleanup of residences with lead contamination.

There are more than 54 hundred properties the EPA is focused on, and two of them are in Highland Park along 13th Street.

The agency believes the old foundries would transport lead to homes and residents would unknowingly use the lead as backfill to protect their properties.

Jasmin Jefferies, the remedial project manager for Region 4 of the EPA, says “A lot of these areas are low-lying, flooding … prone to flooding, and, so, especially as you’ll see in Highland Park, where we’re seeing some of our highest lead concentrations, is where material was brought to. And because it’s not naturally occurring in the soil, we are sampling each property to indicate which residences are affected and which aren’t.”

Jefferies hopes residents in the focus areas will allow the EPA to check their property for lead contamination.

The target area for the grant is South Chattanooga, one of the largest economically disadvantaged and majority African-American communities in Tennessee.

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