Everybody wants a piece of prime real estate in Montana. And in Missoula, well, forget about it. As box stores, apartment buildings and housing complexes go up around the city, members of City Council and a few developers are searching hard for cheap infill projects. Last week, infill proponents received some good news in the form of a $1 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resuscitate polluted brownfield sites for development.
“It’s pretty impressive because Region 8 [which covers the northern Rockies] got $3 million in grants, Montana got $1.6 million of that, and Missoula got $1 million of [the state’s 1.6 million],” says Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Aimee Reynolds.
It is impossible to know how many brownfields Montana has because the definition has recently changed, but the state has about 150 state Superfund sites, and they’re all brownfields, says Reynolds, and there are easily 1,000 or more total.
The previous definition focused on contamination, but the new definition includes sites people suspect may be contaminated, she says.
Under this definition, Missoula could have dozens of qualifying brownfields—including old gas stations and underground storage tanks. But likely Missoula’s EPA cash will go toward cleaning up the former Champion lumber mill site (52 acres adjacent to where the civic stadium is going in near McCormick Park), and the White Pine Sash site (20 acres adjacent to the Northside cemetery). City/county brownfields coordinator Jenifer Blumberg says that once these sites are deemed clean, developers will be chomping at the bit to build on the newly prime real estate.
“There are different standards for different things that could go on the sites, so we’ll have to do more assessments,” says Blumberg. “But I think $1 million will go a long way in cleaning them up.”
Coincidentally, just days after the EPA announced the grant, Blumberg got the nod from Council to apply for $4.5 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guaranteed loans to develop Missoula’s brownfields in ways that benefit low- and moderate-income people—which could mean low-income housing or developments that create a substantial number of jobs.
There’s no guarantee, but Blumberg believes there’s a good chance of receiving the HUD funds, at which point Missoula can begin testing the theory that if we clean it, they will come.