BROOKSVILLE — The city's federally funded Brownfields program is inching toward its goal of identifying which properties in the city might someday qualify for cleanup funds.
For the past three months, a citizens task force has met monthly with a singular purpose: to determine which properties in Brooksville are likely to be tainted by gasoline, oil and other contaminants. The group has tentatively ranked 82 potential sites, based primarily on general knowledge of their historic use.
The highest ranked sites are mostly in south Brooksville and include 11 former gas stations, most of which are abandoned or razed, a former orange juice processing facility and several parcels that at one time were associated with the Seaboard Coast Line rail operations. In addition, the list includes about 65 residential homes, most of which are north of the county's former public works facility on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, where a remediation effort is ongoing.
With the master list complete, the task force has set its sights on wrapping up the first phase of the program by paring the list down to properties that will be deemed eligible for actual on-site soil and groundwater sampling and analysis.
The project, which is being funded with a $400,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, does not include money for any cleanup costs. However, the data gathered from the evaluation will help bolster efforts by owners who want to seek EPA restoration funding.
Bill Geiger, Brooksville's community development director and the manager of the city's Brownfields program, said that because the EPA grant will only cover investigative costs for a small number of affected properties, the task force's role will be to choose which ones are likely to bring the most benefit to the city's economy.
"Having citizen input in the decisionmaking process is vital to the overall success of the Brownfields initiatives," Geiger said.
"The team has to consider a number of worthwhile factors in making its choices of where the money will ultimately be spent. They are off to a good start."
At a meeting Tuesday, the task force reached a consensus of which properties will likely rise to the top of the list. Parcels receiving top consideration include those that are either now being utilized for other purposes, such as former gas stations that house ongoing retail operations, or abandoned properties in locations targeted for future growth.
Brian Kvam, project manager for the EPA's Southeast Brownfields program, said that private residences, properties that are considered to have minimal impact on future redevelopment, and those that are located far from current commercial and industrial centers of the city aren't likely to receive assessment funding from the current grant.
"The Brownfields process focuses on enhancing the viability of those sites that are likely to bring a benefit to the community," Kvam said.
"However, it doesn't mean that you can't come back at a later date and add those back in if further funding becomes available."
Kvam stressed to task force members that under the EPA rules, half of the Brownfields grant money must be used on properties suspected of petroleum contamination, with the other half going toward the identification of properties with other contaminants.
The task force is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at the South Brooksville Community Center, 601 E Dr. M.L. King Blvd., Brooksville, to further evaluate the list of sites.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.