BROOKSVILLE — What lies beneath the ground can tell a lot about a city's history. In Brooksville's case, that's been something of a mystery for years, and a concern to many looking into the city's viability as a place to live and own a business.
But a $400,000 multipurpose pilot grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate toxic underground contaminants may unlock many of the answers that city officials have been looking for.
City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said the city applied for the grant in November through the EPA's Brownfields Program. The money will pay for a study of private and public properties within the city that have been identified by the Public Works Department as possibly containing contaminated soil.
Those sites include: 25 abandoned gas stations and/or former petroleum storage systems, railroad rights of way, and abandoned manufacturing and industrial processing sites, as well as city parcels formerly used to house the city's public works operations.
Norman-Vacha said the grant is significant in that it will at last provide documented evidence needed to go after additional federal and state cleanup funds. While a number of the sites are what Norman-Vacha called "the usual suspects" for petroleum and chemical pollution, many may not hold any contaminants at all.
"We may just find that some properties have a stigma attached that may or may not be true," Norman-Vacha said. "This way, we'll know for certain."
Under terms of the grant, the funds will be split equally to assess both hazardous substances and petroleum contamination.
The grants, which also were awarded to the municipalities of Casselberry, Orlando and Tampa, were officially presented Thursday at a ceremony in Tampa. Since its inception in 1995, the EPA Brownfields Program has awarded more than $18 billion in assessment and cleanup funds nationwide.
In its application, Brooksville said that dilapidated facilities and the environmental uncertainty of many properties have created a blight that has inhibited economic development efforts.
Norman-Vacha said many of the suspected properties in the city's designated community redevelopment area in south Brooksville have sat vacant primarily because potential buyers are afraid of the high cost that would be required to develop them.
"Knowing just what's down below the ground could help erase some of those questions," Norman-Vacha said.
Although the grant will not provide funding for any cleanup operations, the resulting assessments would provide detailed data needed for property owners to apply for additional federal and state funds.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]