City eyes 70 sites with environmental concerns

The city is working with property owners with clean up about 70 brownfield properties.The city of Tigard is hoping property owners take advantage of a new initiative to clean up downtown.

For years, the city has been working to revitalize the long-struggling downtown core. A host of projects are in the works, from construction along Main Street next year to creation of 10-foot-tall hazelnut statues near Pacific Highway. But there is one lingering problem that is hindering redevelopment, said Downtown Redevelopment Manager Sean Farrelly. They’re called brownfields.

Brownfield sites are industrial or commercial properties that are contaminated with a hazardous substance, or suspected of being contaminated, such as a former gas station or other business that used environmentally harmful chemicals, Farrelly said.

There are currently about 70 of them in the downtown area alone, and Farrelly said they are holding up redevelopment

“Their questionable past puts a cloud over a property,” Farrelly said. “You’ll have to do some environmental investigation and perhaps testing in order to sell the property.”

The city held an introductory meeting last week about the properties, and plans to hold another meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23, to discuss potential funding sources to assess the contamination and clean- up of the sites.

“We have this vision for downtown as a walkable, mixed-use urban village,” Farrelly said. “If there is a question mark on property, that just adds another hurdle for redevelopment — even if there is no contamination there.”

Cleanup efforts

In June, the city was awarded a $25,000 grant from Business Oregon to inventory the sites and start working on cleanup efforts.

The inventory doesn’t say whether or not a property is contaminated with harmful substances, Farrelly said, just that they might be, based on former businesses that operated there.

“Just because it is on this inventory as a site of interest, doesn’t mean you are contaminated, but there is something that came up in its history or what went on there, and we included it as a site of interest,” Farrelly said.

Even if the sites are contaminated, property owners are under no obligation to cleanup their properties unless they plan to renovate or redevelop. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be investigated, Farrelly said.

“Some of (the sites) might be nothing at all to worry about, and some may be definitely worth looking into,” Farrelly said.

Sites such as The Ballroom Dance Company on Southwest Commercial Street had serious contamination, Farrelly said.

For 30 years, the building was home to the Farmcraft Company, which made and packaged agricultural chemicals, including pesticides and insecticides. The chemicals were mixed together with talc or diesel fuel at the site and loaded onto railroad cars, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

At some point, Farrelly said, insecticide got into a culvert that runs under nearby railroad tracks, and spilled into Fanno Creek.

The site has since been mitigated, but Farrelly said that project was an example of serious environmental damage.

Major step

Farrelly said addressing these brownfield sites is a major step in redevelopment efforts downtown.

“It’s close to the top of the list,” he said. “Cleaning up these brownfields is one tool in a toolbox that will help us facilitate redevelopment.”

Farrelly said the meetings are about raising awareness, and letting property owners know about options they have to clean up the properties.

Investigating possible contaminants can get expensive, Farrelly said. The city hopes to secure a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to help fund cleanup efforts.

“If (property owners) are going to be doing significant drilling and testing, that can add up,” Farrelly said. “Having this money available is important for our downtown redevelopment.”

Wednesday’s workshop is part of the Business Oregon grant, along with performing three environmental assessments for interested property owners.

The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce, 12345 S.W. Main St.

After last week’s meeting, Farrelly said he has already been approached by property owners interested in looking into their sites’ possible contamination.

“I already feel like it has been successful,” Farrelly said.

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