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'Transformational': Billings awarded EPA money for property clean up, development

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Posted at 8:02 PM, May 31, 2023

BILLINGS — Montana is getting a shot of money from expanded federal infrastructure funding to take care of areas with potential environmental contamination and put those spaces to new use.

Over the last week, the Environmental Protection Agency has been doling out grant awards to communities across Montana to clean up and redevelop so-called brownfields.

Brownfields are properties that have potential contamination that stands in the way of reuse and redevelopment.

Funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year is being funneled through the EPA and back into communities across Montana, including Billings, to help identify and clean up brownfields, allowing them to be reused.

"It can be transformational to see some of the progress that can happen when you redevelop these properties--when you take to biggest eye sore and turn an asset out of it," said Greg Davis, a brownfield project manager with the EPA.

"This is the first time that Big Sky has been able to acquire some funding through the lending program. So this is really exciting for us," said Dianne Lehm, director of community development at Big Sky Economic Development, which will administer the grant money. "It adds an extra tool to help property owners with redevelopment.”

Big Sky Economic Development was awarded a $1 million Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund grant bringing their total in the assessment process to $1.5 million.

Lehm says the money exists in two pots: $500,000 to do the actual assessment of the property, and $1 million in low-interest loans to help buyers or sellers clean and repair a brownfield property.

“Just based on the age of some of those buildings, we know that lead-based paint was phased out in the '70s, and so any building older than that may have lead-based paint. It may have asbestos within the building. And so identifying those that where there might be a necessity for adding a little bit of assistance to get the project off the ground," Lehm said.

Lehm said they had to provide the EPA with some examples of commercial properties for sale that could be brownfields.

"We know that City Hall is going out to look for proposals on how to redevelop the old City Hall. As well, the Billings Gazette building is for sale and we've had a number of individuals interested in looking at redevelopment of that for housing and mixed use," Lehm said.

Along with Billings, other Montana recipients include Stillwater, Carbon and Big Horn counties, the Northern Cheyenne and Crow nations, and 11 other cities and counties across the state from the Flathead to Glendive.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said the grant awards for brownfield clean up across Montana total $5.7 million and also out of the infrastructure funding is $2.82 billion for Montana roads, highways, and bridges, $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian water rights settlements, $3.37 billion in wildfire mitigation and more.

“As a third-generation farmer, I understand many of the challenges folks in rural America face, including the lasting impacts of toxic waste,” said Tester. “Cleaning up and revitalizing Montana’s remaining Brownfield sites breathes new life into our communities by creating some real opportunities for economic development.

Lehm said the loan money won't be given out until October and businesses will need to apply to get it.

“I'm really hopeful that with this new funding will add to the vibrancy of our community," Lehm said.