Economic Development

Neighbors will identify properties for environmental cleanup

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. – A group of neighborhood residents will lead an effort to identify former industrial properties for cleanup using $500,000 in federal funds.

The East Central Indiana Regional Planning District won the $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA chose 10 Indiana organizations and communities that would receive part of $9.4 million in funding to assess or clean up brownfield sites, which are properties with suspected contamination from former industrial plant operations.

The ECI Regional Planning District will administer the grant but a steering committee of residents from the Whitely, Industry and McKinley neighborhoods will identify the sites.

The committee includes neighborhood residents and activists Anitra Davis, Ken Hudson, Watasha Barnes Griffin, Frank Scott and Richard Ivy and Muncie Community Development director Gretchen Cheesman.
The committee will determine the sites that will receive phase one and phase two environmental assessments and future cleanup, said Bill Walters, executive director of the East Central Indiana Regional Planning District.

“In this phase, we’re looking for environmental justice for areas that have not had any funding and have seen severe decline,” Walters said.

The committee will get assistance from the Kansas State University Technical Assistance to Brownfields program, which provides free technical assistance to communities seeking remedies and possible redevelopment of brownfields areas, Walters said.

“We all know the history of the factories leaving and the scars we have left here, and we are still cleaning it up,” Walters said. The EPA funding marks the third round of funds in a little more than a decade to help with contaminated former industrial sites in Delaware County. “The county and the city are working to turn these (type of sites) around.”

Walters noted that East Central Indiana communities have had success in reclaiming brownfields after winning grants, including a former hospital in Blackford County and a furniture factory in Jay County.

The funding is supported by the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides a total of $1.5 billion to advance environmental justice, spur economic revitalization and create jobs by cleaning up contaminated, polluted or hazardous brownfield properties, the EPA said. Brownfield projects can range from cleaning up buildings with asbestos or lead contamination to assessing and cleaning up abandoned properties that once managed dangerous chemicals. Once cleaned up, former brownfield properties can be redeveloped into productive uses such as grocery stores, affordable housing, health centers, museums, parks and solar farms, the EPA said in a release.

Grant funds also will be used to develop seven cleanup plans and support community outreach activities. The target area for this grant is Delaware County, with a focus on the city of Muncie. The EPA said that priority sites could include a 75-acre former glass manufacturing facility, a 1.5-acre site housing three contiguous vacant and blighted buildings and parking lots that are the remnants of a commercial district that faded during the 1960s, and a half-acre gas station and auto repair site that has been unused since 1999.

“Having the opportunity to work in cooperation with the U.S. EPA has been of tremendous benefit to the East Central Indiana Region,” Walters said. “Past EPA grant funds have assisted in the development of major projects such as the Cornerstone Park in Muncie and the redevelopment of the former Blackford County hospital in Hartford City. The ECI Regional Planning District looks forward to continuing this important work in cooperation with the U.S. EPA on even more brownfields in Delaware County. Completing environmental assessments of brownfield properties is a critical first step in seeing through any potential redevelopment efforts.”

Founded in September 2009, ECIRPD is a state designated, multi-county regional planning district whose mission is to serve the economic development, planning and grant development needs of Delaware, Grant, and Blackford counties and the city of Portland. Our primary purpose is to help local governments advance economic growth and development in their communities. To do so, ECIRPD offers assistance with planning, strategic thinking and securing grants to aid in the funding of projects that better the region. With our help, local governments can create effective solutions to improve blighted areas in their communities.


Photo: The Muncie Malleable Company, formerly the Whiteley Malleable Company, in the early 20th century. (Note: The name of the neighborhood, Whitely, is spelled differently than the name of the company, Whiteley.)

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