[ Wendy Weitzel | The Star ]
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City, PBCDC go back-and-forth on potential brownfield area declaration

The Pioneer Bay CDC is still waiting for $500,000 in environmental assessment grant funding from the EPA to come through. 

But in the meantime, they say, all they can do is ensure when they receive the funds, aimed at spurring the redevelopment of commercial properties in North Port St. Joe, they can immediately be put to use.

This was the message Patrick Barnes, a consultant working with the PBCDC on the assessment project, conveyed to the Board of City Commissioners at their Sept. 5 regular session meeting, along with presenting the group’s central ask.

“I sent a draft of a resolution to you in May… designating that area as a brownfield area,” he told the commissioners. “… I understand you guys wanted to talk about it, so that’s why I’m here today, to see if I can help answer your questions.”

Important to understanding the PBCDC’s request, Barnes said, is understanding the difference between a brownfield itself and a brownfield area.

Portions of North Port St. Joe were previously declared brownfields in the years following the shuttering of the St. Joe Paper Company paper mill adjacent to the neighborhood.

The EPA defines brownfields as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

In contrast, a brownfield area, the type of declaration sought by the PBCDC, is a contiguous area of one or more brownfield sites, some of which may not actually be contaminated, that has been designated as such by a local government resolution. Usually, these designations are made in the interest of simplifying assessment, cleanup and redevelopment processes.

The declaration, Barnes said, would make upcoming evaluation and redevelopment processes in the historically segregated neighborhood more efficient, preventing Pioneer Bay and the EPA from having to seek individual declarations for specific pieces of property. 

But commissioners expressed reservations about the blanket statement, namely due to negative perceptions it might foster in the area.

“The problem is going to be with the community, that you’re asking us to label that,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman. “… They also have a stigma about their property, and they’re looking at this (potential brownfield area declaration) and wondering how it might affect them and their property values.”

“… I think the community needs to be involved in workshops or something, because I will not be voting for this kind of declaration unless I know that they are in support of it and are fully informed.”

Following around a half hour of discussion, the board stated that they would not consider the declaration until “community outreach” had been conducted to the level that they could assess the community’s attitude towards a broad brownfield area.

“I would appreciate it if you could hold town hall meetings or things like that, just to inform (the community),” said Commissioner Eric Langston. “Because you’re telling us something that they didn’t know, the difference between a brownfield and a brownfield area. They need to know before we could move forward with any kind of vote.”

According to Barnes, community outreach is central to Pioneer Bay’s existing redevelopment plan in North Port St. Joe.

“There’s a community outreach plan as part of the assessment plan that the CDC already has,” Barnes said. “And the grant really hasn’t started yet. I’m not under contract yet… But that will actually take place.”

The PBCDC has already hosted several workshops and community walk-throughs in their redevelopment planning processes, as was pointed out by PBCDC President Chester Davis at the Sept. 5 meeting. There are plans for these to continue, as well as plans for some form of door knocking informational campaign.

But Barnes did not disagree that certain stigmas may be associated with any type of brownfield declaration.

“I know there’s still stigma, especially when you have a historical area that has a lot of industry and things like that,” he said. “But this is one way to move forward, even with that.” 

In a drafted example resolution provided to the city by Patrick Barnes, local residents in the defined brownfield area would be able to have their properties removed from the declaration.  They would need to provide a written request to do so during a public comment period, which would be defined and publicly noticed later in the process.

Barnes also stated that although a brownfield area declaration would simplify evaluation processes, it is not necessary in order for the project to move forward.

“My hope and the hope, I think, of some of the organizers in the area, was that we could get (the area) designated as soon as possible,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to be designated. It certainly can be designated later, and we can go site-by-site, but each time we would have to bring it to you as an individual resolution to be approved.”

No official decisions were made on the matter at the Sept. 5 meeting, and commissioners agreed to continue to discuss the potential brownfield area declaration in the coming months.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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