Wilmington receives funding to clean up brownfield sites [video]

 Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki talks about plans federal funding to help plan the redevelopment of brownfields in Wilmington. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki talks about plans federal funding to help plan the redevelopment of brownfields in Wilmington. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Wilmington received $197,500 to clean up old industrial sites, the EPA announced Thursday.

Wilmington residents will provide input on how to turn former industrial sites into vibrant properties in their communities.

Wilmington will use a $197,500 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to plan the cleanup, redevelopment and productive reuse of a former auto salvage yard and a storage materials site.

Several stakeholders and community members will work together to build a plan of action for the city-owned sites, located at 14th and Church Streets and 12th and Governor Printz Boulevard, both along the Brandywine River.

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“This is a great example of what we can do to energize the economy on this side of town,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki D-Wilmington, during a press conference near the old Diamond State Salvage facility.

“It allows us to have a planning process that’s inclusive and gets everybody in our neighborhoods weighing on the way we use property in the vicinity they live.”

Work on the sites will be led by the city, the University of Delaware, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and Old Brandywine Village.

“This is a really big deal,” said Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, during the event. “We can do something really special and really important here on the Brandywine—and we must. If we can revitalize and redevelop neighborhoods across our city, our city is going to be stronger, it’s going to be better, and it’s going to be a greater place to live.”

 Tim Crawl-Bey, Executive Director of the Inter-Neighborhood Foundation, has been working with stakeholders in the community to put together a revitalization plan for northeast Wilmington. He said he’s pleased the deserted area, which currently blocks access to the Brandywine River, will soon thrive.

“I just think it’s kind of like having a jewel, but you can’t touch it or feel it. One of the downfalls here is the lack of access to the river for people in the community to share the enjoyment of the river, like at Brandywine Park or downtown,” he said. “Just feeling like, ‘Here’s a site along the river—which in most communities is prime real estate—to see it year after year go undeveloped is certainly not something that’s a point of pride.”

Since the federal brownfields law was passed in 2001, the EPA has awarded almost $11 million to Delaware communities for assessing and cleaning up sites.

“Brownfields funding to communities enhances public health by reducing exposure to hazardous contaminants in our towns, neighborhoods and cities,” said Cecil Rodrigues, acting regional administrator for the EPA. “By enabling the cleanup and reuse of brownfields sites, this funding can spark the economic development that leads to a vibrant community.”

DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said many brownfields in Delaware and across the U.S. are underutilized, partly because before the 2001 law, communities were apprehensive about liability.

He said DNREC has and will continue to make cleaning up brownfields a priority. Garvin said the grant is an opportunity to make use of underutilized portions of the state, and will motivate other stakeholders to consider revitalizing other pieces of land.

“Instead of going and redeveloping greenfields and places that don’t have the infrastructure, you’re putting opportunities—it can be parks, it can be housing, it can shops, it can be manufacturing—back in areas that have the infrastructure, and they’re getting cleaned up to the benefit of the residents at the same time.”

Discussion into what will be built on the two pieces of land in Wilmington is yet to take place.

In the past, DNREC has used funding to create properties like a group home for people with disabilities, residential units, a community center and a research and manufacturing facility.

Grant funding also was used for the South Wilmington Wetlands Project, which cleaned up and reused more than 20 acres of contaminated soils to create wetland, with a proposed community park and environmental education center.

“Whatever it looks like it will be asset to the city, and also it will create a connection for the community back to the Brandywine, which hasn’t existed, because this property has been fenced off, so it’s really a quality of life issue,” Garvin said.

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