Bath received a $500,000 Brownfields Assessment grant from the Environmental Protection Agency last week, which city officials said will help developers address the growing housing shortage.

“Being able to use Brownfields funds from the EPA is a fantastic resource for the city and businesses and developers and community members,” said Emily Ruger, Bath’s director of community and economic development. “These funds are so critical to being able to redevelop sites.”

The grant, funded through the $1.5 trillion federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law President Biden signed in November 2021, is part of a $24.2 million package of Brownfields funds awarded to several Maine communities.

“We welcome this funding from the EPA’s Brownfields Programs, which will help identify potential hazards and encourage community development across Maine,” said Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement. “In addition to cleaning up hazardous substances and improving our environment, this investment will help communities create new development opportunities to attract businesses that create good jobs for Mainers.”

Brownfields are properties that may be difficult to develop due to the possible presence of contaminants or hazardous substances, including asbestos, lead and petroleum, Ruger said. Bath’s industrial history means many local sites may require cleanup efforts prior to redevelopment or new construction projects.

Grants that cover the cost of assessing public and private properties for hazards help developers determine whether a project will require remediation and how much the cleanup will cost, according to Debora Keller, Executive Director of Bath Housing.

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“If you go to build a project and put a shovel in the ground, and all of a sudden you find out that there had been some sort of contamination in that site, your unforeseen conditions could blow your budget right there,” said Keller. “That due diligence process is critical. For the city to make those (Brownfield) funds available, it really facilitates our ability to really understand and acquire key sites.”

Since the EPA launched its Brownfields Program in 1995, it has awarded over $3 million to Bath in Assessment and Cleanup Grants, according to City Manager Marc Meyers. The city has used those funds to support several projects, including the 2010 development of the Hampden Inn at the site of a former automobile garage and Bath Housing’s recent asbestos remediation efforts at the Moses and Columbia Blocks.

“We’ve had recent successes with helping facilitate housing development using Brownfields dollars,” said Meyers, who added that he hopes the city will receive more federal funds for brownfields cleanup, in addition to assessment. “Certainly there still exists a need in our community for housing at all levels.”

The proposed redevelopment of the old Morse High School, which would involve converting the building into housing, a new fire station and possibly business space, will likely use funds from Bath’s Assessment Grant, Ruger said.

According to Keller, the EPA’s Brownfield grants and similar programs available through organizations like the Mid Coast Economic Development District will play a key role in increasing the supply of housing.

“The easy sites have been done,” she said. “The sites that we’re left with are more and more challenging, more and more complicated. We need to dig deep and look at every parcel of land and every building and understand how to get best use for those properties.”


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