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Forum Gives Contaminated V.I. Lands a New Lease on Life

Sept. 14, 2006 — Finding strategies for revitalizing contaminated and polluted V.I. properties was the topic of discussion for developers, environmentalists, and federal and local officials Thursday during the third annual Brownfields forum at the Carambola Beach Resort.
According to an Environmental Protection Agency Web site, "Brownfields" are described as tracts of land that have been contaminated by a hazardous substance or polluted through prior use.
"We expect this program will facilitate the revitalization of contaminated lands," said Aaron Hutchins, director of the Division of Environmental Protection Director, which operates under the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Caribbean Brownfields Coordinator for USEPA Region II, Ramon Torres, said, "this program will provide new opportunities in communities with limited spaces."
According to Torres, Brownfields is a revolution in redevelopment and revitalization. The program is "designed to remediate, redesign and revitalize contaminated, underutilized abandoned properties," he said.
The forum explained to participants what types of properties would be eligible for the V.I. Brownfields program. According to Torres, there are two initial steps for assessment of a property's eligibility for participation in the program.
Phase one is gathering of history on the property. DEP Brownfields Coordinator Dr. Clanicia Pelle said potential developers need to do their "due diligence" in researching the history of the property they wish to develop. During this initial phase developers must determine possible contaminants in the area and clarify their potential use for the property.
Phase two involves assessment of the property for contaminants and deciding the extent of needed cleanup. The property owner must redevelop the property for use in the community. "In order to qualify for cleanup," said Torres, "[the entity] needs to be a local government agency or nonprofit organization."
The program is in the initial stage, and the territory has received more than $400,000 to continue development. DEP has identified some potential sites for revitalization, but has not published a list. "We don't anticipate major cleanups in the V.I.," said Brownfields legal counsel Dwayne Henry.
DEP officials said they will concentrate on leaking underground storage tanks around the territory before they move on to particular properties that may qualify for revitalization. "If you think there is a property that may help the community with redevelopment contact DPNR," said Pelle.
"When I think of Brownfields, I think of possibilities," said Brownfields Education Specialist Jason Henry.
According to Dwayne Henry, legislation for the program, which is currently in draft form, will be presented to the Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee.
"This department and team are on the right track," said St. Croix Renaissance Group Vice President of Development Jack Thomas.
For more information on Brownfields program in the territory visit the DPNR Web site.

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