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Jennifer Pugsley, owner of 50 Plaza Square, which was identified as a brownfield, addresses the city council and Seth Otto, representative from Maul Foster Alongi.

The City of St. Helens is in the middle of a Brownfields assessment, and city residents were recently invited to attend a meeting to witness the progress of the assessment so far.

The forum, held Nov. 20 in council chambers at 6 p.m., was headed by Seth Otto, project manager for Maul Foster Alongi, the environmental consultant the city contracted with to perform the assessment.

Brownfields are sites that have been impacted by environmental contamination, which can occur for multiple different reasons, Otto said at the meeting.

“[Brownfields] are a hindrance on economic development because property owners maybe don’t have the resources to clean them up and perspective developers are not going to take on the risk,” Otto said. “So, programs like the assessment grant help to bridge that gap by providing funding for doing the environmental site assessment and helping push projects and projects toward clean up.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its community-wide assessment grant, provides money to cities to do environmental site assessment and for cleanup work, Otto said. The City of St. Helens was awarded a $300,000 community-wide assessment grant in 2016, which will expire in the third quarter of 2020.

The City and Maul Foster & Alongi are following a timeline, which they have followed pretty closely since 2016, Otto said. So far, the city has accomplished a brownfields inventory to identify sites that might need cleanup.

According to Otto, the city has assessed and either dismissed or made plans for improvements for five city sites, all contained within the city’s “target area,” which is within the same boundaries as its Urban Renewal Area. Those sites included the former Boise White Paper site, the South 80 landfill, county property, Semling Family LLC property and 50 Plaza Square.

For some of the sites, no action was needed, Otto said to the audience members.

For example, at the former Boise White Paper site, Otto said there were some environmental impacts in the soil, which would be a risk if direct contact was made. However, because the site is covered by a clean cap, it is completely safe as long as the cap is maintained, Otto said.

“Future development can occur with careful, and minimal penetration of the cap and by maintaining clean protection of anything that does go through the cap such as a piloting or foundation,” Otto said.

For the South 80 landfill, which is generating methane, there was no risk of vapor intrusion of that methane into buildings, Otto said.

The County property on Old Portland Road had a historic use of petroleum, which caused concerns about contamination. According to Otto, it was a site that was used for auto maintenance, trucking storage and auto wreckage.

After completing a Phase 1 assessment, Otto said there was nothing found that rose to a level of a recognized environmental condition. What was recommended was surface soil sampling to ensure that there has been no impact on the land from petroleum products, Otto said.

On the Semling property, there was concern based on impacts from a former gas station, Otto said. That property also did a Phase 1 assessment, and found there was minimal impacts, but nothing requiring intervention from DEQ, Otto said. However, the site will not be suitable for clean fill.

The last property evaluated was 50 Plaza Square, a new building recently bought and renovated by Jennifer Puglsey, a real estate with Keller Realtors. The site contains a heating tank that was recently decommissioned, which they found had a release impacting surrounding properties. However, Otto said the previous owners had protected it from liability.

For this site, they found that there was an expectation of cleanup from DEQ, and they just received approval from both DEQ and the EPA to do a cleanup and will do a Phase 2 on the property.

The next steps for Brownfields assessment are to begin cleanup planning and assign funds available for the cleanup planning.

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