County hopes federal grant will spur development
A $600,000 federal grant announced this month will fund assessments of chemical contamination on properties in Hastings and other parts of Dakota County, with the hope to spur redevelopment.
Funded through an Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grant — sites for which redevelopment could be complicated due to chemical contamination — the Dakota County Community Development Agency's work, will likely start in August or September. In Hastings, the work will focus on sites along the Vermillion Street corridor.
Other areas to be focused on include West and South St. Paul.
"Even low levels of contamination can really prevent the reuse of some of these sites and can be concerning for local developers," said Lisa Alfson, the Dakota County CDA's director of community and economic development.
The hope is that the grant helps entice developers to work on contaminated areas, she said. Often, sites that are suspected to be polluted can scare off developers.
"I believe that it is one of the main detractors ... the unknown is very concerning to a developer," Alfson added. "They don't want to be surprised by unknown costs."
The two-phase assessment process can be lengthy and, at times, expensive. Alfson said that the first phase can take anywhere from six to eight weeks and cost $4,000 to $8,000. The second can last six week to several years, with costs between $15,000 and $200,000, she said.
In the first phase, workers will dig through the property's history to determine the likelihood of pollution, said John Hinzman, Hasting's community development director. If that step signals contamination, workers would then do on-site analysis to determine the extent of the conditions at the site, Hinzman said.
However, the grant's funds can only be used for analysis, not the actual cleanup, Alfson said.
But they hope the analysis can then be turned into a credible pitch for grant funding to clean up the contamination, and thus further woo prospective developers, she said.
"Hopefully, we'd be using these funds to capitalize or leverage other dollars that can [clean the properties,]" Alfson said.
In the grant proposal, the county focused all along Vermillion Street, instead of specific work sites in Hastings, and Hinzman noted that there are former gas station sites with the potential for contamination.
Any redevelopment would likely be residential or commercial based on the area, he said.
"We didn't necessarily identify a specific site," Hinzman said. "We put together a corridor plan that detailed what we'd like to see on the corridor."
That's in contrast to the analysis work in South and West St. Paul.
In those communities, the work will be focused along a portion of Robert Street that includes the now defunct Thompson Oak Golf Course in West St. Paul and in South St. Paul it will be along Concord Street, including former stockyards, slaughterhouses and packing plants, Alfson said.
The county hasn't pegged any of the sites for specific use yet, but they do hope that it's some form of greenspace improvement, housing or commercial use, she said.
The grant stipulates that at least five assessments must be done, but it can be used for other areas in the county as well, beyond the three focused areas, Alfson said.