Cleaning up site at Anahola is focus of EPA presentation

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials gave a presentation to Kaua’i County Council members yesterday on a federal aid for cleaning up contaminated sites in Anahola.

The Brownfields Initiative would allow for the cleanup of 20 acres in Anahola that are littered with automobiles, batteries, appliances and household goods.

The site also is believed to contain pesticides that were used when the land was used for sugar cane cultivation.

The cleanup would be part of “Project Faith,” an undertaking by the Anahola Homesteaders Council to develop a $28-million cultural and business center.

The sites are part of the project’s economic revitalization plan for Anahola.

The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has approved long-term use of the land – located mauka of Kuhio Highway – by the native Hawaiian group.

The project, spearheaded by native Hawaiian civic leader and Anahola resident James Torio and other Anahola residents, is aimed at enabling the organization to attain economic self-sufficiency and bring economic benefits to Anahola.

The EPA’s Brownfields Redevelopment Initiative could open the door for other groups on Kaua’i and government agencies to apply for EPA grants for similar work.

Thomas Mix and Jim Hanson of EPA’s Region 9 office in San Francisco and Gail Suzuki-Jones of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism made their presentations during a meeting of the council committees held at the historic County Building.

Mix said the Brownfields initiative came about after the closure of steel mills on the east coast. When the owners abandoned the buildings and jobs were lost, new businesses and developers opted not to take over the properties for fear of liability tied to previous work done on them, Mix said.

Those new businesses opted instead for rural areas for their new projects, but such decisions left “blight in our communities (those where old businesses once operated), taking jobs and capital from our communities,” he said. With the use of EPA grants, the same areas can become economically viable, encouraging new businesses not to develop projects in rural areas of America.

The EPA provides grants for testing of properties for contamination and grant funding and low-interest loans for cleanups, agency officials said. The loans usually would require a 20 percent matching fund from the entity obtaining the loan.

However, none of the EPA grant funds can be used to help a developer buy a contaminated property intended for economic rejuvenation, the EPA officials said.

Qualified Brownfields recipients also can apply for grants to train people in environmental protection, allowing them to find work in the future, officials said.

For the current year, EPA has $250 million for environmental assessments, cleanup and job training. Very likely, communities within the 10 EPA regional areas will apply for the grant funds.

Brownfields projects in EPA’s Region 9, which includes Hawai’i and California, will usually secure 10 percent of the grants, while projects in other EPA regions are likely to get more of the funding because the properties involved have gone through more use and degradation and involve more rehabilitation, EPA officials said.

The Anahola project is EPA’s top Brownfields project in Hawai’i, Suzuki Jones said.

Torio has said that state Department of Health consultants are expected to conduct an assessment of the contamination of the 20-acre parcel in Anahola this fall, with work to be done by next spring.

Torio also said that he plans to apply for federal grant funds and low-interest loans for the cleanup and the development of the project.

Related to the Anahola project, DBEDT was awarded $15,000 in technical assistance from EPA for plans for the construction of environmentally-efficient buildings.

Councilman Mel Rapozo, who heads the council’s energy and public safety committee, called the meeting to find out about the Brownfields program and whether the EPA could provide grants for closing the Kekaha landfill.

Suzuki-Jones said it wasn’t likely any of $200,000 EPA grant administered by the DBEDT could be used for closing the Kaua’i landfill.

Both council chair Kaipo Asing and councilman Joe Munechika also asked whether a private developer could obtain EPA funding to buy the now-closed Lihue Plantation mill and Kekaha Sugar Company mill.

Johnson said EPA has not made provisions to the grants to be used in that way.

However, the grant funds could be used for environmental assessments for the former mill buildings, he said.

Suzuki-Jones said it was her understanding that the EPA grant funds under the Brownfields program could be used for state and county properties, and that EPA is looking at whether to allow grant funds for assessments for private properties.

For more information about Brownfields projects, go to www.epa.gov/brownfields/

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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