Spokane University District gets brownfield grant to help find pollution, clear way for development

click to enlarge Spokane University District gets brownfield grant to help find pollution, clear way for development
Stantec photo
Earlier this year, when a statewide brownfields meeting was held in Spokane, Stantec visited the south landing of the University District Gateway Bridge, which is one of several areas throughout the district where environmental testing could be conducted using $600,000 in grant money received from the EPA this summer.
Spokane's University District has received $600,000 in federal grant money that's hoped to help clear the way for further development in parts of the 770-acre district.

With help from Stantec, a consultant the city hired, Spokane was successful in getting the Environmental Protection Agency grant money, which is targeted at brownfields, or areas that have previously been developed and are likely contaminated, which can complicate future uses.

Starting in October and continuing over the next three years, Stantec will work with a team of partners that includes the city, the University District Public Development Authority, and Empire Health Foundation, to select sites for testing and then complete tests on about a dozen sites.

Generally speaking, the team plans to pick the sites from about 80 different parcels across 90 acres, which were identified in the grant specifically as underused or vacant, explains Chris Gdak, the Bellevue-based principal for Stantec's Environmental Services team.

"The types of sites are old warehousing types, businesses that were along the BNSF tracks, auto-oriented businesses and then in the Hamilton area just east of Gonzaga there are some sites they want to transition into commercial," Gdak says. 

The team will be working with private landowners to choose where the best sites are for testing, explains city planner Teri Stripes, who also notes it's important to remember with brownfields that not all sites will necessarily be contaminated, it's just that they have the potential to be.

For example, one project the city worked on in the northeast district last year seemed likely from historical research to be contaminated, Stripes says.

"We were certain this site would definitely be contaminated," Stripes says. "But when they did sampling, it turned out we didn’t find the contamination we expected. Then the owner was able to sell the property and it's going to be redeveloped as an industrial park."

That's one way the grants might help move along development in the University District, where historic contamination has stalled projects in the past.

In cases where contamination is found, the work will help the city start cleanup plans so those sites eventually can be reused or sold.

"Our goal with this project is to answer those questions: Is the site contaminated? Is it ready for redevelopment?" Stripes says. "If it's contaminated, we’ll work with the property owner to establish a cleanup plan or help with resale by providing [our early] analysis."

While the specific sites haven't been selected yet, there's already some thought about where might be good to start, Gdak says.

"The first thought I have is the area around the south landing of the Gateway Bridge is a particularly prime example of the type of area we’re looking at," he says.

There will be a chance for public input later this year, Stripes says, and whichever sites are selected have to meet EPA criteria. Sites that have a responsible party who should pay for the cleanup are not eligible for this type of funding.

More information is expected to become available later on the city's website, and information on the grant funding is also posted on the University District website.  Additionally, Stripes says she can be contacted at [email protected]

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Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...