NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 22, 2013

Heritage Park project hits snag

City won't receive $400,000 from EPA to decontaminate soil

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — The Lower Millyard clean-up efforts hit a significant roadblock yesterday after the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Amesbury won’t be awarded its annual grant this year.

The $400,000 EPA grant comprised a major portion of the funding that Mayor Thatcher Kezer had hoped to utilize for the Heritage Park project, specifically to cleanup and decontaminate the soil in the Lower Millyard. Without the funds, Kezer said the city will need to identify alternative sources in order to keep the project on schedule.

“You go for your best option first, and in this case a straight up EPA grant covering the whole cost with one pot of money would’ve been best,” Kezer said. “We didn’t get that, so now we’ve got to go chase some of the other options.”

Chief of Staff Eric Gregoire said one of the main reasons why Amesbury wasn’t awarded the funds is because the amount of money awarded by the EPA statewide was way down compared to last year. To put it into perspective, the EPA awarded $5.9 million in grants to Massachusetts communities last year, but only $1.9 million this year.

With a smaller pot of money to go around, Amesbury didn’t rank high enough on the list to make the cut, Kezer said.

Despite the setback, Kezer said the Heritage Park project isn’t in jeopardy, though the timeline may have to be modified depending on how and when alternative funds can be secured.

Specifically, the project needs to be completed by June 30, 2014 for the city to be able to take full advantage of the $400,000 Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant. That means the city will have at least the next six months to pull the necessary funds together so that the construction and clean up work can proceed simultaneously next spring.

“What’s not impacted right now, the most immediate deadline is the design work,” Kezer said. “That’s proceeding and there’s no impact on the design work phase.

Some possible sources of funding that Kezer said the city would look towards include Mass Development Grants, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission Grants and other EPA funds. The city could also look towards setting up a District Increment Financing (DIF) program.

“It allows you to borrow against the economic activity in that district from the development, so it dedicates new growth from a project to that project,” Kezer said.

Over the next few weeks, Kezer said he would continue to discuss the situation with members of the Brownfield Support Team, which includes high-level officials from various state and federal agencies that are dedicated to helping projects like the Lower Millyard come to fruition.

“I said from the beginning, this is a very complex project, there are a lot of moving parts, and there will be setbacks along the way,” Kezer said. “But the key component is we have the authorization from the City Council, we have the support from the state, so the whole idea for the existence of the Brownfield Support Team is to deal with these kinds of issues, to make these types of project get accomplished despite whatever setbacks come along.”