There’s a perception of impurity in Flagler, according to Economic Opportunity Advisory Council Director Helga van Eckert. And in order to combat it, and draw new business locally, staff needs money.
At the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners Monday, Aug. 6 meeting, van Eckert, along with Palm Coast Senior Economic Planner Beau Falgout, and Director of Grants Judi Stetson, from Bunnell, presented a plan to apply for a $1 million environmental protection agency grant, which would help staff study lands in Flagler that either are, or have the perception of being, contaminated.
“(The grant) is very competitive, so we can’t guarantee that we’ll get it,” van Eckert told the board. “But it is worth the time and effort.”
The annual grant for site assessment and invasive sampling was denied to Flagler in the past, after certain county lands were given brownfield designation in June 2010. But if received this time around, the funds will help officials “get a thorough understanding” of the levels of contamination — if any exists — and assess the costs of cleaning several areas.
If an area is a former lumber yard, for example, and is contaminated with arsenic from pressure-treated wood, then the county could either remediate the land and/or offer incentives for prospective businesses to move onto it, including tax breaks, cheaper purchase or funds for job creation.
Other former land uses of concern are properties previously used for automotive repair or dry cleaning.
“You basically look for red flags,” van Eckert said, in a follow-up interview. “From an economic development perspective, the more we know about a piece of property … the less risk factor is associated with it. … Information is gold. I mean, it’s money.”
County Administrator Craig Coffey also sees the potential for commercial growth, should Flagler be awarded the grant.
“This will be big,” he said. “It affects all the cities. It affects the county. … You can overcome, if you know the problem.”
And that’s the biggest issue to van Eckert. It’s not that land in Flagler is riddled with toxins and contaminates — it’s more an issue of perception.
“The one thing that is commonplace when it comes to brownfields is, you typically find that the perception is much worse than what you’re dealing with,” she said. “(Normally), if a company wants to come into town and the only land we have is this brownfield that is perceived as being contaminated, they won’t even consider us.”
But that’s not the case after a little research.
“Once you have your arms around your actual concerns, you can find ways to remediate them,” van Eckert added. “And you have businesses that are willing to accept them. And you have banks willing to fund them.”
Track and brownfield
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a 2011-2012 report of its Florida Brownfields Redevelopment Program, which was established in 1997 to facilitate job creation in areas with actual or perceived environmental issues.
Between July 2011 and June 2012, the report states that 33 new brownfield areas were designated by local governments; eight site rehabilitation agreements were executed; and seven rehabilitation orders were issued for properties that completed site cleanup.
The Brownfields Redevelopment Program is credited with creating 3,542 direct new jobs, 6,788 indirect new jobs and more than $388 million in new capital investment to date.
In other news
Coffey announced to the board Monday that the Friends of A1A have won a grant for $600,000, which will be used for signage along the highway corridor.
Also, damages from a recent fire at the Emergency Operations Center have also been approximated at $30,000, mostly for replacement of servers and computer systems at the facility. Staff is currently working with an insurance adjuster on the claims.