Communities across the state were recognized for their efforts to repurpose old industrial properties at the 11th annual West Virginia Brownfields Conference, hosted by the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Centers in Charleston recently.
Patrick Kirby, executive director of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, said the awards “recognize individuals and communities who have made major contributions to the redevelopment of brownfields in West Virginia.” The term “brownfield” refers to property for which expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.
The Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle was this year’s recipient of the West Virginia Brownfield Award in Economic Development, given to a project or community partner that has demonstrated excellence in economic development on one or more brownfield sites. The BDC has transformed formerly contaminated brownfields properties throughout the Northern Panhandle and has leveraged $69 million of private and public investment on brownfield redevelopment projects in Chester, Newell, Weirton, Wellsburg and Beech Bottom.
“After our initial acquisition of our first brownfield, the former Taylor, Smith and Taylor Pottery Factory in Chester, we saw more opportunities to repurpose overlooked abandoned properties for industrial and commercial uses,” said Mike Swartzmiller, Hancock County Commission president and BDC executive board member. “We see brownfields as the perfect chance to revitalize and reuse properties in northern panhandle communities. Today, brownfields in Brooke and Hancock counties are home to over two dozen businesses.”
Also on hand at the awards ceremony was George Heines, chairman of the Brick Yard Bend Revitalization Group in New Cumberland, who credited community members and other organizations with which the BDC has partnered in recent years on its various projects. Those partnerships, he said, have helped many of the local projects move forward, providing funding for planning, marketing and cleanup, as well as opportunities to invest in abandoned properties.
“The award is more a reflection of the work of the people behind the scenes — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Northern Brownfields Assistance Center, Claude W. Benedum Foundation, elected officials and all the volunteers — who commit the time in our task force meetings to identify, acquire, clean up and develop these abandoned properties,” BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said, pointing out some of the BDC’s ongoing efforts are projects in Chester with the former Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery, the former Brooke Glass in Wellsburg, the former Wheeling Corrugating site in Beech Bottom, the Three Springs Business Park in Weirton and a historic lodge and former high school football field in Weirton.
Earlier this year, the BDC’s brownfield redevelopment efforts were featured in a new U.S. EPA-sponsored video for other economic development groups to use as a reference, and in 2015, the BDC received an Environmental Award for Excellence from the WVDEP for land revitalization and stewardship.
The Community Engagement award was presented to Van Voorhis Landing Kayak Launch Project, located on the former Quality Glass property in Monongalia County. The award recognizes the efforts of the Mon River Trails Conservancy and the Morgantown Area Paddlers to collaborate with more than 20 stakeholder organizations as well as the Morgantown community “to bring the final vision for the former Quality Glass brownfield site to life.”
WVBAC said the community raised some $40,000 in three months from 15 organizations and businesses, three small grants, 16 donations from private citizens and a special drawing. In the process, many volunteers were recruited to support the upkeep of the Van Voorhis Landing Facility. The launch will increase access to the Mon River Rail-Trail and Upper Mon Water Trail; increase parking for trail users and boaters; improve the rail-trail and water trail overall experience; further promote recreational opportunities in the area and bring new outdoor recreation business opportunities to surrounding communities, including star City, Morgantown and Port Marion, Pennsylvania.