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Paducah receives $500,000 grant to assess properties with environmental hazards

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

The city of Paducah earlier this month received a $500,000 federal grant to help assess local properties with various hazards that make redevelopment of the properties more challenging.

More than 200 communities across the country received similar grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Service – totaling more than $147 million – to assess and clean up what’s known as “Brownfield” sites.

Paducah has over 20 Brownfield sites that have environmental concerns – ranging from lead paint, asbestos and other chemicals – that make reusing the sites for other purposes more difficult. Some of those sites include the defunct downtown Columbia Theatre, a former gas station in the Southside and the Katterjohn Building on Broadway Street.

Paducah Mayor George Bray said the funding could be an asset toward helping with economic development, especially for unused properties in Southside neighborhoods.

“With our focus on the Southside and putting city money into the development of the Southside, that gives us a lot more flexibility with a project in a part of town that needs it more than another part of town,” Bray said.

The grant money will go toward conducting environmental assessments at targeted Brownfield sites in the city, cataloging more Brownfield sites and creating methods to clean up the site-specific hazards and contamination.

EPA officials told WKMS that, along with the grant money, federal officials will be keeping in contact with Paducah leaders with quarterly reports created by the city for the EPA to review.

The city is also expected to create a community engagement plan, EPA officials said, on how to reach out to community members who live near some of the Brownfield sites to get feedback on what they want to see the specific properties used for – not just the interests of property developers. Once more thorough assessments of properties have been made, Paducah could also apply for future grants to help pay for the clean up of the sites.

Tommy Hollimon Jr. is the executive director of the Housing Authority of Paducah and a member of a steering committee focused on community engagement and policy for the city’s Southside neighborhoods. He said the grant funding could be helpful in finding ways to reuse and rehabilitate properties in Southside.

“That’s an incentive for a prospective developer or property management owner, something like that to put something up on that space,” Hollimon said.

The EPA grants are a part of the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, an effort to invest at least 40% of funding for clean energy and climate change mitigation toward “disadvantaged communities.” According to an interactive map created by the administration, Paducah qualifies as a disadvantaged community because of higher rates of health conditions among residents, higher energy costs and higher rates of unemployment and poverty.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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