Framingham will receive a $200,000 federal grant beginning Oct. 1 to help identify and environmentally assess 5 to 8 possibly contaminated sites for redevelopment. That was the word at a public hearing tonight aimed at explaining the Brownfield program and seeking public comment.
Don't expect the transformation of vacant, dilapated properties into showcase projects anytime soon, though. This is expected to be at least a three-year process, that will also involve trying to match private landowners with developers for properties that are not already owned by the town.
Some of the sites covered by the brownfield program might not actually be contaminated at all. Suspicions of such problems could be enough to prevent development, and only detailed assessments would be able to answer such questions.
A "phase 1" study at a targeted site might cost around $5,000 and would look at history of a parcel to investigate possible problems; a "phase 2" follow-up might cost anywhere $15K to $80K and include actual sampling and possible clean-up plans.
Project Manager Gene Kennedy, from the town's Community & Economic Development Department, expects 5 to 8 sites will be identified for initial study. There will be a steering committee to help select those sites, and public input will be sought throughout the process.
My comment: This is a community-wide program with planned emphasis on downtown and southeastern Framingham, but I'd like to see other areas of the town benefit as well. There are vacant parcels in desperate need of redevelopment in Saxonville (the old Saxonville Lumber site, the Texaco site in Nobscot, and so on). I don't know how many of those parcels might qualify for this program, but as I said during tonight's hearing, those of us living in these neighborhoods are taxpayers too.
One Town Meeting Member at tonight's hearing said that several residents and TMMs want to ensure that redevelopment helps put properties back on the tax rolls, as opposed to tax-exempt uses.
This program is specifically for "hazardous substance" issues; there's a separate federal program for petroleum problems. So it turns out that the Texaco site couldn't be included in this grant program unless there were suspicions of other, non-gasoline-related environmental problems there. Hopefully the town will apply for funding to help with gasoline contamination as well.
A grant fact sheet says that Massachusetts lists 438 contaminated sites in Framingham. That sure sounds like a lot of sites, but it turns out that many sites still on the list have already been cleaned up; apparently once a site makes the list it's never removed, even if the problems are long since solved. Sure wish they'd have a more accurate list.... Other parcels are merely suspected to have problems, but may not actually be contaminated.