Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 4, 2014

Leelanau could lose EPA grants

By MICHELLE MERLIN
mmerlin@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Leelanau County could lose $1 million in Brownfield redevelopment grants if no developers apply for the money in the next 18 months.

No one has applied for grant-funded low-interest loans available from Leelanau County since the program started four years ago.

Leelanau County received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 to loan to developers hoping to cleanup and redevelop Brownfield sites. The money comes from the Revolving Loan Fund, the same program that was used to clean up the Hotel Indigo site in Grand Traverse County.

But no one has claimed the money, and the fund’s unused balance reverts to the EPA in September 2015. Trudy Galla, the county planning director and director of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, has “concerns” about being able to spend the money by the deadline, according to the January minutes of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority meeting.

“Brownfields and redevelopment in the county is fairly new in Leelanau, so we don’t have as many projects going on,” Galla said. “We’ve got the funds here. We just need a developer to come on through.”

Money spent can be reused on future projects.

Leelanau County officials talked to Grand Traverse County leaders in February to see if they could form a coalition to spend the money together, Galla said.

“We wanted to make sure we use the funds in this area. If we couldn’t use it in Leelanau, we wanted to see if Grand Traverse County had projects, that way we could get the funds out and they would come back for repayment and we would have that available for future projects,” Galla said.

Galla said she’s heard of interest from people planning projects in Leelanau County since then, but none have filed formal applications. She said her office is putting out flyers and radio ads this week to try to garner more interest.

Leelanau officials had several potential projects in mind when they first applied for the money. Those included the Norris Elementary School/Grand Traverse Overall Supply commercial laundry Superfund site and the long-vacant Sugar Loaf Ski Resort.

Neither of the projects came together as quickly as expected.

EPA officials said the loans can be complicated, and it’s not unusual for municipalities to take years to spend the money.

“When the program first came out that was very common because it was a difficult program to manage and took a lot of time and effort. I think a lot of grantees underestimated how much time it would take,” said Alan Baumann, a project officer at the EPA. “Now loans are made fairly quickly and often.”

Kathy Egan, the vice chair of the Leelanau County Brownfield Development Authority and planner for Suttons Bay and Bingham townships, said she’s not concerned about spending the money by the 2015 deadline.

“It’s a very complicated process and just the fact that no one has used it and tapped into it yet doesn’t mean there aren’t projects out there,” Egan said. Brownfield cleanup often requires more planning and applications than just applying for the loan, she said.

Leelanau County spent about $55,000 of the grant since 2011 on outreach, marketing and operation. $834,000 of the grant is earmarked for loans.