As the economy continues to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, America’s once heralded industrial sector continues to face short chains of supply and demand, forcing many factories, plants and commercial sites to close permanently. When these industrial and commercial business sites become vacant, concentrations of hazardous waste tend to be left behind untreated, leaving the potential to reuse or rebuild on the land difficult. These sites are called brownfields, and cities across the country are coping with new brownfields emerging daily. In Detroit, Michigan, a city that relies on the auto industry is now home to arguably the most number brownfields in the country, with over half of its 138-square mile radius littered with abandonment. West Virginia is no stranger to brownsfield encroachment, as the United States Environmental Protection Agency listed 461 sites in Charleston that’s contaminated with petroleum. And many of these contaminated sites have turned into mothballed brownfields, which are properties that owners will not transfer or productively use. Many times these mothballed brownfields include, gas stations, dry cleaners, parking lots, vacant warehouses and factories.
And Charlestonians are well aware of areas that fit this description. Landmarks such as the former Sunoco gas station on Washington Street West and the former steel company located at the Morris Street/Piedmont Road intersection come to mind; as well as the former FMC plant in South Charleston and the old Stone & Thomas Building in downtown Charleston. Although no formal list for designated brownsfield sites exist, these are large areas of land in need of revitalization towards reuse. The Joe Holland Chevrolet Auto Dealership revitalized portions of the FMC plant and expanded its dealership on a brownfield site. And the City of Charleston was granted a $200,000 Assessment Grant in 2005, but cleanup at these areas are seemingly stagnant; more help and action is needed. There are Brownfield Assistance Centers at West Virginia University and Marshall University. And these centers assist in helping communities identify areas in need of cleanup and reuse through state and government agencies. And brownfield redevelopment in Charleston is something that must be done if the city ever intends to grow towards building a stronger, more diverse economy that will attract businesses willing to invest in productive regions. You can contact the Brownsfield Assistance Centers by visiting www.wvbrownfields.org.