Brownfields Revisited by the Vicksburg Village Council

Members of the village council at their December board meeting in the library. From left to right: Ron Smith, Julie Merrill, Tracy Locey (secretary), James Earl, Gail Reisterer, Tim Frisbie. Bill Adams was absent and Jennie McKillop, treasurer and Jim Mallery, village manager, are partially hidden in the picture.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg village council members at a December work session were given a lesson about brownfields – sites believed to be contaminated, how to deal with the contamination, who pays for it and how.

The primer, Brownfields 101, was provided by Mike Gurnee, grant and loan coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which oversees cleanup efforts.

Council members felt they needed the primer since they’re responsible for brownfields decisions in Vicksburg but have little knowledge of the subject.

Typically, the properties in a brownfield are abandoned or falling into disuse due to the liability a property owner might incur in order to fix it up. Federal and state governments began to pass legislation in the early 1990s that offered incentives to property owners to improve their sites rather than retreat to building anew on uncontaminated sites. The purpose is to level the playing field between redeveloping a site already served by community services and a greenfield site on the outskirts of a community.

The incentives offered include grants, loans, and tax-increment financing (TIF), that come through either local government, the DEQ, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some of these incentives can be applied for by a Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA). A village, city or county can form such an authority to apply for grants and loans, and approve brownfield plans containing TIF funding requests. The village formed its own BRA in 2002.

Tax-increment financing would divert tax revenues on the value of improvements to property to reimburse eligible costs of brownfield cleanup.

The village of Vicksburg was one of the first in the state to take advantage of this type of incentive when it received a grant of $750,000 in 1993 to clean up an old gas station at the corner of Kalamazoo Avenue and E. Prairie Street, now the site of the Market Place. The grant came through the Downtown Development Authority, according to Skip Knowles, then the authority’s chairperson.

Other types of property that could qualify as a brownfield could be blighted, functionally obsolete, adjacent or contiguous to eligible property, historic or land bank-owned, Gurnee explained. Only some of the costs of redevelopment are covered through the brownfield authorization. Typically, they would include lead and asbestos abatement, due diligence for prospective new owners and operators, cleanup and demolition.

If tax-increment financing is used to assist in redevelopment of a brownfield site, there are lots of hoops that a BRA needs to jump through. A Brownfield Plan is prepared to document local support and that the site is eligible, and what activities will be conducted that are eligible for reimbursement. Approval is required by the MDEQ and/or MEDC when school taxes are proposed to be captured. Gurnee indicated that it is important to note that the TIF does not occur until the property is redeveloped and the value has increased.

Noise Complaints Ongoing

In other business in its first meeting of the month, the council heard additional citizen complaints about the level of noise coming from a new industry in Leja Industrial Park. “We are exploring options with the owners,” Village Manager Jim Mallery told the audience. “There are no quick solutions but we are actively pursuing how to address the situation. We are aware of the noise although our decibel readings we took are lower than the World Health Organization’s standards.”

Mallery also addressed the potential pension liabilities the village may have. He promised to come back to the council with a plan that could be incorporated in the 2017/18 budget.

A conflict of interest policy for village staff and the council was reviewed and adopted effective January. A request was made by Mallery for an administrative assistant’s position on a part-time basis in the village hall. It was approved. Trustee Gail Reisterer wanted to be sure the person hired would have a ready smile and a good personality to greet the public.

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