Sparks to provide environmental studies for redevelopment

Landowners within the two redevelopment districts in Sparks can get a head start on finding new uses for their properties through free environmental assessments.

The city government this week begins rolling out a $400,000 program that will provide free assessment of potential contamination by petroleum products or hazardous substances.

Those assessments often are required by banks before they'll make loans on commercial and industrial properties, and redevelopment projects generally require that contamination problems need to be addressed.

Karen Melby, a senior planner with the Sparks city government, said the city believes about 130 properties in its two redevelopment districts may have some level of contamination.

The city's program, which is financed by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, will provide assessments of about 14 properties that might have petroleum contamination and another 14 with the potential for contamination by other hazards.

Each of those assessments is worth about $5,000, she said.

The program also will provide free preparation of cleanup plans for several properties after the initial assessments are complete.

A workshop detailing the assessment program is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the training room of the Sparks police station, 1701 E. Prater Way.

The redevelopment areas included in the environmental assessment program include the Victorian Square area, the Conductor Heights neighborhood near Rock Boulevard south of the Union Pacific tracks and the commercial areas near Oddie Boulevard.

Melby said completion of the assessments helps the city in its efforts to spur redevelopment of commercial and industrial areas. Property owners who participate in the free assessment program, meanwhile, will have cleared an important hurdle and be better positioned to take advantage of any recovery in the development business, she said.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors said last week that the free assessment programs funded by the EPA are the single most helpful step toward redevelopment of brownfield sites.

Thomas Mix, national brownfields program director of Converse Consultants in Carson City, said property owners sometimes worry that they will open a can of worms with an environmental assessment. He said, however, the EPA and local governments want to work with property owners to solve problems, which often are modest and easily resolved. In some instances, low- and no-cost loans are available for the work.

While the environmental assessment program is new in Sparks, cleanup of brownfield sites has been undertaken in the region in recent years. Both the site of the new Walmart Supercenter at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the downtown site of the Reno Events Center required cleanup before development could begin.


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