EPA, city officials discuss clean up of MLK Boulevard corridor

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The City of Savannah has been pursuing any avenue it can find to attract new development to the MLK Boulevard and Montgomery Street corridors.

Tuesday, the city and folks from the Environmental Protection Agency held the first of several public meetings to try and find properties that may have been contaminated by previous owners.

Truth is, those dirty properties are trashing any hopes of redevelopment.

It's not the most enlightening drive through historic Savannah But, given the unknowns that exist along the MLK and Montgomery corridors, it's no wonder investors aren't sinking money into new development here.

Truth is, they have no idea what has sunk into the ground over the last 100 years.

"Savannah is an old city. It's an old industrial city. Montgomery Street used to be old Hwy 17 going over to South Carolina. So, we know there are a lot of old auto mechanic shops, paint shops, dry cleaners, machinery sites so all of these could have some issues that we could resolve as we go through this grant program through the EPA," said Nick Deffley, director of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability.

What Deffley is talking about is something called a Brownfield Assessment Grant. Without getting too technical, getting the grant means the EPA spends three years removing the unknown from the area, finding contaminated properties, so they can be cleaned up.

The problem they are trying to solve is really quite simple. Imagine you're a developer and you're looking at this piece of property and you find out through the grape vine that it used to be a filling station some 50 years ago. That's a major red flag because as a developer, you could be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. So instead, you step away and the blight continues to come in.

And there's already enough blight and crime to go around on this side of town.

The meeting Tuesday night was the first of several designed to get you, property owners, business owners and those who care to be part of the process. You see, these grants don't happen without a very personal touch.

"The real benefit is making sure we have a lot of public engagement and involvement in the process so they can help guide our efforts as we look at specific properties in various corridors and areas of the city to see if they have this contamination or not," said Deffley.

It was very hard to find anyone at the meeting Tuesday, who did not get why their participation is key.

"My concern is making sure that the community here owns this process and that they are the benefactors of what comes out in the end," said business owner Dr. Mildred McClain.

Pastor Vernnel Cutter owns a home in the area. "We must have sustainability. Therefore when you add community, business-industry and government working together from the beginning, you then have a better finished product."

That finished product will be a lot easier to come by, once all the secrets buried along these historic streets are revealed and removed.

My advice to anyone living in that area who wants the next generation to be able to live in that area, get involved in this process. Too often, redevelopment decisions are made, and people get pushed out before they have time to react.

Brownfield Assessment grants are completely transparent but require constant public input if the money is going to work for you. And this process is just beginning.

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