WVU's Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center is Resource for
The State Journal
4 July 2012
For 30 years, the Northern Panhandle town of Chester was faced
with a 10-acre blight, and at least one effort to clean it up had
But fixing such problems is exactly why the Northern West Virginia
Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University was
created. and why communities like Chester are grateful.
Although it acts primarily behind the scenes, the Center was
"instrumental in getting things moving," in Chester, said City
Clerk Sandi Parkins.
By providing community leaders with links to state and local
agencies and other resources, the Center was able to plan, and
secure funding for, the removal of the former Taylor, Smith and
Taylor Pottery factory, which hasn't been in business since 1981.
The process started with a $5,000 grant from the Center's
Foundation for Overcoming Challenges and Utilizing Strengths, or
FOCUS, program, which established Rock Springs Riverfront
Redevelopment Committee, a local task force of Chester
stakeholders whose work to redevelop the site led to last year's
sale of the property to the Business Development Corporation of
the Northern Panhandle.
Further connections led to a $200,000 check from Gov. Earl Ray
Tomblin, by way of the West Virginia Development Office, and a
loan of $500,000 from the Hancock County Commission to redevelop
the derelict property.
The combined funds will be used for the removal of any hazardous
material, demolition and eventual cleanup in order for a new
business to take root in Chester.
Projects like this are the goal of the Center, which serves 33
counties in the northern part of West Virginia. The Center, which
is funded by the state as well as grants from the federal
Environmental Protection Agency and the WV Division of Energy, was
established in 2005 as a program of the West Virginia Water
Research Institute. The Brownfields Assistance Center at Marshall
University takes the lead in assisting brownfields in the state's
The property in Chester is just one of many redevelopment projects
the Center has going around the state:
In Moundsville, it hosted community engagement meetings that led
to the redevelopment of a former glass factory site.
In Clarksburg it helped facilitate the cleanup and sale of the
former Adamston Glass Site.
Current projects include a redevelopment vision for the Morgan
County Recreational Complex and planning help for remediation of a
site at Scott's Run outside of Morgantown.
Patrick Kirby, director of the Center, said brownfields became a
growing national issue in the 1990s when abandoned businesses and
plants began to dot the landscape, threatening local environments.
The Center defines brownfields as "property that has actual or
perceived contamination and has potential for redevelopment or
reuse." The sites vary in size from a large abandoned steel mill
to a small gas station. A few abandoned mine sites are also
Many sites in the Brownfields inventory have been identified
through involvement with FOCUS, a program funded by the Claude
Worthington Benedum Foundation. FOCUS WV helps identify sites and
also provides seed grants (typically $5,000-$12,000) to attract
other investors, nonprofit groups and community stakeholders.
The assessments usually come with obstacles. In many cases, the
site has been idle for years and tracking down the legal owner can
result in a maze of paperwork. Failed attempts to remediate an
abandoned site can cause the problems to linger, become an
eyesore, leading to a negative psychological impact on a community
that causes inaction.
"Getting people to change their perception and see potential uses
for the site down the road is the most important part. If that
doesn't happen, the project doesn't happen," said Luke Elser, the
project manager for theFOCUS WV Brownfields Program. "What we try
to have the community look at is not the problem they have of an
old building, but the opportunity they have because once that
building is gone you often have prime real estate."
Once the Brownfields Center gets buy-in from local leaders and
officials, it connects them with experts to help with the legal
and environmental aspects of the project, which also helps in
grant writing and leveraging project funding. The Brownfields
Center also works closely with state agencies like the WV
Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental
"Most of the communities in WV are small and they don't have big
development staffs," said Dave Saville, the Brownfields Center's
outreach coordinator. "Our job is to not only help communities
identify brownfield sites but to connect the project with the
resources to complete the assessments, clean it up, and ultimately
help them find new owners and people who will help develop the
site into an economic community asset."
The site in Chester marks another success for the Brownfields
Center and for the region. Simply removing the eyesore will
beautify the city, but a new business will create economic
opportunities and further development.
"The demolition of the site is definitely going to help," Parkins
said. "It's going to give a much better impression of the city and
provide additional local job opportunities."