HUNTINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that will help America's Best Community make good on the its plans to develop the Highlawn area of town.
Sponsored by northern West Virginia Rep. David McKinley, the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017 extends the Environmental Protection Agency's brownfields program through 2022 and authorizes new funding for it. The brownfields program provides grants to cities and states to help them clean up and redevelop contaminated industrial sites.
The House bill, which passed 409-8, reauthorizes the program at the $200 million level annually. It authorizes $50 million in annual grants for states and Native American Tribes, and it tweaks several aspects of the program, including multipurpose grants and the law's funding caps.
Huntington has already cashed in on the federal grants before. Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city of Huntington, said the Owens-Illinois glass factory is a shining example of using brownfield grants to turn a liability into an asset.
"It allowed for the construction of the Southside Little League fields," he said.
Brownfield grants are also the reason Highlawn has become a major component of the city's redevelopment plan, Chambers said.
The city is working to acquire 75 acres of brownfield properties. Using grant money, an area-wide plan has been developed that shows how the properties can be used for a baseball stadium, hotels, retail spaces, residential buildings and industrial sites.
The brownfield grants allow the city to assess the conditions on the property and also provide funds to remediate the problems, Chambers said.
"Having a clean bill of health for a property gives the greenlight to attract developers," he said.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams will attend a brownfield development conference this week in Pittsburgh with other mayors in cities developing similar properties.
At a similar meeting of mayors in March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that he would fight to protect funding for the program even as the Trump administration proposed deep cuts to the agency as a whole, according to an article by The Hill.
The bill will now need to pass the Senate before it can be signed into law by the president.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.