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Foundation receives EPA grant to spur Valley redevelopment

by ADRIAN KNOWLER
Daily Inter Lake | June 1, 2023 12:00 AM

The Montana West Economic Development Foundation has been awarded $500,000 to assess local former industrial and commercial properties with the goal of redeveloping them into multi-family housing.

The money comes from the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Assessment Grant program, and will be used to develop cleanup and reuse plans as well as complete environmental site assessments, according to a statement.

EPA’s Brownfields Program began in 1995 and has provided over $2 billion in grants to assess and clean up contaminated properties and return blighted properties to productive reuse.

The economic development nonprofit identified nearly two dozen such properties in need of assessment before they can be redeveloped, including the closed Kmart in Evergreen, Wisher’s Wrecking Yard in south Kalispell and Glacier Gateway School buildings in Columbia Falls. The funding has not yet been committed to any particular site.

The properties present opportunities for high density and affordable housing projects in already developed areas, according to Christy Cummings Dawson, president of Montana West Economic Development.

The group sees potential for 40 low-income housing units on the Kmart site and 50 new senior housing units with community recreation areas at the Columbia Falls location. Developer Mark Ruis agreed to erect senior and teacher housing at the latter site when he bought it from the school district for $550,000.

Transformco, Kmart's parent company, still owns the Evergreen property. They did not respond to questions about the lot’s future.

“The Flathead Valley has seen tremendous growth in recent years and these EPA Brownfields Assessment funds will help to facilitate redevelopment of blighted and underused areas, taking advantage of existing Infrastructure and preserving open space,” Cummings Dwason said.

By taking on the assessment and planning process, the foundation hopes to encourage redevelopment by taking some of the burden off of owners and potential developers while helping them understand the condition of the properties.

“This is a great tool for incentivizing redevelopment by taking some of the uncertainty and risk out of the process,” Cummings Dawson said.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, celebrated the grants, which were funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which he supported.

“As a third-generation farmer, I understand the challenges rural America is facing, including the lasting impacts of toxic waste,” Tester said in a statement. “Cleaning up and revitalizing Montana’s remaining Brownfield sites breathes new life into our communities by creating some real opportunities for economic development.”

Reporter Adrian Knowler can be reached at 758-4407 or aknowler@dailyinterlake.com.