Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Check for Pollution Can Remove Stigma from Land

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Check for Pollution Can Remove Stigma from Land

Article excerpt

Pollution from abandoned gas stations, repair shops and dry cleaners has taken its toll on the land in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Nearly 500 properties have been identified as potentially contaminated in the two counties.

Now for the good news. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided $1 million over three years to start the cleanup process.

The program started last year, and whatever money hasn't been spent still sits in the bank, waiting for applicants.

The old circus arena in Venice is a good example of how the program works. For years, the rumor of environmental problems dogged the property, which occupies municipal airport land, owned by the city of Venice.

No one could say with certainty what the property held, but the perception of contamination, in addition to other problems, was enough to dampen enthusiasm for renovating it.

It turns out the arena does have asbestos in its flooring and some lead that could hurt the indoor air quality. An inspection in March revealed the contaminants. But rather than generating despair, the news encouraged airport manager Chris Rozansky.

"With this information, we now have the understanding of what mitigation needs to be done, and we can budget for it," Rozansky says. "I think we've also verified it's not quite as extensive as we once thought."

So far, that budget is doing just fine. The EPA paid $14,025 for the Phase 1 inspection as part of its brownfields program, designed to identify and clean up sites contaminated with petroleum and other chemicals.

The city is prepared to embark on Phase II work, in which engineers will dig up what is believed to be an underground storage tank at the arena. Once again, EPA will pay the $42,495 bill.

Venice has received no special treatment in getting the federal largesse. Any property owner who suspects contamination can apply for help, provided he or she hasn't caused the pollution.

The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (941-359- 5772) administers the program. Mike Maholtz, who oversees it for the MPO, estimates 46 properties will benefit. About 20 are in the pipeline, and 15 assessments have been completed. …

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