ELKHART — The communities that make up the Michiana Area Council of Governments are taking a regional approach to dealing with brownfields, allowing them to learn from each other and apply for funding as a bloc.
Brownfields are properties where actual or suspected contamination stands in the way of new development. They're often former industrial sites, gas stations, junkyards or land where other such uses in the past make them an unappealing prospect to private investors today.
There's also no longer a clearly responsible party in many cases. That's why it usually falls to local governments to either clean them up or prove they're already clean, say the people who oversee brownfield redevelopment locally.
"It behooves local governments to acquire and remediate brownfields in areas that they want to see economic growth, as it is unlikely that a developer will be willing to take the risk of acquiring the land themselves," said Natasha Kauffmann, redevelopment program coordinator for Elkhart County. "By eliminating the fear, liability and/or contamination associated with a brownfield, it becomes a much more desirable lot for developers."
County officials are currently looking at acquiring what Kauffmann called dilapidated lots along Old U.S. 20, near Corwin Street, in an area that's considered a "gateway" into Elkhart County. She said they're finalizing a bond this month to fund the land acquisition, in the hopes of cleaning them up and making them developer-ready over time.
Several of the targeted lots are known to be brownfields thanks to studies done in the past, she said. The county has received a number of federal grants over the years to assess brownfields.