by Natalia Dutt, AmeriCorps Member
Starting in 2014, the city of Thomas has been awarded three grants through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental assessments and cleanup of real or potential brownfields properties in the city, with an emphasis on redevelopment of the proposed riverfront park property. A brownfield is a property that has real or potential contamination from hazardous substances or petroleum in the soil or ground water. Mine-scarred lands are also considered brownfields. New Historic Thomas spearheaded those grant efforts and manages the grants for the city. The first grant was awarded in 2014 for the assessment of the riverfront property’s soil and water, as well as initial assessments of some downtown properties in need of redevelopment. The city was then awarded an EPA brownfields cleanup grant in 2016. Most recently, a grant was awarded in 2017 for continued assessments and redevelopment planning activities. The city contracted Downstream Strategies and Green Rivers for the first two grants to tackle this hefty, multi-year project. As you may know, Thomas was a strong coal mining town. That industry brought wealth and people, but it left a poor environmental legacy when the industry declined. Some of the land owned by the city of Thomas across the river from the downtown were once home to “gob piles” or coal refuse piles that contaminated the soil, creating problems for water and vegetation growth. The assessments confirmed this contamination, and the cleanup grant received will specifically address this portion of the riverfront property and make it fit for park implementation.
With the initial assessment complete, Downstream Strategies, Green Rivers, and Woodlands Development Group have met to discuss the next phase in this project. They were able to discuss the needs for this cleanup, what they hope to accomplish through this project, and how they can best plan for the future riverfront redevelopment. This phase will hopefully be completed within a year and a half, with the city’s direction. It is our hope to be able to restore this property as close to its natural state as possible while leaving space for recreational opportunities, an amphitheater, and Fourth of July fireworks. Though this is still a beginning stage for a long project, we are excited to be able to clean up a property that can offer so much potential in our riverfront park redevelopment. It will open up endless opportunities for future recreation and development. This cleanup will allow us to give that land the ability to grow and prosper. We are excited to get started this Spring and Summer. Be sure to keep an eye out in the coming months for more updates.