Located within the scenic Highlands of the Appalachian Mountains, in the southwestern portion of Virginia, lies the City of Norton and the counties of Wise, Lee and Scott. Forming their own planning district commission named LENOWISCO, they joined the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facility Authority (RIFA) and Dickenson County to form the Southwest Virginia Brownfield Coalition (SVBC) in October 2017 with the intention of sharing federal, state, and local resources to promote economic development.
The SVBC, which consists of one independent city and 18 incorporated towns covering 1,700 square miles, has been historically impacted by the harvesting of natural resources in the area which has led to a decline in development and growth. The area’s robust coal industry, of which roads, towns and railroads were built around, slowed down considerably after the 1950s due to mechanization, cleaner and cheaper alternative fuels like natural gas, and increased environmental regulations. Since 1950, over a quarter of the region’s population left in search of employment leaving behind communities burdened by blighted buildings, neglected railroad corridors, abandoned mine lands, and vacant schools.
Hoping to revitalize the area, the SVBC was awarded a $600,000 EPA Coalition Assessment Grant. A Coalition Assessment Grant is a community-wide grant that involves several smaller communities with a lead coalition member submitting on behalf of the group. A minimum of five sites must be assessed with a maximum award amount of $600,000. PM Environmental assisted in the grant preparation. The SVBC will use $400,000 to clean up hazardous substances and $200,000 for petroleum cleanup.
The funds from the grant will focus on sites that will have the largest impact and potential for redevelopment. They include the Powell River Trail North (PRTN) abandoned railroad corridor, the Kent Junction Gob Pile, and seven former public-school properties.
It is estimated that a total of 20 Phase I ESAs, 11 Phase II ESAs, and 5 Cleanup Plans will be completed throughout the course of the grant. Environmental assessments of the target sites will allow the SVBC Region to move away from its dying legacy of natural resource production and move forward with a concise plan to create a more diversified economy through the support of eco-tourism, that can support its population by ways of employment, education, well-being, and health.