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County board gets brownfield advice

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jeff Hawkins, CEO and founder of the Kalamazoo-based brownfield consulting firm Envirologic, speaks to the Houghton County Board about brownfield development at its September meeting. Seen listening are Commissioners Gretchen Janssen and Roy Britz, Chairman Al Koskela, Vice Chairman Tom Tikkanen, Clerk Jennifer Kelly and Commissioner Glenn Anderson.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton County Board heard about some of the brownfield development tools available to them Tuesday.

Jeff Hawkins, CEO and founder of the Kalamazoo-based brownfield consulting firm Envirologic, spoke to the Houghton County Board at its September meeting.

Hawkins previously worked with Houghton County on its first brownfield plan for a site in Calumet, using grant and loan funds from what was when then the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

“That project took a while to make it happen, but, in the end, it’s back on the tax rolls and participating and providing a benefit to the community,” he said.

Most money comes through Tax Increment Finance Authority funding. When investing in a property raises the taxable value, the brownfield plan allows them to recapture TIFA money to repay the developer or other investors.

Though most people associate the brownfield designation with environmental contamination, it also applies to other blighted, obsolete, vacant or historic structures, Hawkins said.

“These are the tools that help to try to level that playing field,” he said.

Through the county land bank, the county can also do site preparation activities and infrastructure improvements at the site.

Brownfield funding tools can also be layered with other incentives or taxing jurisdictions available in the local municipality, Hawkins said. He also suggested pursuing an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment grant.

Hawkins said his company is working with communities and private developers on ways to incorporate brownfield programs to stimulate investment.

“I would encourage you to consider it as a tool and hopefully get the word out that you are active, that you do have a brownfield authority that’s here and willing to support (projects),” he said.

Vice Chairman Tom Tikkanen said the county has a number of properties that should qualify for brownfield incentives. One such property is a blighted area in Lake Linden, where the county hopes to attract developers for housing.

Hawkins said he had given the county several examples of communities where his company has been able to use brownfield financing.

“On some of these sites, it’s a challenge, and it takes some thought process and innovation to make things happen,” he said.

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