Site Of Steel Mill Will Undergo Pollution Study

Posted: January 26, 1996

PHOENIXVILLE — The borough is receiving a $200,000 federal grant to assess whether the Phoenix Iron & Steel site in the heart of town is polluted and, if so, what it will take to clean up the site, officials said yesterday.

The property is crucial to plans to revive the borough's economy, but local officials say it will be difficult to attract developers until any pollution problems have been resolved.

The grant was announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon's office. It is part of a nationwide pilot project called Brownfields, designed to help clean up and reuse old industrial properties.

The borough applied for the highly competitive Brownfields grant in July but was not selected in the first round. In November, the EPA informed the borough that it could reapply.

``If at first you don't succeed, try again,'' said Barbara Cohen, executive director of the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corp. (PAEDCO). ``We did,'' added Cohen, who coauthored the grant application with Borough Manager Donald Whitman and community environmental experts.

Cohen said the EPA was looking for a real grass-roots effort. The latest grant application, she said, included letters of support from groups, such as the Phoenixville Renaissance Committee, and dozens of residents and business leaders.

The Brownfields dollars will be used to conduct a risk assessment study of the French Creek East section of the steel complex, now an overgrown lot opposite the foundry building on Main Street. The study will determine what pollutants, if any, are in the soil and what is the best use for the site.

The property is owned by a company called Red Wing Associates. Borough officials have said they hope to acquire the site by condemnation.

``At this point we don't know what the site will become,'' Cohen said.

Borough officials will not receive the EPA check until required forms are completed, but that didn't stop them from celebrating.

``I'm delighted the site has been chosen,'' said Councilwoman Karen Johns, who screamed when she heard the news. ``We're going to bring tax dollars that have left this area and put them back to community use. I can't think of a nicer way to help the community than to revitalize a place that is so close to the heart of this town.''

The steel complex and foundry have been the focal point of efforts to revive commercial and cultural life in Phoenixville since the mill began a gradual shutdown in the late 1970s. In the last few months, the movement has gained vigor.

PAEDCO is applying for a $15,000 matching grant from the Schuylkill River Greenway Association. The organization also plans to apply for a $50,000 matching loan to begin the first phase of the foundry project - a new roof.

Revitalization efforts have raised $170,000, and the Brownfields grant will allow work on all phases of the project at once, Cohen said.

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