Norristown to use EPA grants to reclaim brownfields

Posted: March 13, 2013

The words of the day Tuesday at Norristown's municipal building weren't rain or sequester or even Phillies.

The main word was brownfields - followed by jobs and economic development.

Federal, state, and local officials gathered at the building to talk about how Norristown will use $400,000 in grants it got last year from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine which lots are brownfields - ground contaminated by hazardous substances - and ripe for being reclaimed.

"We have cataloged most of the locations and will determine which are most feasible for development," said Norristown Council President Gary Simpson.

The list has not been confirmed yet, he said, but the municipality will assess former industrial sites that front the Schuylkill, a few properties scattered around town, and the grounds of Norristown State Hospital, where fuel once was stored.

Norristown, the seat of Montgomery County government, has been trying for decades to reverse its decline. Those efforts have been hampered by poverty, crime, and, some say, poor governance.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) praised the municipal leadership's vision "for how we can build on the assets here in Norristown to continue to see the - I don't want to call it revitalization, but the vitalization of Norristown."

An EPA official said fixing environmental problems was a necessary precursor.

"This funding that we're talking about today will plant the seeds for the next steps of redevelopment in Norristown," said Kathryn A. Hodgkiss, director of the EPA's hazardous-site cleanup division in its Philadelphia-based regional office.

Since the cleanup program began in 1994, 60 recipients in Pennsylvania have gotten more than $47 million in brownfield grants, she said, which has led to the creation of about 2,600 jobs. The brownfield grants given to Norristown are its first.

Before the gathering ended, Simpson made one plea: "A lot of people forget about the first suburbs, the areas where everybody moved to when they wanted to get out of the city. We want to see people come back to the first suburbs."

Contact Carolyn Davis at 610-313-8109,, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.

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