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New Bell County businesses to benefit from $500,000 grant

A grant of $500,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency is good news for some potential new businesses in Bell County.

Larry Grandey, executive director of Middlesboro Main Street, said Wednesday that the grant will serve not only Middlesboro, but also Pineville and all of Bell County. The money will help people or companies purchasing a building to determine if there are environmental issues from a building’s past occupants. Grandey said the grant will save the average purchaser about $5,000.

“In the past, when a person or company bought a commercial building, there was supposed to have been a Phase 1 study. That’s an EPA term,” he said. “What they do is give us a grant, and a consulting firm will determine if there has ever been any type of business in there that would have contaminated the soil or the business, like a gas station, or the big ones are dry cleaners, that people don’t think about. Any type of place that might have had any type of hazardous materials. What this does is tell the buyer of the building, ‘This is in this building.’”

Regardless of the results of the study, Grandey said they are not reported to the EPA. Instead, the information is kept between the buyer and the seller. He said in the past, the buyer had to pay to have the study done at their own expense, and it would cost a minimum of $5,000.

“Now, we’re going  to be able to do that for any buyer that’s in Bell County, whether it be Middlesboro or Pineville – anywhere in Bell County. That’s a pretty big deal. That allows us to free up some concerns about buying a building,” he said.

In the event of a default on a loan, Grandey said the property would revert back to the bank that financed the purchase.

“That becomes their problem, and they obviously don’t like that,” he said. “What we’re going to do is go to all of the banks, go to all of the realtors and tell them, ‘This is a service we’re going to be offering. You just have to fill out some paperwork and we’ll make it happen.’”

If issues are found from the Phase 1 study, Grandey said in certain instances, there can also be a Phase 2 study to tell the purchaser if there was lead paint, petroleum products, or other products in the building, and this grant can also help pay for some Phase 2 work, which he said is “a little more comprehensive and a little more expensive.”

“It will specifically tell them what those products were. Then it becomes their responsibility to either say I’m good with that, or in many instances painting over it if it’s something as simple as lead paint.”

He added that the grant encourage business to come to his organization.

“If this EPA study is a concern for you, we can pay that fee for you,” he said.

When asked about a number of businesses that can be helped, Grandey said they will do all they can with the money.

“We’ll do any inspection as long as the money is still available. The average one is $5,000, and you’ve got half a million dollars to do them, that’s a lot of studies,” he said.

A partnership with the EPA, and specifically Region 4 in Nashville, has helped lead to the grant.

“The grant was written for some very specific projects in Middlesboro, and those projects did not come to fruition. Because of the way the grant was written, that money could have gotten lost,” he said. “Fortunately, having a good relationship with the EPA’s Region 4 people, we talked to them, had a discussion with my board, and everybody was obviously on board. This is a big thing for the community. This is one of the first times we’ve been able to incorporate Middlesboro, Pineville and Bell County into a consortium, so this is a pretty big deal.”

While the grant will definitely benefit Bell County businesses, Grandey also hopes it will benefit a Kentucky company when it comes time to conduct the Phase 1 studies. He said in the past, much of the money for such work has gone to companies in other states, such as Tennessee. Now, he hopes to see a Kentucky-based company receive the work. Middlesboro Main Street has issued a request for qualifications, allowing companies to apply to be the one that will provide Phase 1 studies with the grant money. The company will be selected by a committee based on a point system, which will include points for things such as having done work in the community, in the state, meeting certain criteria and more.

“They will have to stay within the guidelines of the federal government to make sure it’s fair,” Grandey added.

 

More EPA grant money

Another grant that came from the EPA was in the amount of $240,000. Grandey said the money was provided for a project that has had some issues in recent years.

“We have a $240,000 grant that was for some asbestos remediation and lead encapsulating on a project here in Middlesboro, on the Fraternal Order of the Elks Building,” he said. “That project started in 2018, and it’s had some issues. The building itself is structurally in very poor shape.”

He said COVID-19 has made it  tough for workers to get in the building, and that has slowed progress again.

“I’ve applied to the EPA Region 4 for an extension on that, and we got a one-year extension,” he said.

Middlesboro Main Street is working with state historical organizations to find out about options for the building, which has some interesting history. Grandey said although it was a hospital at one time, that wasn’t its original purpose. He said the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 1900s saw the building pressed into service as a hospital, which is ironic as we now face another pandemic as the building is being renovated in 2020.

Grandey said there are no particular plans for the building at this time.