Counties from Escambia, to Jefferson, and everything in between, have vacant properties that just aren’t helping economic development.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection hosts an annual program that teaches county officials ways to help redevelop the properties.
Often times, gas stations, laundromats, landfills and other old properties will be left vacant for years, all because of possible contamination.
“When there’s that perception that there’s potential contamination, nobody wants to touch the property. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to label it as a brownfield’s property,” said Chris Rietow, Apalachee Regional Planning Council Exec. Director.
A Brownfield’s property, one where the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse is complicated by actual or perceived contamination.
The reason the Florida Department of Environmental Protection started the Brownfield’s Redevelopment Program.
“There are a lot of different things out there that could impact properties,” said Shawn Hamilton, DEP Northwest District Director. “But one of the things that’s interesting a bout this program is, you’ve got your known contaminants, whether it’s arsenic, whether it’s historical use of pesticides and things of this nature, this program has an interesting component that it also deals with perceived contamination.”
Hamilton said properties are left vacant solely because people believe they might be harmful and they can’t afford to do the cleanup.
But, according to officials that’s not always the case.
“But when you find out through an assessment that there isn’t anything wrong with it, or maybe it takes a minimal remediation, you can then lift that label or that stigma and use that property again,” said Rietow.
Jackson County officials attended Thursdays program in hopes of learning ways to help redevelop some of their old structures.
“As a county commissioner we’re very concerned about the economic development in our county and I see this as a tool that we can utilize to maybe attract more industry to the county,” said Jim Peacock, Jackson County Commissioner, District 5.
Officials said they have seen old gas stations, automotive repair facilities, fire stations and retention ponds turned into things like community parks, athletic stadiums, and even hotels.