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Keokuk Lands $200,000 EPA Environmental Grant

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The grant money would be used to determined the level of contamination on the 78-acre site along Carbide Lane in Keokuk.

The federal government will help Keokuk in its attempt to find a new use for a shuttered manufacturing plant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the city a $200,000 Brownfield Assessment Grant.

City Administrator Aaron Burnett said the money will be used to update previous environmental studies at the former Elkem manufacturing plant at 365 Carbide Lane. The plant, which produced carbon electrode materials and other carbon-based products, closed its doors about ten years ago.

“The city of Keokuk is excited about the opportunity created by this Brownfield Assessment Grant through the EPA,” said Burnett. “The former industrial site on Carbide Lane has long been a source of blight in the community because of its contamination and dilapidation, but with the assistance of this grant, the property will be one step closer to being ready for marketing to prospective industries and subsequent development.”

Burnett said the grant money will allow the city to hire a firm that will identify how much of the roughly 78 acre site is free from contaminants and thus requires no clean-up.

“And make it very clear to an industry if they are interested in coming in that there is a clear path for use of this site,” said Burnett. “The fact that this site is located in an opportunity zone, has rail access, contains a significant number of developable acres, and has an abundant supply of power and other utilities immediately available will certainly make it desirable to many companies across the nation.”

Burnett said previous studies have revealed that the contamination present on the property is contained to the top six inches of soil. He said this report could confirm that and then provide options for remediation of the contaminated sites.

Burnett said more than a half-dozen buildings are on the property. He said some will need to be demolished, but he said there is the possibility for others on site to be rehabilitated and reused.

The city does not own the property, though Burnett said the city is in talks with the current owner about transferring ownership to the Keokuk Economic Development Corporation. He said that would make it easier to apply for grant money to clean-up the contaminated portions of the property and sell it to a potential developer.

Burnett hopes the environmental study can get underway in the coming weeks. He does not know how long it will take, as that depends on the timeline for the company hired to do the work.

“We congratulate the city of Keokuk and applaud their continued commitment to the clean-up and redevelopment of brownfield properties throughout their community,” said E.P.A. Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford in a prepared statement. “We’re proud to support their cleanup efforts and look forward to the positive environmental and economic impacts to come.”

Keokuk was one of 144 communities to receive support from the U.S. E.P.A. in its latest round of funding. A total of 221 grants were awarded totaling $54.3 million.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.