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Group Effort to Transform Properties

Group Effort to Transform Properties


Renewed energy and excitement now fill the air from one end of the county to the other, thanks to Small Business Revolution, river surfing in Florence, TechSTART, restoration at the St. Cloud Hotel, the renovated park in Penrose, and much, much more.

In addition to the many public endeavors, much work is happening behind the scenes with the $600,000 grant to assess potentially contaminated properties throughout Fremont County. The funds allow the county and its partners – the City of Cañon City, the City of Florence, and Fremont Economic Development Corporation – to take a deeper dive into our effort to transform underutilized properties and breathe new life into specific sites.

Now is the time to bring the project to the citizens of Fremont County! We need your input and have scheduled two public meetings next week for conversations about this incredible opportunity to transform our community.

Brownfield sites are real properties that are hindered by the presence or perceived presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. This perception or fact complicates the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of such a property, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Once cleaned up and restored to a pristine state – or cleared of the stigma when proven no contamination exists – these lands have unlimited potential for redevelopment into other businesses, industries, or even homes.

Ultimately, the EPA grant allows communities to reinvest in these properties to increase our local tax base, facilitate job growth, utilize existing infrastructure, take development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improve and protect the environment.

Locally, potential project sites might have once hosted mining for gold, iron, gypsum, coal, or uranium, leaving behind abandoned mines, ore mills, gravel pits, electrical transformers and unpermitted dump sites. Industrial facilities here once included smelters, oil refineries, goods manufacturing, and a coal-fired power plant along the Arkansas River corridor. Additional dangers include asbestos and lead painting in old hotels and other structures right here at home.

Sites suitable for project properties are situated inside city limits as well as in unincorporated Fremont County. Each Fremont County Brownfield Coalition partner has created a list of potential brownfield target areas and known potential priority brownfield sites. Most importantly, the coalition will work closely together with property owners to implement this grant. Participation is strictly voluntary; no one will be forced to join in this redevelopment effort.

This grant affords landowners the opportunity to break free of waiting while trying to figure out what dangers might lie on any given piece of property. This is a starting point, an open invitation to discover information that can only help landowners in the future.

The coalition already has formed a Community Advisory Committee made up of folks throughout the county who have specific skills or information that will be helpful in moving forward. Following this three-year grant cycle, the coalition anticipates another grant application to EPA for actual cleanup of sites identified and confirmed as brownfields.

However, the meetings next week focus on members of the public who want more information. Topics of discussion include the impact of brownfield sites on the livelihood, health and safety of communities. We also will talk about plans to transform blighted areas into viable spaces that provide employment opportunities and enhance neighborhoods. We will discuss priority revitalization and focus areas, redevelopment strategies and desired outcomes, and community involvement opportunities.

The Florence meeting is scheduled 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at Florence City Hall, 600 W. 3rd St. in Florence. The Cañon City meeting is scheduled 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 9, at Cañon City’s City Hall, 128 Main St. in Cañon City.

Please join us for this important discussion about the future of Fremont County.

Debbie Bell is the Fremont County Commissioner for District 2. She can be reached at