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City and state turn efforts to cleaning up 'brownfields' in Chattanooga

Sam Pena - Brownfields - WTVC
Sam Pena - Brownfields - WTVC
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The City of Chattanooga is turning its attention to some of the city's toxic industrial sites. And they say the state of Tennessee is helping.

Last year, Chattanooga got $5 million to help assess and clean up brownfields, which is land that is abandoned or unused due to pollution or decay.

It includes areas like the old Dixie Mercerizing Mill South Watkins Street.

The mill released metal contaminants into the surrounding area while it was in operation. Now, nearly 2 decades after it closed, the building and pollutants are still there.

The city says they want to fix the area and clean it up. Which is something nearby residents would be happy to see.

Billie Rutledge is one of those residents and recognizes the value of the century old building in Highland Park. She says its the center of the community and a diamond in the rough.

It's just less developed than the rest of Chattanooga," Rutledge tells us, "There are a lot of working families with a lot of kids in these neighborhoods around here. And so it would be amazing for them to have natural spaces to be a part of that are like, accessible.

Now, the historical site is a brownfield. But plans are in the work to clean and rebuild the rundown space. A project that American Conservation Coalition State Director, John Bratton, says is a win for the environment and the economy.

One of the benefits of redeveloping brownfields is that you aren't building on green spaces." Bratton told us, "You're able to capture both economic and environmental benefits. Continue having Chattanooga be the outdoor destination that it is, while still being able to increase our housing market, and provide property for developers to come in.

The mill is one of 175 brownfield sites that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee's environmental plan hopes to clean up. And one of 42 brownfields the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified in Chattanooga.

You can see where the EPA is directing clean-ups and rebuilds here.

Chattanooga spokesperson, Ellis Smith, says Chattanooga is already seeing the benefits from brownfield redevelopment, from Novonix and Volkswagen. And are expecting more with the Chattanooga Lookouts expected to build on the old Wheland Foundry and U.S. Pipe.

That's part of our growth strategy is working with partners to unlock some of these properties that are, you know, part of our very, very dirty past. When we think about leveraging our brownfield history, what we're thinking about is how do we turn that into the next big thing, which is clean energy, clean transit?" Smith says, "When we put this money to work on the sites, we get those sites turn back into something that's productive and useful.

The clean-up efforts all over the city are expected to be a sliver of hope for those still living in Chattanooga's hidden gems.

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