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Naugatuck Valley receives more than $4 million in federal funds for brownfield cleanup

U.S Rep. Jahana Hayes speaks at an event at the former site of the Waterbury Button Factory.
Ali Oshinskie
Connecticut Public
U.S Rep. Jahana Hayes speaks at an event at the former site of the Waterbury Button Factory.

The Naugatuck Valley will receive more than $4 million from the federal government in brownfield cleanup and remediation grants. The funding comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed last November.

Officials gathered at the former site of the Waterbury Button Factory on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the historic investment.

“Not since Eisenhower have we had this kind of opportunity,” said Janet McCabe, deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.

About $1.5 billion will be invested in brownfield cleanup over five years through the EPA under this legislation, along with over $50 billion in drinking water investments, $3.5 billion to clean up Superfund sites and millions more toward pollution management.

Waterbury has over 100 brownfields, and there are more than 200 in the 19 towns in the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments region. Factories lined the Naugatuck River for much of the 19th century, and after they shut down, their facilities were too contaminated to redevelop.

Previous brownfield cleanups have found PCBs, PAHs, heavy metals and other toxins under these sites.

“This infrastructure bill provides investment at a scale that is truly unprecedented,” said Marisa Chrysochoou, program director at the University of Connecticut’s Technical Assistance for Brownfields Program.

There’s funding in the package, she explained, for remediation from beginning to end. Chrysochoou, who is also a professor and the head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UConn, called the package “a scale of investment that we have not seen before.”

Connecticut alone will see close to $7 million for brownfield cleanup.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary accepted a check for $150,000 on Thursday. That money will go toward work at the Button Factory on South Main Street.

Rick Dunne of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments accepted $3.9 million under the EPA’s revolving loan program, which allows developers to use the money to clean up a brownfield and repay the loan out of their investment in that property.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the funds will make cleanup initiatives possible — and quickly.

“The primary obstacle to companies who want to be in Waterbury, with access to every transit highway you can imagine, the only thing you can’t find is the space,” Murphy said.

Officials spoke about the benefits in brownfields primarily in terms of economic development and adding to the city’s tax base.

“The No. 1 impact associated with a brownfield site is blight,” Chrysochoou said.

They attract vandalism and decrease the value of property in the neighborhood, she said, and they don’t pose any immediate health risks.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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