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The view of Trinidad, Colo. on Sept. 5, 2019 from Simpson's Rest, a popular bluff that over looks the town. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

 The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday handed $2 million in Brownfields assessment and cleanup grants to four far-flung Colorado communities, helping to pay for development of everything from an old sugar beet factory in Loveland to an aging movie theater in Trinidad. 

Brownfields has been doling out billions of dollars for such evaluations and cleanups nationwide since 1995, and communities compete hard for the grants as a way to boost local economic development and neighborhood use of long-abandoned sites. EPA Region 8 Brownfields and Redevelopment Branch Chief Danny Heffernan said only about 30% of applications win the grants. 

From underground gas-storage tanks to buildings crammed with asbestos construction materials, the sites in question “have some uncertainty about them that is standing in the way of reuse that they’re looking for locally,” Heffernan said. 

The current round of national Brownfields funding totals $66.5 million in grants to 151 communities. Past Brownfields awardees that have resulted in usable community space in Colorado include an asbestos-filled school in Dinosaur — on the far Western Slope — that is now a community center. 

The Colorado Brownfields grants announced Tuesday include: 

  • $300,000 to Lake City, in south-central Colorado, for assessment and cleanup of local hard-rock mine sites, a former kiln and more. 
  • $300,000 for cleanup for reuse of the Great Western Sugar Beet plant in Loveland and other former industrial areas along the Big Thompson River. 
  • $1.1 million to the city of Trinidad and other properties in Las Animas County, including $500,000 to clean up the Fox West Theater on Trinidad’s Main Street. Trinidad wants to reopen the 1908 building as an arts and meeting center, and the city will clean up heavy metals and other inorganic contaminants. Trinidad was formerly a major center for coal mining for nearby steel mills. 
  • $300,000 to Craig, in northwestern Colorado, for assessing contamination at a number of downtown properties, including an oil-handling business and a dry cleaner. 

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that won two Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news. He also writes frequently about inexplicable obsessions that include tamarisk, black-footed ferrets and tire fires. Booth also serves as the underpaid driver for four children, and plans to eventually hike every inch of Colorado.