KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 presented Kansas City, Missouri, with a $3 million grant Thursday to redevelop contaminated — or potentially contaminated — sites, known as Brownfields, in the city.
The grant, which was made available through President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will potentially fund Kansas City's Brownfields Program's cleanup and preparation for the redevelopment of the Hardesty Federal Complex and cleanups of contaminated sites in the most undeserved areas of KCMO.
"This is what’s a real game changer," Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said after receiving the check at a ceremony on Thursday. "And so, in many ways the $3 million is about more than just the investment for the individual project, but it’s telling somebody who’s cruising down The Paseo, who’s going down Independence Avenue, 'My neighborhood matters, my community matters,' and that’s what that investment is all about."
The mayor, city representatives, EPA officials and others gathered at the former Paseo YMCA — a Brownfields site that has been redeveloped into the Buck O'Neal Education and Research Center — on Thursday for the check ceremony before heading out on a tour of two sites.
The first stop was in the Ivanhoe Neighborhood in east Kansas City. Funds from the city, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the EPA facilitated the cleanup and redevelopment of a lead-contaminated site on Garfield Avenue, according to Brownfields Coordinator with KCMO Andrew Bracker.
Approximately $1.8 million in grants funded the development of the low-income East Garfield Senior Cottages, according to the city. The eight, two-bedroom units are part of the affordable senior and multi-family housing initiatives in the Ivanhoe Neighborhood near E. 39th Street.
Nailah Mbiti, an independent consultant with the Accomak Development Group and former chief real estate developer for the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, lead the discussions on the tour. She said this development is good for the neighborhood because it will bring more affordable housing, new residents and possibly bring future developments down 39th Street.
“(The $3 million) will go to projects like this. So, this is an example of a completed project that wouldn’t have been possible without Brownfields money, and we’re hoping to do a lot more like these," Bracker said.
Previous homes built 50 to 70 years ago on the same lot used lead-based paint, which eventually contaminated the soil. The cleanup of the site — which included excavating over 1,700 tons of dirt — was completed in 2022, and the units are expected to be rented out by the end of this year.
“That is one of, sort of, what I consider to be a problem with development of vacant lots within the Third District (of Kansas City), is that if you’re a private developer and you’re not using public funds, you don’t have to (do lead contamination testing),” Mbiti said.
KCMO tested vacant lots in the city for lead contamination, and approximately 50% of them were contaminated with lead amounts greater than what Missouri advises for residential areas. Lead poisoning rates among children in Kansas City's poorest neighborhoods are up to nine times the national average, according to KCMO.
"For me, it's a huge environmental injustice issue across the Third District of Kansas City," Mbiti said.
The second stop, an example vacant lot, was a short drive away on Brooklyn Avenue.
Here, in the smack center of a neighborhood, the soil is also contaminated with lead.
Kansas State University is leading a study at the site, which started a little over a year ago.
"We are trying to add soil treatments to stabilize lead in the soil," Dr. Ganga Hettiarachchi, a professor of soil and environmental chemistry at K-State, said.
The group divided up squares of soil on the lot, adding different ingredients — including tilling the soil with phosphorous — to test which treatment works best to lessen the bio availability of lead in the soil. The group is working to ensure all treatments are safe for people and the environment.
The treatment — compared to excavating thousands of tons of soil — could save thousands of dollars in redevelopment projects.
Such treatments could be helpful for the city to capitalize on grants, such as the $3 million one received today, as demand for affordable housing in KCMO is forcing the city to develop vacant lots, per a press release from KCMO.