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EPA grant to cleanse SD sites

SISSETON, S.D. (AP) – A former orphanage and boarding school tainted with toxins near Sisseton, S.D. could be transformed into a recreation area with ballparks and green space, paid for with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe received $200,000 from the EPA May 8 to clean up the Tekakwitha Old Orphanage and Boarding School Complex. The money, called a Brownfields grant, is part of more than $70 million in EPA money that will help cleanse toxic sites in South Dakota – all while creating jobs.

“The (Tekakwitha) cleanup will pave the way for the reuse of a property that has been affected by a long history of contamination,” said Carol Rushin, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Mountains and Plains Region 8 based in Denver. “This cleanup will generate jobs and help create a community asset for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe.”

“It is not a healthy area,” said Steve Jackson Sr., Brownfields coordinator with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe’s Office of Environmental Protection. “We want to help get rid of a hazard to our people and our environment.”

President Obama’s budget slashes deep into many federal agencies, yet the EPA will instead increase funds for state and local governments in 2010. The money will pay for environmental projects such as Superfund sites, the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program and the Brownsfields program.

Another $6 billion will be available nationally in Recovery Act revolving loans for water quality, wastewater and drinking water projects.

‘Neat’ project for tribe, state

In South Dakota, the grants will fund a $50 million cleanup of the Gilt Edge Mine Superfund Site near Lead, $19.4 million for water-quality projects, $1.2 million to remove old gas station tanks and the $200,000 to rehabilitate the Tekakwitha Old Orphanage and Boarding School Complex.

The tribe will study whether it is worth rehabilitating buildings on the property, but plans call for a green space with basketball and tennis courts and tables for people to have picnics. The project could take more than two years to complete and could lead to a dozen jobs being created.

“I’d like to see some wind generation out there,” Jackson said. “I’d like to see a pool, a recreation center – but money. The Tribal Council could, down the road, move for some economic development out there, office space, since we need to grow.”

The 12-acre Tekakwitha site, about a half-mile from Sisseton, has served as a farm, church, orphanage and boarding school. There are five buildings on the property. The main building has been abandoned for almost 20 years, and the tribe took ownership in 2001.

“It’s a physical hazard that’s just filled with mold. Basically, it’s a building that needs to be demolished, and these funds will help them dispose of the hazardous materials,” said Dan Heffernan, Brownfields coordinator for Region 8. “It’s a neat project for us, since we’re used to dealing with large urban projects. With this, we get to help a rural community, a tribe. Usually, it’s stuff like Phillips to the Falls project (in Sioux Falls) – these smaller projects are near and dear to our hearts.”

Good proposal in tight competition

Brownfields are sites where expansion, redevelopment or reuse could be complicated by the presence of pollution, hazardous chemicals or contaminants such as mold. Recipients are selected through a national competition.

The tribe applied for its grant in November. Communities in 46 states, four tribes and two U.S. territories shared in the $111.9 million pot this grant cycle.

“It’s a highly competitive grant process and a third of the applicants get funded,” Heffernan said. “The tribe wrote a really good proposal and we’re really excited they got their funding.”

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