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Tribes Get $1 Million From EPA Brownfields Program for Cleanup, Job Training

Four tribes have received a total of $1 million in Brownfields grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contamination.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pledged a total of $1 million in Brownfields grants to four tribal nations to clean up areas blighted by industrial pollution and provide training in green jobs.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe have each been awarded $200,000 for environmental cleanup; the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will receive $400,000, also for cleanup, and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe of Kingston, Washington, will receive a $200,000 Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant.

With their money the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will “conduct environmental assessments at properties containing damaged buildings and abandoned mills, dumps and vehicle junkyards in communities across the Flathead Reservation,” the EPA said. “These assessments will inform cleanup needs and advance tribal plans for the reuse and redevelopment of these properties.”

The Standing Rock Sioux will clean up the polluted Old BIA Elementary School and the Old Sitting Bull College in the Fort Yates Community, North Dakota, the EPA said, ridding the sites of asbestos, PCBs and mold contamination. This will make the buildings safe for use as space for tribal offices and programs, the agency said.

The St. Regis Mohawk will “assess community-wide petroleum” on the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation in New York State, the EPA said. And the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe will use its money to train 38 students and place at least 32 graduates in environmental jobs, the EPA said, “targeting unemployed and underemployed residents of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal reservation in rural Kitsap County, WA. Key partners include Northwest Indian College, Port Gamble S'Klallam Housing Authority, Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, and Hood Canal Coordinating Council.”

The awards were among 218 new grants totaling $55.2 million that went to 131 communities across the U.S. that qualify as “underserved and economically disadvantaged, including neighborhoods where environmental cleanup and new jobs are most needed,” the EPA said in its announcement on May 20.

"EPA Brownfields grants continue to help tribal communities transform blighted properties into assets," said EPA regional administrator Shaun McGrath in a statement. "EPA is proud to be part of projects that are addressing contamination and creating vibrant new amenities and opportunities."

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Previously, Standing Rock used $945,925 from the EPA Brownfields Tribal Response Program to clean up the former Selfridge Cheese Plant and the Old Smee School, among other sites on the Nation’s 2.3 million-acre reservation.

Other tribes have received Brownfield grant monies in the past. In 2008 and 2009, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community members used such funds to create habitat for butterflies and other pollinators and repair a tribal beach that had been polluted by mining. In 2009 the Zaagkii Wings and Seeds Project restored thousands of native plants to the tribally owned beach along the western shore of Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay known as Sand Point. Sand Point was the first tribal Brownfield cleanup site in the Midwest.

RELATED: Sand Point to Get New Look

Also in 2009, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe received $200,000 from the EPA to clean up the Tekakwitha Old Orphanage and Boarding School Complex in South Dakota.

RELATED: EPA Grant to Cleanse SD Sites

In all, there are about 450,000 industry-contaminated sites scattered across the U.S., according to the EPA. The Brownfields program entails taking blighted lots, buildings and other sites, cleaning them up and converting them to either green space or making them usable again.

RELATED: EPA Climate Justice Blog: Preparing for a Changing Climate—Resiliency and Brownfield Reuses