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Brown to Green Celebration at Former Universal Recycling Site in Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska


The Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Contaminated Sites Program (DEC), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 are holding a mid-project celebratory event at the site of the former Universal Recycling, Inc., a contaminated brownfield site located at 400 Sanduri Street, Fairbanks, Alaska.

FNSB, DEC and EPA are working together to reclaim the site of this former recycling business.
Ironically, this local Fairbanks business built on “recycling” created a hazardous brownfield contaminated with PCBs, lead-acid batteries, barrels of petroleum, and other hazardous substances. What was intended to be green turned a dangerous brown.

When finished, the former brownfield site will become a viable light-industrial property, the type of redevelopment that creates jobs and increases tax revenue, while reducing the tax burden on the community. Most important, the cleanup addresses the health risks associated with the contamination.

According to Marcia Combes, director of EPA’s Alaska Operations Office in Anchorage, by using Brownfields program funding to leverage redevelopment, EPA partners with public and private entities to revitalize blighted properties and move them back into productive use.

“By empowering state and local redevelopment officials to generate and oversee Brownfields activities, we promote a collaborative approach that ensures that local solutions are used to solve local problems,” said Combes.

According to John Carnahan, DEC’s Brownfield Coordinator, this project exemplifies the difficulties many communities face in addressing brownfields, but it also shows how hard work, perseverance and inter-government coordination can pay off.

“The revitalization of the former Universal Recycling site is a great example of how brownfield programs foster community redevelopment through partnerships between DEC, EPA, the borough and other community and regional development organizations throughout Alaska,“ said Carnahan. ”Alaska has many brownfields that require this level of commitment and support to turn abandoned and blighted properties into safe and economically viable property"

According to FNSB Mayor Jim Whitaker, the borough believes there is tremendous potential for the former recycling center to be resurrected as a viable light-industrial property.

“Its proximity to the core industrial area, the Alaska Railroad spur and the community landfill, along with the site’s existing infrastructure contribute to this potential,” said Whitaker. “Once the waste removal occurs, the site will be able to be redeveloped to its full potential, achieving our goal of maintaining the economic, health and overall environmental welfare of our community.”

Earlier this year, FNSB was selected to receive two Brownfields cleanup grants, each in the amount of $200,000, with the FNSB’s match of $40,000 each in the latest round of federal aid made available by the EPA’s national Brownfields redevelopment initiative.

The grant funds will be used for community outreach activities and to cleanup the Universal Recycling, Inc. site at 400 Sanduri Street. It is contaminated with PCBs, metals, recycled batteries, waste oil, and potential dioxins. The site has been used as a refuse collection and recycling facility and a waste-to-energy treatment facility. In additional to the grant funds, the FNSB has contributed over $360,000 in resources towards the cleanup.

FNSB foreclosed on the property due to delinquent property taxes and has worked diligently to address the hazards at the site over several years. The work began in 2004 with a site assessment through DECs Reuse and Redevelopment Initiative, and then FNSB was successful in competing for two EPA grants.

The second Brownfields cleanup grant will be used to clean up the former City of Fairbanks landfill at 1980 Second Avenue, which is contaminated with chromium, selenium, thallium, and PCBs. The site had served as an unregulated landfill from 1951 to 1965 and later as baseball fields. This site is adjacent to the Carlson Community Activity Center and within the FNSB’s Chena Riverbend Project, a revitalization effort focusing on the commercial development of underutilized borough-owned land along the Chena River.


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