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Minnesota to devote $2M to 100 pollution assessments at commercial properties statewide

It’s a $2 million effort that comes with the general goal of focusing on retail corridors with a high number of businesses operated by people of color.

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A customer enters the then-boarded-up 7-Mile Sportswear store at University Avenue and Dale Street in July 2020. The MPCA hopes to investigate potential pollution problems at the building as part of a $2 million effort focusing on retail corridors with a high number of businesses operated by people of color, such as University Avenue in St. Paul.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press file photo
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ST. PAUL -- In the next five years, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency wants to help as many as 100 owners of family-owned businesses, strip malls and other commercial properties both large and small take better stock of their environmental needs.

Free assessments will determine the presence of everything from asbestos contamination to lead-based paint. In some cases, clean-up plans will prepare the property owner to make a case for further pollution control funding.

“We can’t use the money for clean-up but we can get it ready to go,” said Amy Hadiaris, supervisor of the MPCA’s voluntary investigation and clean-up program.

It’s a $2 million effort that comes with the general goal of focusing on retail corridors with a high number of businesses operated by people of color, such as University Avenue in St. Paul, Lake Street and West Broadway in Minneapolis, as well as the city of Cass Lake in the northern part of the state, home to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe community. Several of those Twin Cities sites still bear physical scars from the May 2020 riots.

The program is voluntary, but MPCA officials hope to make inroads in each of those corridors and others, such as the former Kmart site at Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, a 10-acre property likely harboring contamination from buried debris and an adjacent metal plating facility.

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At the Uni-Dale Mall at University Avenue and Dale Street in St. Paul, the MPCA hopes to investigate potential vapor intrusion, which is when soil vapors — in this case from a former dry cleaning operation in the area — may leak into a building, contaminating the air. Getting cooperation from property owners will be key.

“We haven’t made site-specific contact yet,” Hadiaris acknowledged. “We’ll be reaching out to them and see. … Maybe they’ve already completely remodeled and don’t need our services anymore.”

In some cases, on top of environmental investigation and a clean-up plan, funding could pay for community engagement to help plot the redevelopment of a vacant or underused site.

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