August 5, 2008

Rachel Quintana Wants Advisory Board to Study Farah Site

By Gustavo Reveles Acosta, El Paso Times, Texas

Aug. 5--EL PASO -- An inactive advisory board should investigate whether federal grant money could be used to clean up the old Farah building, even if the city wants to dismantled the advisory board in two weeks, East Side city Rep. Rachel Quintana said.

Quintana on Tuesday will ask City Council to support her plan to have the Brownfields Advisory Board -- which was created in 2003 as part of a $1 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to clean contaminated land -- study the Farah redevelopment plan being proposed by Western Refinery's Paul Foster.

But on the same agenda, the council is set to vote on what will be the first step to abolish the brownfields board in as little as two weeks.

"There is still money out there for us to use on a project like Farah," she added. "What are we doing here?"

Ellen Smyth, the city's director of environmental services, said the brownfields board is no longer necessary because projects for the grant that created it were hard to get. Also, she said the board was having a hard time reaching a quorum in recent meetings.

She said the city has had to return grant money to the federal government because property owners are not willing to take money that would label their land as contaminated.

"It's like being a superfund. There are restriction and the label stays with your property forever," Smyth said. "For that reason, because property owners saw it as a black eye, there were no people willing to take the grant money."


of the grant money -- which the brownfields board oversaw -- helped the city identify and map areas in need of environmental clean up. Traditional brownfields normally include abandoned factories, warehouses and gas stations.

Smyth said sending the Farah project to the board will likely yield no recommendations anyway because the program is voluntary and Foster and his partners have already been approached for and declined to participate.

Foster and Regency Centers want to build The Fountains shopping center at the Farah site, and are asking the city and county to divert $12 million in sales tax receipts and property tax breaks to pay for the demolition of the Farah building so the shopping center can be built on the site.

The city's part would be $8 million in subsidies over 10 years. The county is being asked for $4 million in the same amount of time.

Regency's request to change the zoning of the Farah building to allow for commercial redevelopment is also on Tuesday's agenda.

Quintana said she thinks the city hasn't done enough to find a way to make the grant money work for El Paso.

"If (the money) is that hard to use, let the City Council have a go at it and I'm sure we'll find people who would be willing to use it," she said. "Sending back grant money is not something we should be doing."

Brownfields board member Adam Corrado agreed with Quintana that grant money is still available and could be used, but declined to comment on any action that will go before council.

"These are internal discussions," he said. "There should be public discussion about it, but I don't think I should be part of that discussion. There might some conflict of interest."

Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6133.


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