GOSHEN -- While it's not really the heart of the city, the corridor along the railroad tracks from east of downtown to the north edge of the college campus could be considered the city's backbone.
That backbone is about to get a look from specialists in an effort to chart a future for the oldest industrial area in the city still in use.
The first step is a study funded by several federal agencies in a pilot program.
Goshen got a $175,000 grant to take a comprehensive look at the area over the next couple of years, and while most of the money comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it's not aiming to kick industry out of the area.
"There will be some kind of plan as to what to do if more of these industrial sites will become vacant, whether they'll be turned to other industrial sites, whether they'll be parkland or what will happen to them. This is not a study to get rid of the industries that are down there. It's a study to help the industries that are down there," said Tom Stump, president of both the Goshen City Council and the Goshen Redevelopment Commission.
The study will look at what's there, between the businesses and the neighborhoods and the infrastructure, from traffic patterns to sewer pipes.
Becky Hershberger, brownfields coordinator for the city, said, "The study will look at the market in the area, traffic and infrastructure and what needs to happen to make life easier for the businesses and residents in the area.
"We want to benefit who is currently there and who may come in the future," she said.
That will help the city decide if rezoning needs to be done and what sort of redevelopment plans need to be in place for the area.
The next step could be a big one, especially for businesses in the area, some of which have operated more than a century. "These industries began long before regulations of environmental issues," said Hershberger. "There's no way to be sure things were done properly according to today's standards."
While a century of milk production at Dairy Farmers of America means there's not much likelihood of suspect chemicals on its property, old rubber companies and others in the area may be a different story, Hershberger said.
The city applied for a grant to fund environmental surveys of any interested properties. That means the businesses in the area could get free environmental assessments, something they'd have to pay for if they ever decide to sell the properties in the future. "That's part of the process if these businesses decide to leave," said Stump.
Hershberger said, "whether they do this now or later, it's going to be required at some point."
The city won't be surprised if there are issues businesses find. Goshen ran into surprises with the old Western Rubber and state highway garage properties, finding tanks that nobody knew were there. "Because these properties are so old, it's hard to know what's there," Hershberger said.
Because of that, the city applied for funding to create a loan fund. That fund would allow businesses to borrow money for long terms at extremely low interest to fund cleanup of anything needing cleaned, Hershberger said. "It could be as simple as pulling tanks," she said.
WHAT'S THE END RESULT?
While nobody's sure what will happen at the end of all this, there's a lot of hope.
Hershberger said it all "increases the value of the properties, it's making the area more sustainable, it's helping implement better practices."
Stump said he hopes that the grant funds will help the existing businesses like they helped clean up the River Race Redevelopment area along the Millrace Canal. "We were very fortunate to have the EPA grants to clean up the River Race. The city's very fortunate to have somebody like Becky to oversee these."
Stump also hopes that the process will help the city get outside funding to deal with traffic issues in the area, helping to deal with truck traffic, maybe get an overpass or underpass across the tracks and improve the area for everyone.
Sue Burkholder, secretary for the Rieth Park Neighborhood Association, said neighbors have a host of ideas for the potential future in the area.
While some want small businesses, a swimming pool or green space, Burkholder said she'd like to see her industrial neighbors remain in the area. "I think there's good reasons for mixing communities up like we have," she said. She thinks it's appealing "keeping light industries. People need jobs," she said, and it's nice for people to be able to walk to work.
With the right efforts, the whole area could see improvements that boost the view of the area for everyone, Burkholder said.
Stump said he hopes the environmental grants come through soon, because he expects a limited lifespan for that kind of funding. "The thing I think we're going to be facing is, with the mood in Washington, these grants are going to be drying up," Stump said.
WHAT'S A BROWNFIELD?
While some people think "hazardous waste" when they hear the term brownfield, that's not necessarily the case. The term is "very broad. Just in general, the definition's huge," said Becky Hershberger, Goshen's brownfields coordinator. The term brownfield doesn't mean there's contamination, "just the potential that it's there. It's essentially any (commercial) property that's been developed for any use," Hershberger said.