Huntington officials have joined forces with state and federal agencies to develop a plan for boosting economic development in the city. A forum held Tuesday focused on cleaning up toxic industrial sites, dealing with blighted areas and developing the waterfront. Huntington could become a model for other cities dealing with similar issues.
Huntington was recently selected as one of 53 communities in the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Making a Visible Difference in Communities Initiative.” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said that through the initiative the agency wants to provide cities like Huntington a chance to gather resources.
"What we’re really focusing on is how do we marshal all our resources, how do we work together as federal, state, nonprofits, citizens to put a framework in that helps the city of Huntington and helps cities throughout the country," Garvin said.
Tuesday’s forum was one of the first of its kind in the country and took a step toward implementing the initiative.
The idea is to bring city, state and federal officials together to examine how Huntington can overcome barriers to economic development.
Among the issues discussed were how to continue to examine and revitalize brownfields throughout Huntington, how to develop and change the riverfront and how to deal with areas of blight. Brownfields are contaminated areas left behind when industrial and commercial facilities close without being cleaned up first.
"There is a lot of stuff to accomplish and no one entity can do it by themselves and so for the ability for us to leverage resources and leverage visions and for us to find the little pieces to help out somebody else, every city needs, the country needs that," Garvin said.
Along with the forum, Huntington officials discussed a newly released Huntington Innovation Project to revitalize parts of the city. The plan focuses on areas like the Highlawn neighborhood located along the river near 75 acres of brownfields. One of the neighborhood’s major issues is the increasing number of abandoned structures. The plan looks at changing the riverfront to make it friendlier and how to deal with a flood wall that isolates the riverfront from the rest of the city.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said each part of the plan has many moving parts. For example, he said improving a brownfield is not just about cleaning up the property and putting something else there.
"We also have in that area a problem with flooding, how do we address the ground water and the storm water issues," Williams said. "We also have dilapidated housing in the area so we have HUD here to talk about that. We also know that we have state highways coming through the area."
The EPA has already provided $600,000 in grants in the past year to clean up brownfields in the city. Williams said the key to the project’s success is developing a good relationship with the federal entities.
"They are becoming familiar and excited about what we’re doing and as a result I’ve had an easier time in Washington to be able to go to the agencies and talk to them," Williams said. "It’s easy to do business with people who you know and the more familiar they become with us, the better opportunity that we have to do be able to do things that otherwise would be a long-distance dream."
Mayor Williams says he doesn’t know how long it will take to see the results of Tuesday’s meeting, but he thinks it will make a big difference for successful economic development in Huntington.