Belfast's economic development director updated councilors on the status of an environmental review of the former Maskers building and provided direction for the city's next steps for preparing the property for future redevelopment.

Thomas Kittredge, economic development director, said a Phase I site assessment has been completed and a Phase II site assessment will begin within the next few weeks.

A Phase I environmental site assessment is strictly a review of all documents pertaining to a specific property to identify any possible areas of concern that would need to be further assessed. The Phase II assessment is a more in depth examination, and involves examining the soils and building materials on the property.

A hazardous materials inventory will also be completed during at the same time as the Phase II assessment.

Kittredge estimated the Phase II assessment and all reports pertaining to the property should be done or “substantially completed” by January 2014. At that time, Kittredge said he would go before the council to discuss the possibility of applying for a cleanup grant to address any environmental issues on the property.

The cleanup grant is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the organization requires a $1 match from the city for every $5 in grant money that is awarded. However, Kittredge said the city could apply for a hardship waiver in regards to the match or provide city employee labor in exchange of a monetary match.

City Manager Joseph Slocum asked Kittredge for an estimated time line for when the city could expect to receive a cleanup grant. Kittredge said the city would most likely be notified it would receive a grant by May 2014, and then the city could begin preparations to address any contamination on the property over the summer before work begins on cleaning up the property in the fall of 2014.

The fact that any work to begin demolishing the existing building on the former Maskers property and to address any contaminants in the soils wouldn't occur for almost a year concerned Councilor Hurley who asked why the city couldn't tear the building down and cover any contaminated soils on the property temporarily.

City Planner Wayne Marshall explained that part of the problem with the property in its current state is that the building poses an environmental hazard due to the expected presence of asbestos and lead paint.

Kittredge said the city does have the option of demolishing the building sooner, but officials would not know what type of hazards are present in the structure.

“The data [from the environmental site assessments] will help drive what we should be able to do with that property,” Marshall said.

Marshall then asked for councilors to be patient and wait for the environmental assessment reports to be completed so they can make informed decisions and not have to resort to guessing as to what issues may exist with the property.