Calling it ‘a world of difference,’ Danville’s progress touted while hosting Virginia Brownfields Conference

Danville’s progress in assessing and redeveloping environmentally contaminated sites has helped make it the only city to host the Virginia Brownfields Conference twice.

The 2023 Virginia Brownfields Conference is being held at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research this week.

The last one was held here in 2010, and what a difference a dozen or so years have made. Local and state officials who spoke to the Danville Register & Bee at the conference pointed to the positive changes made in the city since 13 years ago.

“It’s a world of difference,” said Meade Anderson, who manages the voluntary remediation and Brownfields programs for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

In 2010, the last time the state Brownfield conference was held in Danville, there were hardly any restaurants south of the Dan River and the River District was nearly empty.

Now there are breweries in Danville, as well as numerous dining establishments, Anderson said. That is in addition to the Dan River Falls project being constructed in the former White Mill building and the Riverfront Park being built.

“Danville has done such a great job,” Anderson said. “The city has worked hard, they’ve invested, they’ve taken the initiative to move these projects forward.”

Glenn Davis, director of the Virginia Department of Energy, agreed.

“It [Danville] really can be a model for what they’ve done, especially with a lot of development that’s been going on here in Danville,” Davis told the Danville Register & Bee.

The 2023 Virginia Brownfields Conference was overseen by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Energy. The conference was hosted Wednesday and continues Thursday at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

State and federal representatives, along with those from companies, attended to learn about best practices for brownfields redevelopment.

Danville’s efforts in brownfields assessment, clean-up and redevelopment were highlighted at the event. Those include River District redevelopment, the Dan River Falls project, the Schoolfield master plan, and the Caesars Virginia project in Schoolfield.

A brownfield includes any property where development can be impeded by perceived or known contamination, said Joe Morici, senior principal and brownfield redevelopment consultant with Stantec, a Canada-based firm that provides consulting services in engineering, environmental sciences and other fields.

Over the past four years, Danville has received nearly $1.5 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the VDEQ for brownfields assessment and mitigation in the city, said Danville Economic Development and Tourism Director Corrie T. Bobe.

Those included assessment and clean-up at the Schoolfield site where the Caesars Virginia casino project is being built, the pedestrian bridge across the Dan River and in the former Dan River Inc. White Mill building where the Dan River Falls project is being constructed.

Work at the sites has included lead and asbestos abatement, along with the removal of metal panels from the pedestrian bridge, Bobe said. Lead paint was removed inside the former White Mill structure.

Soil boring, or evaluation of soil composition, has also been conducted, Bobe said.

Morici, who has helped secure grants for the city, said there are likely hundreds of brownfield sites in Danville, with it “being a historic city with the number of sites you have there.”

“An old Mom-and-Pop gas station can be a brownfield site,” Morici said.

Besides the former White Mill, old buildings in other parts of the River District where redevelopment has taken place, including Craghead Street and other sections downtown, can be considered brownfield sites.

“Our River District is a prime example of brownfields redevelopment,” Bobe said. “Each and every one of those facilities that have been renovated since 2011 are categorized within the brownfield sector.”

Other sites that have been assessed using state and federal funding include areas in the Old West End neighborhood, Schoolfield Village and North Main hill, Bobe said.

Anderson said the total number of brownfield sites in Danville is unknown, but the city has a high percentage of such properties, he added.

Contaminants left over from the textile industry can include those from dyes containing metals and chlorinated solvents from large dry-cleaning units, Anderson said.

Some common contaminants are carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances, Morici said.