That’s the idea behind the Copper Corridor Blight Buster Coalition (CCBB), formed by the collaboration of five area communities—Globe, Miami, Kearny, Hayden, and Winkelman—to clean up blighted buildings in the Copper Corridor.
Superior Mayor Mila Besich calls blight “an ongoing struggle” for all communities in the Copper Corridor. “It’s across the corridor,” she said.
In addition to being Superior’s mayor, Besich works as the corridor’s economic development director. Consultants had advised her that before economic development would be successful, first and foremost, Superior had to clean up trash and do something about problems like boarded-up windows.
The town put Plexiglass over the windows instead of plywood, keeping out unwanted occupants while avoiding the “boarded up” look—one example of Superior’s efforts to overcome blight.
There are a myriad of reasons for blight in the Copper Corridor, such as absentee landlords. Out-of-towners buy commercial buildings and homes as investments, and then rarely touch them, if ever. If unable to find the legal owners, neither the community nor the county can attach liens to the property.
Cathy Melvin, assistant to Gila County Dist. 3 Supervisor Woody Cline, points out that blighted properties often have multiple liens attached, such as medical liens. To receive long-term nursing care, senior citizens are required to transfer title of their property to the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). The building then sits vacant until someone buys the taxes, which usually doesn’t happen, as abatement costs often outweigh the property’s value.
As Besich puts it, “The state puts a lien on the property but never takes title and doesn’t take responsibility.”
To combat blight across the Copper Corridor, the CCBB Coalition plans to apply for a $600,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant. The funds would be used for cleanup and remediation of blighted buildings. The funds would come through the EPA’s fiscal year 2020 Assessment Coalition Grant, part of the agency’s Brownfields Grant Program. This program provides grants and technical assistance to communities, states, and tribes for assessment, safe cleanup, and sustainable reuse of contaminated properties. The deadline for grant applications is Dec. 3, but the CCBB Coalition probably won’t hear results until the first quarter of 2020.
For the grant application, the coalition compiled a list of about 20 blighted buildings in the Globe-Miami and Hayden-Winkelman areas, many of which have already been tested for contaminants such as asbestos and lead-based paint.
About 15 of the blighted buildings are in the Globe-Miami area, including the East Globe and Hill Street Schools in Globe as well as the Inspiration School in Miami.
If the grant is awarded, Gila County would be its recipient and administrator, coordinating grant activities and acting as the point of contact for other coalition members, said Cathy Melvin,.
“We are letting Gila County take the lead,” said Michelle Yerkovich, City of Globe Code Enforcement Officer. “We know that they will be impartial.”
If the grant is awarded, the list of blighted buildings will be narrowed down and prioritized, and then public hearings would be held, allowing the public to help prioritize, according to Melvin. She added, “It would be October before we actually got the money.”
Melvin said that prior to forming the CCBB Coalition in September 2018, everyone was “doing their own thing” in addressing blight in their own communities.
About two years ago, representatives from Superior met with Brownfields Coordinator Travis Barnum with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). With Barnum’s help, the town was able to get Brownfields funds to remove mold and address other environmental issues at the historic Belmont Hotel on Main Street. The project included installing new, energy-efficient windows that wouldn’t leak, which had caused the mold issue to begin with. Brownfields funds were also used to tear down another blighted building the town owned.
Last year, however, Superior applied for a highly competitive Region 9 Brownfields grant and didn’t get it.
“We were declined because we’re not big enough,” Besich said. “We had to serve more people.”
Forming a coalition creates more opportunities for funding for all the communities, because it creates a larger base. Representatives across the corridor were already creating a strong regional partnership, what with the mayors talking together and “stellar leadership across the communities,” Besich said.
Gila and Pinal county staff met with each of the communities, discussing the issues of blight, vacant buildings, and legal issues as well as possible solutions, Melvin said.
The CCBB Coalition’s efforts to obtain the EPA grant kicked off this year at a Sept. 5 meeting in Winkelman.
“Every mayor attended, as well as some managers,” said Melvin. “They were all excited. There is real camaraderie there. We have good councils and good mayors.”
“All communities are writing a letter of commitment. We feel confident working together,” Michelle Yerkovich said.
The CCBB Coalition hopes that one day the strong partnership they have formed will pay off in a big way for the region.
“Everybody’s coming to the table,” Yerkovich explained. “It’s a beautiful example of collaboration at its best. One person is not that strong—as a group we are stronger.”
Award winning journalist with over 18 years experience in covering local news and issues affecting rural communities. Married 37 years, my life has taken me from Phoenix to Willcox to Globe. My husband and I are both overjoyed to find ourselves in Globe-Miami, with its rich history and sense of community. This is truly home.