The  Helena-West  Helena/Philips County Port Authority will receive $15,000 from the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) to explore a potential farmers market and event space in a long-abandoned building near downtown where  underground storage tanks have been removed.  The Port Authority has acquired the site and has started cleaning up contamination from its past use as a school bus repair facility.

The award is part of DRA’s federal partnership to help Delta communities protect the environment and human health by engaging with local partners to reinvest in existing neighborhoods as they develop local food systems. Other federal partners include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total investment in the project will reach about $40,000, including technical and planning assistance.

“This effort aligns with DRA’s strategy to enhance business development and support local leaders working on innovative ideas to spur growth in their communities,” said DRA Chairman Chris Caldwell. “This is an excellent example of federal agencies working together to increase growth opportunities, and boost economic and community development while helping promote health and wellness in the Delta.”

Besides the DRA investment, the project will receive another $25,000 in technical support and assistance in conducting community planning and workshop sessions, according to the EPA. The assistance is awarded as part of Local Foods, Local Places, a federal initiative that partners with communities develop local food systems and enterprises.

Helena was one of 16 communities in the United States selected to receive federal support. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the projects intend to “support local farmers, improve public health, protect the environment, and grow local economies.”

John Edwards, general counsel and economic development director of the port authority in Helena-West Helena, said the federal support will help convert an old school bus shed on Biscoe Street into a farmers market and event center. “This investment from DRA and the technical support we will receive will help in the planning and implementation process,” Edwards said. “This facility is accessible to the community and will provide a boost to our economic development and growth efforts in the area.”