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Niagara County's lagging economy will receive a $200,000 shot in the arm today as officials from the Environmental Protection Agency look to resurrect the area's vacant industrial sites.

"The brownfields program represents an opportunity to return dormant lands to productivity," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA regional administrator.

"The goal is to make sites clean, job-creating, profit-producing assets once more," Ms. Fox said. "By reusing brownfields, we can help preserve our green fields -- open areas that have not been used for development."

The $200,000 federal grant will target three of the more than 70 potentially contaminated sites in Niagara County for inventory and assessment, according to Samuel M. Ferraro, county commissioner of Planning, Development and Tourism.

"This grant provides Niagara County with tremendous development potential and the opportunity for creating new jobs," Ferraro said. "The brownfields funds could return property to the tax rolls."

Idle manufacturing sites -- once used for steel production or chemical manufacture -- are a major problem in Niagara County, according to Michael Basile, an EPA spokesman.

Niagara County has more than 70 sites that contain hazardous substances, including 35 that appear on the federal Superfund cleanup list. Under the direction of a program coordinator, the county will conduct site assessments of the three highest priorities on the list.

In addition, the county will use the EPA grant to establish a Brownfields Public Information Center to coordinate outreach and educational activities for residents.

The two-year project will complement the work started in Niagara Falls, along Buffalo and Highland avenues, after the city received its grant last year.

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