July 17, 2003
Brownfields program is here to stay
By SHERRIE MINNICK
Department of Ecology
It’s not just a passing phrase, whim, or jargon of the 1990s. As the U.S. government prepares to grant over $130 million to states, tribes, local governments and non-profits to investigate and clean up these properties, it is evident that brownfields cleanups are here to stay.
Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused properties where redevelopment, business expansion, or other beneficial reuse is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. They gained their title in the early 1990s when over 600,000 properties across the nation were deemed “blights on the landscape.”
Once productive community assets, these properties — abandoned gas stations, dilapidated buildings — were now seen as liabilities. Municipalities, lenders and developers were afraid that involvement with these sites would make them liable for cleaning up contamination they did not create. Consequently, banks were less willing to lend money, insurance companies were apprehensive in providing coverage, and developers began seeking out pristine “greenfield” properties instead.
To address this growing concern, the Environmental Protection Agency began offering financial assistance and incentives to states, local communities and the private sector to address brownfield properties.
Since its inception in 1993, the brownfields program has provided over $230 million in grants with $4.6 billion leveraged and over 11,000 jobs created. This includes 176 new grants for $73 million announced June 20, 2003.
Examples in Washington state include:
The Department of Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program oversees the investigation and cleanup work at many of these sites. Implemented in 1997, Ecology staff review cleanup reports and provide a written decision for a fee. To date, the program has overseen nearly 1,800 sites and provided “no further action” decisions to over half. The remaining sites are still in the review process or require more work.
Brownfield revitalization and redevelopment, however, is just reaching its momentum. Last year, President Bush signed into law the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act which expands federal assistance for brownfield revitalization. This new law increased brownfields funding and expanded the types of grants and sites EPA funds can address, including the authority to make direct cleanup grants and to award funds to address sites contaminated by controlled substances — such as private homes used as drug labs, low-risk petroleum-contaminated sites and mine-scarred lands such as abandoned coal mines or smelters.
The law also limits liability, clarifies innocent landowner defenses and provides increased grants to states and tribes for their response programs.
You can learn more about brownfields and the funding that’s available for revitalization and redevelopment at the free Oct. 27-29 Brownfields Conference in Portland.
Cosponsored by the EPA and International City/County Management Association, the conference will provide an opportunity for those interested in brownfields redevelopment. Participants will share their experiences with each other, learn from experts, see the latest products and services, and hear success stories and innovative new ideas from around the world. Last year, 3,200 people attended.
For registration information, go to www.brownfields2003.org.
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