The Evolution of Brownfields

Since the mid 1990’s the Federal Government’s EPA has looked into redeveloping former industrial and commercial properties to place new businesses on the old sites and also to conserve land. These sites are called Brownfields and are defined as, “abandoned, idle, or under-utilized industrial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by a real or perceived environmental contamination.” The concept seems like a very strong idea that could be utilized by the community where the redeveloping would be taking place. For example, think of that abandoned factory in your town that has been there since you were a kid. The one that no one goes near, and has a no trespassing and beware signs on it. Well imagine it being demolished and rebuilt into a newer business that will create jobs, possibly offer a new service and added value to the community.

To the Federal, state and local government this all seems like a good idea and especially to the EPA, which is trying to “save” land. The Federal government and the EPA will all give money or grants to contractors and businesses that redevelop once used property to help promote Brownfields. The main goals of the Brownfield programs would be to put an old property to use while at the same time revitalizing a community, minimizing urban sprawl, finding solutions to protect human health, but most importantly “enhancing our quality of life through sustainable development”. Minus the small problems environmental justice and urban sprawl, Federal, state and local government all support Brownfields.

In order for Brownfields to be successful, many government agencies must come together and offer their knowledge on different areas. In July 1996 the U.S. government established the Interagency Working Group on Brownfields which provides a forum for government agencies to discuss information on “brownfield-related activities and develop a coordinated national agenda for brownfields”. The Interagency Working Group on Brownfields is made up of many different government agencies such as Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation just to name a few. These and other government 2 agencies are involved because there are many problems and issues that can come up from renovating an old industrial property such as health issues, money issues, and environmental issues among others. The Federal government also tries to assist local governments with technical assistance and funding. In Putting the Pieces Together the author states that, “the Federal government offers HUD’s Section 108 loan guarantee for brownfields programs” which can really help out a local government to start and complete their brownfields project.

Most state governments also feel that supporting brownfield projects are very important. State governments offer grants, often mange CDBG funds, and offer VCP cleanups, which not only lessen some of the environmental liability but also offer some finical assistance to local governments. State Governments also offer, “Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with state government agencies, which coordinate activities and distinguish the scope of a project partner’s work.” Overall state governments are mostly pro brownfields projects for a number of different reasons. The opportunity to clean up their state, conserve land, and bring in new businesses or industries looks good to the states communities. The state residents would most likely be happy to have new job opportunities and at the same time rid their community of that old abandoned building.

Another reason why state governments are interested in redevelopment projects such as brownfields would be because of the assistance they receive from the Federal government and local government, the EPA and sometimes private investors.
Local governments are usually for brownfields projects because their residents are directly affected by the economic and environmental problems from the proposed property. A cleanup effort and new business can only increase the communities’ value and at the same time create new job opportunities for local residents. A smart Local government will not only consult with the residents to find their opinion on the local brownfields matter but will allow them to participate in the planning of a redevelopment. Putting the Pieces Together offers three reasons to have local residents involved with local government for brownfield projects. The first would be to allow the neighborhood 3 to voice its ideas because it will give the community a sense of “ownership of the problem and its solutions”. The second reason is because the project will allow the community and local governments administrative members to become better acquainted while also working together to better the community. The final reason would be that, “the community’s needs and wants can help the local government shape the redevelopment and prevent disagreements from occurring.” It appears that local government has the most to gain from brownfield renovations because their community benefits directly, they can receive state and federal funds, and their residents stand to gain new job opportunities along with a newer building replacing the old eyesore.

The largest supporter of brownfields projects would be the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA is not just a large supporter of brownfields projects because it will conserve land, but these brownfields projects are usually on contaminated land. This land was probably abandoned for that reason while brownfields are a reason for the EPA to clean the land up and not just at their own expense. Support from Federal government, state government, and local government obviously removes some of the burden that the EPA would have to pay themselves. It also makes it easier to redevelop because now they are not just cleaning up abandoned land and leaving it abandoned, the land will be going to a good use and not to an industry that could re-contaminate the land.

The EPA has been involved in brownfield matters since the beginning in the mid-1990’s. In June 1995 the EPA initiated the “community involvement check-up” to see if local communities were really interested and if they would be actively involved in the brownfields redevelopment. The EPA sponsored the “Brownfields Pilots National Workshop” in February 1996, which led to the development of the breakout sessions’ agendas. The EPA has aligned themselves with other organizations that want to help brownfield redevelopment projects succeed. One example would be the partnership between the EPA, HUD, and DOL, which is called the Superfund Step-Up Program. This program was created to train and create employment opportunities for community residents, contractors, and labor organizations in the environmental cleanup field. The EPA has also been signing MOU’s with some Federal partners such as the Department of 4 Housing and Urban Development and the Economic Development Administration of the Department of Commerce. The EPA feels that they are close to reaching a MOU with the U.S. Department of Labor. In less than five years the EPA has made a large amount of progress on the brownfields issue, but still has more ground to gain.

Pennsylvania would be one of the best examples of a state that has cleaned up its brownfields. Pennsylvania has the Land Recycling Program which is dedicated cleaning up Pennsylvania’s brownfields and returning them to productive use. The Land Recycling Program was developed in 1995. At the Council of State Governments’ (CSG) annual meeting in 1997 the Pennsylvania Land Recycling program won a “1997 Innovation Award” for its cleanup efforts dedication and success. The 1997 reception was the second time that Philadelphia has received the prestigious award in the ten-year history of the award. One large accomplishment that the Land Recycling Program has achieved would be that more than one hundred sites have been redeveloped while in sixteen years the Superfund cleanup projects have redeveloped less than ten sites.

Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling Annual Report for July 1998 reported that so far the program has cleaned up a total of 267 contaminated sites and it is estimated that 500 sites are now being redeveloped. The Land Recycling Program has set standards to protect health rights and the environment while at the same time it attempts to end an environmental liability. In August 1999 Pennsylvania Gov. Ridge announced the Brownfields Inventory Grants which will provide about $50,000 each to 32 communities in the state, including the city of Philadelphia. The purpose of the grant is to give funding to state communities so they can inventory their brownfield properties and create a Pennsylvania Brownfields database on the DEP website. Pennsylvania is for brownfields redevelopment and has gone to great lengths to take action to assist private contractors, local communities and its residents get involved in the process of rebuilding their own community. Not only does redevelopment of brownfields allow for the clean up of a formerly contaminated site, but it also allows for a new (environmentally safe) business to come to that community providing jobs and possibly prosperity.

Philadelphia has taken steps in the past few years to continually improve their current brownfields situation. In August 1998 the EPA announced that they planned to 5 open one of their national Brownfields Job Training and Development Demonstration Pilot projects in Philadelphia. The project will cost about $200,000 and will benefit unemployed and disregarded residents in Philadelphia’s American Street Empowerment Zone and the North American Street Champion Community. The EPA selected Philadelphia as one of its eleven sites for the project because of the large amounts of desolated buildings, contaminated industrial sites, and abandoned row homes in a city with a lack of environmental technicians to help clean up these brownfields. The projects goals consist of cleaning up contaminated brownfields sites and preparing the trainees for jobs in the environmental field.

In “Poised For Progress” Philadelphia’s brownfields coordinator, Andrew Toy, stated that he feels the city is on the right track for redevelopment. Toy stated his goal was to have all of the city’s brownfields redeveloped, but there are more than a thousand brownfields so his goal is very unlikely. Toy made a very important statement that because of today’s new environmental technology the risks or cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields are not as bad as ten years ago. Today developers are willing to take a risk that they may not have in the past because of the new technology. Regardless it appears that Philadelphia may be ready to really take some action and redevelop City brownfields.

Brownfield Redevelopment Resources, http://www.theforum.org/cur/resource.htm, May 1999, p. 1.
Brownfield Redevelopment Resources, http://www.theforum.org/cur/resource.htm, May 1999, p. 1.
Borak, David and Meek, Charles. Putting the Pieces Together; Local Government Coordination of
Brownfield Redevelopment, International City/County Management Association, p. 1.
Borak, David and Meek, Charles. Putting the Pieces Together; Local Government Coordination of
Brownfield Redevelopment, International City/County Management Association, p. 18, 19.
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Borak, David and Meek, Charles. Putting the Pieces Together; Local Government Coordination of
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Pennsylvania Accepts Award From Council of State Governments,
www.phmc.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/Governor/Press_Releases/971210a.html, December 1997, p. 1.
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www.phmc.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/Governor/Press_Releases/971210a.html, December 1997, p. 1.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Old Sites. New Opportunities”,
www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm//landrecy/facts/annual/98anrpt.htm, October 1999, p. 1.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Gov. Ridge Announces First Brownfield
Inventory Grants”, www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/polycomm/update/08-13-99/083199u9.htm,
August 1999, p. 1.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Philadelphia Jobs Trainer Receives EPA
Brownfields Grant”, www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/polycomm/update/08-28-98/0822898u3.htm, August 1998, p. 1.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, “Philadelphia Jobs Trainer Receives EPA
Brownfields Grant”, www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/polycomm/update/08-28-98/0822898u3.htm, August 1998, p. 1.
Bogues, Maureen. Brownfield News, “Poised For Progress”, www.brownfieldnews.com/issues/2-
99/poised_for_progress.htm, February 1998, p. 1.
Bogues, Maureen. Brownfield News, “Poised For Progress”, www.brownfieldnews.com/issues/2-
99/poised_for_progress.htm, February 1998, p. 1.

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