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Building a Resilient Community

Kyle Leonard
As the nation continues to move steadily forward in recovering from the economic downturn many community leaders are asking themselves “what can we learn from the past 10 years?” The short answer is: Resilience.

Communities and regions that actively strive for economic and environmental resilience recover more rapidly and suffer less from economic downturns. Responding with new policies after a regional downturn is less effective than insulating a region against downturns. (Institute for Government Studies, University of California Berkeley).

Resilience helps communities and regions build diverse, prosperous economies by enhancing quality of place; advancing effective job creation strategies; reducing housing, transportation, and energy consumption costs; promoting clean energy solutions; and creating economic opportunities for residents.

One way a community can begin to build its resilience is by identifying and redeveloping underperforming economic areas in their municipality. As the economy as evolved and changed in many sections of the nation, manufacturing businesses left abandoned plants for municipal leaders to address. Some of these properties come with considerable challenges and fall into the Brownfield category. The expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands.

Abandoned industrial properties often pose significant redevelopment challenges due to perceived contamination and liability concerns.

Abandoned industrial properties often pose significant redevelopment challenges due to perceived contamination and liability concerns.

Brownfield properties generally include industrial buildings and commercial businesses that used hazardous materials or chemicals, abandoned gas stations and dry cleaners. The existence of these contaminated or underutilized sites frequently has a ripple effect on adjacent properties and neighborhoods. It also forces development to occur on the urban fringe where the chances of encountering a brownfield site are less likely. Unfortunately, this frequently has the consequence of converting productive agricultural land into urban development plus adds to the cost of providing services to a larger land area.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Brownfields Program to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. The EPA provides technical and financial assistance for brownfields activities through an approach based on four main goals: protecting human health and the environment, sustaining reuse, promoting partnerships, and strengthening the marketplace.

Brownfields grants continue to serve as the foundation of EPA’s Brownfields Program. These grants support revitalization efforts by funding environmental assessment, cleanup, and job training activities. Taking a deliberate and thoughtful approach in seeking these grants and developing a plan is important in achieving optimal results in redevelopment and revitalization.

The first step in the redevelopment process is the Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). The ESA process allows individuals to satisfy due diligence requirements. These protections help minimize risk for current/potential land owners allowing for the redevelopment of brownfields properties.

The EPA Brownfields Assessment Grants provide property owners with a chance to assess contamination concerns free of charge. Phase I ESAs typically cost between $2,000 and $10,000 depending on the size of the property and the number and size of buildings on-site. Phase II ESAs can cost between $10,000 and $80,000 depending on property size and chemical testing.

Brownfields grants continue to serve as the foundation of EPA’s Brownfields Program and support revitalization efforts by funding environmental assessment, cleanup, and job training activities.
A Phase I ESA is a non-intrusive evaluation of environmental conditions at a site. Phase I ESAs accumulate data on the present conditions and historical uses of a subject site and nearby properties to assess the potential for adverse environmental impacts. This research includes visiting the subject site, interviewing individuals familiar with the site including current and past owners/operators and local officials, conducting an environmental records search for the site and surrounding vicinity, and reviewing historical documents related to the area such as fire insurance maps, topographical maps, aerial photographs, and city directories. An environmental professional then compiles the information into a report and concludes either 1) no environmental concerns identified or 2) the presence of a recognized environmental condition (REC) warrants further investigation in the form of a Phase II ESA.

A Phase II ESA involves collecting soil and groundwater samples to identify the types and concentrations of contaminants (if any) and the areas of contamination needing cleanup (if necessary). The resulting report compares contaminant levels to regulatory standards for evaluation of concerns for human health and the environment. A Phase II ESA can also include asbestos and lead-based paint surveys and hazardous materials inventories.

Once the assessment phase is completed, there are grants available for clean-up and redevelopment purposes including: Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Grants which provide funding to capitalize loans that are used to clean up brownfields; Brownfields Job Training Grants which provide environmental training for residents of brownfields communities and Brownfields Cleanup Grants which provide direct funding for cleanup activities at certain properties with planned greenspace, recreational, or other nonprofit uses.

  • Brownfields Assessment Grants help return properties exhibiting signs of potential contamination back to a productive reuse. This process helps achieve the following benefits:
  1. Facilitates job growth
  2. Stems urban sprawl by reducing development pressure from agricultural lands
  3. Avoids costly infrastructure extensions required to serve new greenfield development
  4. Protects human health and the environment
  5. Often spurs additional redevelopment activities
  6. Increases the local tax base
  7. Eliminates eyesores and safety hazards

In addition, Brownfields grant awardees find that grants provide a means to leverage other financial resources to complement Brownfields redevelopment efforts. Funding sources from other programs may include:

  1. Tax Increment Financing
  2. Brownfields Tax Incentive
  3. Economic Development Administration (EDA) Grants
  4. HUD Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) Grants
  5. HUD Economic Development Initiative (EDI) Grants
  6. State Department of Economic Development Grants

Assessing, cleaning up and reinvesting in Brownfields provide a catalyst for economic redevelopment and creating a more resilient community. Putting these properties to productive use increases local tax revenues, property values, job growth and business retention. These factors in turn result in improved living and recreational environments and better utilized and optimized infrastructure. Coupled with thoughtful land use planning by communities, redevelopment of Brownfields areas can also address issues such as urban sprawl, preservation and creation of greenspace and restoration and protection of the environment.

By investing in this type of redevelopment a community can achieve both economic as well as environmental resilience in a cost effective manner.

Since the inception of the EPA Brownfields Program, HR Green has helped 17 communities leverage approximately $14.8 million in EPA Brownfield Grants which in turn has captured an additional $23.4 million in community redevelopment funds made available through federal, state, and local sources.

If you would like to learn more contact Jim Halverson 319.841.4382 or by email at jhalverson@hrgreen.com


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