Brownfields 2000: Gateway to Jobs and Funding

Brownfields 2000: Gateway to Jobs and Funding

In cities across the United States, contaminated vacant lots and industrial sites are being turned into parks, housing -- even a sports arena. In preparation for its biggest brownfields conference of the year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released figures showing how many jobs the program has created.

EPA says the brownfields program, which provides cleanup funds and expertise to redevelop lightly polluted commercial and industrialized sites, has generated more than 1,400 cleanup jobs and 5,000 redevelopment jobs.

In addition, pilot communities have reported a leveraged economic impact of over $2.3 billion. Communities have also received job training and other assistance throughout the cleanup and redevelopment process, the EPA says.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors calls brownfields the number one obstruction to urban development. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimates that there are close to half a million brownfields sites throughout the country.

Brownfields sites are carefully screened for contamination before an appropriate reuse plan is established. In residential areas, citizens help make the decisions for their neighborhoods.

To jumpstart local cleanup and redevelopment efforts, the brownfields program uses small amounts of grant money to spur communities to use novel and creative approaches to return idle industrialized areas to productive use. The grants helped launch the return of hundreds of properties to productive reuse and local vitality.

By September 30, EPA will fund 50 additional brownfields pilots for up to $200,000 each and provide supplemental funding to more than 50 existing pilots for up to $150,000 each.

In fiscal year 2001, the Clinton/Gore administration has requested $8 million to provide supplemental funding and technical support to 40 brownfields assessment pilot projects at up to $200,000 each.

Many communities begin their cleanup efforts with a demonstration pilot. These pilots provide for the assessment of abandoned, idled or underused commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived contamination.

Once cleanup needs have been determined and any unknowns removed, further assistance is provided under the Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund (BCRLF) with grants up to $500,000 each. More than 100 pilot projects have been selected to receive money from this revolving fund.

Funds are made available for the training of local workers in environmental cleanup, creating jobs.

EPA recently selected Dearborn and Trenton, Michigan and five Pennsylvania communities -- McKeesport, Clairton and Duquesne plus Lehigh and Luzerne counties -- to receive $500,000 each in new BCRLF grants.

Toxic Site to Sports Arena

When thousands of future fans jam the Dallas Sports Arena, they probably will not know the origins of their sparkling new civic showcase. The arena will be built on the site of a former Dallas Electric Company generating plant, built in 1890.

Scientists evaluating the 63.3 acre site found a variety of problems. There were excess heavy metals in the fill material and railroad truck ballasts, and hydrocarbons tainted the soil and groundwater. Estimated cleanup costs range from $2 million to $3 million.

The EPA's original brownfields grant of $200,000 has helped attract more than $830 million in public and private funding to clean up and rebuild more than 1,365 acres. The city has also received $400,000 from the Brownfields Showcase Communities Initiative.

Within six months, construction is expected to begin on a $100 million office tower at the arena site. Developers are now competing for the right to build on six other tracts of land at the site.

Concrete removed from the original site is being processed into road base material to use during construction of the new facility, providing an additional environmental benefit.

Conference Offers Wealth of Brownfields Info

Brownfields 2000, the EPA's annual meeting which runs from October 11 to 13 in Atlantic City, N.J., offers sessions from the basic to the highly technical. The basic track includes sessions on insurance, financing, environmental assessment and remediation, public health and real estate.

Congress is considering more than 30 bills related to brownfields. One session will examine what Congress has done with various proposals related to tax incentives, capital attraction incentives, liability clarification and the roles of all levels of government.

Another set of sessions covers down to earth basics such as job training, environmental justice, neighborhoods, banking and land use planning.

Brownfields 2000 is being presented by the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania. Sponsors include the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The three-day conference is co-sponsored by a variety of federal, state, city, professional and environmental groups.

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