Brownfields redux not impossible dream
In the heart of downtown Marion, Iowa, is an abandoned railroad corridor. The 15-acre tract was once at the edge of town, but as development has filled in around it, is now prime real estate. The swath of steel track runs through a field of industrial weeds, including closed gas stations paved over for used car lots, a salvage yard and an auto yard stacked high with junk cars.
Last year, the Government Accounting Office estimated that 400,000 to 600,000 brownfield sites like Marion’s existed across the country. A 2003 survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that 153 cities have redeveloped 922 of those sites, totaling 10,594 acres.
In spite of the progress some cities have made, brownfields — abandoned or under-used pieces of industrial or commercial property that are often environmentally contaminated — connote potential lawsuits, millions of dollars in cleanup costs and a general financial malaise. As a result, many local governments are reluctant to open Pandora’s Box.
In March, Marion received a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant to pay for environmental assessments and a public participation process to create a redevelopment plan. By December, Marion hopes to have completed its assessment testing so that it can apply for another EPA grant for the cleanup. “A lot of governmental bodies may be reluctant to pursue a brownfield project primarily because of the technical data involved in pursuing the grant process,” says Tom Treharne, director of planning and development for Marion.
The city worked with a consultant, many of whom are willing to work out creative pay structures, such as foregoing up-front payment in return for being awarded the grant administration contract.
Shannon Meadows, executive assistant to the city manager of Springfield, Ohio, knows that brownfields, even those with cancer-causing contaminants, can be cleaned up and redeveloped for community use. In the mid-1980s, one of the community’s local businesses, Bayley Manufacturing, closed its doors. The facility, known for its iron works since 1880, was turned into warehouse space and used for small industrial works and manufacturing.
“We came on the site in 2002,” Meadows says. “The largest contaminants were benzo(a)pyrene, lead and asbestos.” The site sat alone on a cliff overlooking a creek, the city’s veterans’ memorial and an art museum. Because Springfield has a history of industry, a high rate of cancer among its aging population and a majority of residents working in industrial fields, the city already had secured revolving EPA loans.
Springfield officials were approached by a hospital to clean the Bayley property to make way for a new cancer treatment center. The city loaned $325,000 to the hospital for the cleanup and demolition. The EPA provided $30,000 in in-kind services, which covered 50 percent of the Phase II study.
The city conducted a risk-based remediation and kept some of the hazardous materials on site in an abandoned underground storage tank. The materials pose no risk in their current location, and the move saved Springfield $100,000 to $120,000. The result of Springfield’s efforts is a $10 million cancer treatment center, the only one within a 45-minute drive.
In Atlanta, Atlantic Station, a 138-acre brownfield development, forged a public-private partnership between the developers and the city, county and local school board. The local government declared the brownfield a tax allocation district, meaning the projected increase in taxes — in this case, an increase from $300,000 to $30 million — can be used by the project to fund infrastructure improvements through bonds. With that designation, Atlantic Station built extensive infrastructure, including all utilities, roadways, site preparation, a portion of the parking decks and was able to complete a portion of the remediation.
Once the multi-use development is completed in October 2005, it is expected to house 10,000 full-time residents and another 20,000 daily employees in retail and office space. Additional revenues will come from a future increase in property taxes and the estimated $10 million to $20 million annual growth in the Special Interest Local Option Sales Tax.