- posted at 11:00AM
- July 28, 2011
- by: Jim Maul
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The concept of the “third generation” of Brownfield application integrates environmental remediation and economics with the impact the redevelopment and restoration of contaminated property has on a community. Approximately 50 people participated in a workshop facilitated by MFA at the Brownfield Redevelopment and Land Revitalization Conference in what was hailed as “the best program experienced at a conference.” In a typical brownfield conference session, attendees listen to speakers talk about how other communities have succeeded or struggled with brownfield redevelopment. In this unique brownfield workshop, participants actively played the role of decision makers and learned by doing. Using the Guide to Leveraging Brownfield Redevelopment for Community Revitalization, the participants worked in small groups to form a vision for a real brownfield property in downtown Palouse, Washington, and to develop a path to cleanup and redevelopment. To assist them in their planning, the groups called on experts, including representatives from the Washington State Department of Ecology, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; attorneys from Chmelik Sitkin and Davis; economic specialists from E.D. Hovee; and MFA representatives Jim Darling, Mike Stringer, Bill Hager, Neil Alongi, and Jim Maul.
The diversity of attendees from cities and Native American reservations throughout Idaho, Oregon, and Washington permitted subgroups in the workshop, encouraging an exploration of commonalities and tools available to communities for brownfield redevelopment. The case study was tailored to address the different regulatory context and funding opportunities for each state and for tribal reservations, as each state and tribe has a different brownfield toolbox. Although similar themes were present across groups, outcomes for each group were unique.
Native American tribes have a distinct perspective on land and humans’ relationship to the land. If they choose to acquire a property, their cultural perspective provides considerable sway to their decision. The tribal group was focused on a long view and was not interested in “flipping” property. Many tribes are entrepreneurial and look for meaningful off-reservation investments; however, the Palouse brownfield property was considered too small for a meaningful off-reservation investment. Therefore, the tribal panel did not recommend purchase of the property. Tribal entities have brownfield issues, and programs to address them, within reservation and ancestral territorial boundaries. In considering a remedy for the conference property, the tribal group focused on using plants to control and remediate contaminants and on a remedy alternative that would support the ancestral way of life.
The participants from Oregon elected to purchase the property. Oregon has a proven prospective purchaser agreement program, which was viewed by the participants as a strong tool to move the transaction forward, define the various parties’ responsibilities, and limit future liability. The Oregon group believed that it could procure funds through a mixture of grants and loans from the state. The group indicated that it would pursue the lowest-cost protective remedy, which was composed primarily of a cap and institutional controls. For future use of the property, they would pursue development of subsidized housing for graduate students attending nearby universities.
All the groups from Washington also elected to purchase the property and pursue cleanup and redevelopment. Consistent financing strategies among the groups included a combination of insurance recovery and accessing state Remedial Action Grants. One group recommended pursuit of the lowest-cost remedy (much like Oregon’s). The other groups indicated that they would pursue financial support from Ecology for a more expensive and protective remedy with less long-term risk of additional action being required. Visions for the property ranged from open space to a mixed-use commercial/residential building.
The Idaho group also recommended purchase of the property. They would clean up the property under the Idaho Voluntary Cleanup Program. Idaho also provides a covenant not to sue upon completion of the cleanup under its VCP. The group recommended funding the cleanup through a reimbursement grant of up to $150,000, available for local governments upon completion of the VCP process. The rest of the cleanup would be financed through a low-interest loan from the state’s brownfield revolving loan fund, repaid with revenue generated from the sale of the property. The Idaho group thought the best future use for the property would be an outdoor space that could be used for a farmer’s market and other outdoor events.
Environmental contamination can present insurmountable barriers to a property transaction or redevelopment. These hurdles can hamper economic recovery in small communities. The Brownfield 101 session was positive, as it demonstrated the numerous powerful tools available in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and on Native American reservations to put these underutilized properties back into productive use for the long-term benefit of the community.