Public, private sectors invest in brownfields remediation

January 3, 2014

When governments and private businesses work together to deal with brownfields, they can bring about numerous benefits for their local communities. Former industrial cities have the option of transforming blighted land into new housing developments or public park land. By removing the threat of harmful toxins and investing in new opportunities for residents, such projects foster economic growth and improve quality of life.

Here are two recent examples:

Knoxville, Tennessee invests in brownfields redevelopment

In the past few years, Knoxville, Tennessee has received two brownfields assessment grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The city has used these funds as part of an effort to clean up the 24 parcels of the South Waterfront district and the Downtown North area—both former commercial and industrial areas.

In an article on Smart Growth America, Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero said that these grants helped the city do more than simply pay for the necessary remediation work. Instead, the city chose to invest the grants wisely, partnering with private-sector developers to deliver the best possible results.

"The key to any redevelopment is the private sector," Rogero said. "Our role in government … is to make the minimal public investment that will maximize private sector investment. So if we can access brownfields grants, if we can provide some public infrastructure, that's the catalyst to bring the private sector in."

She added that the grants help by providing a sense of certainty to potential buyers.

"We are able to tell the property owners or future buyers exactly what they're going to get into," Rogero said. "It really helps them and it also helps prevent regulatory delays when the project is about to start."

Reusing contaminated properties in Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia is another city in the Southeast that has benefited extensively from the EPA's Brownfields Program. The city recently received two grants totaling $400,000. As reported by an EPA press release, those funds will allow the city to expand its inventory of brownfields sites, assess them and begin the process of remediation.

"Richmond's leadership in transforming urban lands is an example for all cities that we can safely reuse formerly contaminated properties, promote economic development, and improve the quality of life for our children and future generations," EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin told the news source. 

In addition to assessing properties that may be contaminated with hazardous chemicals like petroleum and other byproducts, the city will also have the opportunity to repurpose certain historic buildings in its downtown area. This aspect of redevelopment is expected to create additional economic benefits and jobs.

Soil remediation technologies can be used to turn formerly contaminated industrial land into useable space for both business and recreation. While governments can, at times, benefit from partnering with a remediation company, sometimes they require more in order to properly handle the different responsibilities involved. 

By partnering with an environmental consulting firm, municipalities, property owners and potential buyers can better manage their liabilities—as well as costs—while also maintaining a strict schedule.