The importance of brownfield remediation

October 2, 2014

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) currently estimates the number of brownfield sites in the country to exceed 425,000. This means that up to 5 million acres of the country are currently underutilized, and negatively affecting nearby property values. 

Unfortunately, many of these sites exist near urban centers. The U.S. is currently undergoing a major shift in population centers, where instead of buying homes, many Millennials and young professionals are electing to live  in apartments nearer to city centers. Because of the lack of available space, this is causing record-high rents and cost of living in many areas, most notably in San Francisco, New York and Boston. 

Brownfield remediation could be an effective means in securing new, desirable locations for cost-effective housing for these age groups. The blog Environmental Protection offered the example of Nine-Mile Run in Pittsburgh.

Once a dumping area for industrial slag, a waste product of  the city's steel factories, the area has now been transformed into high-end residential buildings, as well as shopping and business areas. The remediation efforts in this brownfield site breathed new life into this area of the city, expanding the tax base and improving nearby property value. 

Commonly, brownfield sites have only low concentrations of hazardous materials, but property owners are too wary of the cost of remediation to even begin addressing the issue. However, there are a number of government programs available to help alleviate these concerns, such as the Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. While costs can vary widely depending on the degree of contamination and if groundwater is affected, it is still worth getting an estimate in order to return the land to usable condition. 

There are also significant financial incentives for pursuing brownfield remediation efforts. It is extremely difficult to see any return on investment in the sale of a brownstone site, and the contaminated property is also extremely difficult to use as leverage as part of a bank loan. However, addressing remediation immediately helps to avoid the spread of contamination to other areas, which can result in severe penalties and a prolonged and more expensive remediation process.

The remediation of brownfield sites can also stimulate significant job growth. The source cited the success of Papa John's Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. The stadium's ground was once a railroad repair yard, and suffered decades of soil contamination. Initially, the cost of remediation was estimated at $40 million, but after a more conclusive risk assessment was performed, the total cost of remediating the land came to under $7 million. Now, the 55,000 seat arena dramatically increased the revenue and recruiting power of the University of Louisville.

Retaining environmental consultants can help organizations and public officials find innovative means of reclaiming unused land that is negatively affecting the community. Pursuing a brownfield remediation strategy not only reduces the future cost of remediation and helps avoid significant penalties, it can revitalize the economy of a community.