I am willing to bet that most urbanites have heard the term “Brownfields” before. But what does it mean to you? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined it as:
“Real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
But I ask again, what does it mean to you? So many of us probably don’t give Brownfields Redevelopment much thought. The benefits are simply astounding and since the EPA’s inception of the program in 1995, thousands of acres across the United States have been successfully redeveloped. Brownfields sites are not limited to large industrial cities such as Detroit or Pittsburgh; they exist in essentially every town in Iowa. They can be abandoned or underutilized gas stations or auto repair facilities or on a much larger scale such as former foundries or animal processing facilities.
Redeveloping brownfields is no simple task. Let’s face it, if it were easy, everyone would do it. It takes an intimate knowledge of environmental regulations, project financing and community planning to implement a successful strategy. All three of these items play an intricate role in the process. Environmental hurdles may include the completion of Phase I & II Environmental Site Assessments, management of hazardous materials including asbestos and lead-based paint, or remediation of soil or groundwater contamination. Financing any type of brownfields project proves to be a sizable challenge in today’s economy. Utilizing funding sources such tax credits, tax increment financing, grants, loans and private investors are common practice. The planning process of a brownfields project brings all the partners together. This includes contract negotiations, cleanup and construction and property management.
I can sum up what brownfields really means to me with one word, partnerships. No one person, municipality or government agency can make a difference alone. Successful redevelopment must rely on partnerships with individuals that truly want to make a difference. I have seen it work wonders first hand within Iowa communities such as Perry and Sioux City. The partnerships with the municipalities, EPA, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and numerous public and private agencies have undoubtedly made a positive difference in many lives.