CONSTRUCTION & DEMOLITION: Recycling America's Land

While Brownfields can be difficult to find, can incur liabilities and can be expensive to rehabilitate, there are solutions that make redeveloping such property worthwhile, according to the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Conference of Mayors third annual "Recycling America's Land: A National Report on Brownfields Redevelopment."

Abandoned or underused properties where redevelopment is complicated by environmental contamination, Brownfields are a high priority among mayors nationwide. The U.S. Conference of Mayor's report documents its members' commitment to recycle thousands of Brownfield sites and preserve farmland.

In total, 232 cities provided information on the status of Brownfields in their communities. Among the findings, 210 cities estimated that more than 21,000 Brownfield sites, ranging from a quarter of an acre to 1,300 acres, exist. Of those that could estimate acreage, 201 cities had more than 81,000 acres of land that were abandoned or underused, which is the total area of Minneapolis and Pittsburgh combined.

"While there are success stories [about redeveloping Brownfields] throughout the nation , the report ... demonstrates that there are even more examples of missed opportunities," says Mayor Lee Clancey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

According to Elizabeth, N.J., Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, who addressed the U.S. Senate's Environmental and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control and Risk Assessment to report the Conference's findings, the most common impediments to redeveloping Brownfields include: * Lack of funding for site cleanups;

* Incurring liabilities associated with Superfund legislation; and

* The lack of environmental assessments. However, the Conference noted four categories of solutions: funding, liability reforms, future land uses /institutional controls and state voluntary cleanup programs.

For example, one funding suggestion includes, grants and loan capitalization funds be made directly available to communities. This would accelerate remediation, Bollwage says. Another recommendation is to "provide an authorization of 'such sums as necessary' to allow future Congress[es] the flexibility to increase commitments to local cleanup efforts."

With liability reform, the conference recommends prospective purchasers be provided with liability protections that extend to private and public parties. Targeted liability protection also should be supplied to municipalities and innocent private parties that acquire Brownfields under certain circumstances.

Land use/institutional cost solutions include providing policy support for using cleanup standards that reflect the site's future use. And, allotting additional funding would help state voluntary cleanups, the report states.

Three-fourths of the respondents to the survey estimated that their cities would realize $878 million to $2.4 billion annually in additional tax revenues by redeveloping Brownfields. Also, 187 cities estimated that more than 550,000 jobs could be created on former Brownfield sites.

More than 180 cities said they could support these additional people without adding appreciably to their existing infrastructure. Of these 180 cities, 118 also estimated that they could support more than 5.8 million new people in their cities - approximately the population of Chicago and Los Angeles combined - by redeveloping their underused sites.

"Brownfield sites are eyesores that blight neighborhoods and negatively impact the economic vitality of the nation," says Conference president and Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb. "By redeveloping these Brownfield sites, we are able to utilize our existing infrastructure, including our roads and sewer systems, while easing the pressure to develop open spaces and farmland."

Webb recently presented "A New Agenda for America's Cities" to more than 200 mayors calling for federal action to help eradicate the nation's estimated 600,000 Brownfield sites, and to restore and preserve farmland and open spaces.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C., more than 3 million acres of unspoiled land were developed annually from 1992 to 1997.

This more than doubles the 1.4 million acres lost from 1982 to 1992. The American Farmland Trust (AFT), Washington, D.C., calculates that this equals 15 percent of all land developed in America's history being developed in the past five years.

The Conference report lists city Brownfield sites that are being considered for development or have projects underway.

For information on "Recycling America's Land: A National Report on Brownfields Redevelopment" or to locate searchable city results visit www.usmay