Strengthening Opportunities for Rural Communities to Cleanup and Redevelop Brownfields

By Mathy Stanislaus

The Brownfields program creates benefits for local communities including: leveraging job creation, increasing residential property values, and supporting community revitalization and economic redevelopment. Many communities invest time and resources for the opportunity to receive Brownfield grant funding.

Looking at the Brownfield grant competition, I recognize it’s hard for many rural communities to compete for resources because they often don’t have the capacity to compete like larger communities.

Following up from recent meetings I had with State leaders in Regions 6 and 7 (where they raised concerns about our ability to deliver Brownfields resources to rural communities) I went to Nebraska to meet with 35-40 representatives from rural towns in Nebraska and western Iowa in an open forum. This continued my effort to reach out to rural stakeholders and ask how the Brownfields program can better provide tools to help convert their brownfield sites to cleanup and redevelopment opportunities.

During the meeting there were a number of suggestions that include providing targeted technical assistance to rural communities to assess sites to advance redevelopment opportunities; looking at how our grant competition can provide a more targeted competition allowing rural communities (in particular communities under 20,000) to compete at the same level as larger communities; delivering more resources through state environmental response programs to better assist rural communities.

Another idea raised was to align our TAB (Technical Assistance to Brownfields) resources with the USDA rural assistance program to integrate our resources to better deliver assistance. We talked about manufacturing opportunities in rural America and how that’s an under-appreciated and valuable opportunity to create local jobs.

I left the meeting excited by the great suggestions to better provide resources for them to expeditiously move forward on projects. There was a sincere desire from folks working hard to rebuild their communities. I was very impressed with their level of energy, commitment and sincerity. I was impressed with their commitment to collaborate among adjacent rural towns to take a collaboration-based approach to economic development.

I look forward to continuing the conversation with these communities and turning these suggestions into reality. An immediate next step is to summarize potential options, seek further input and help schedule workshops led by our TAB providers for communities with the Brownfields resources application process. We will circulate and post on our website the tools our TAB grantees developed to strengthen efforts to connect TAB grantees with local community leaders and groups.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is assistant administrator for EPA’s Office Solid Waste and Emergency Response.