Planning Catalyst Cleanups to Spur Broad Community Revitalization

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By: Mathy Stanislaus

At EPA, we recognize that successful, sustained community revitalization occurs when neighborhood stakeholders, local governments and the private sector work together on a shared plan for community-wide improvement. That is why we created the Area-Wide Planning (AWP) grants program for brownfield sites; a legacy I’m particularly proud of.

The Brownfields AWP grant program is an innovation initiated by the Obama Administration to empower communities to transform economically and environmentally distressed areas, including communities impacted by manufacturing plant closures, into vibrant future destinations for business, jobs, housing and recreation. These grants allow communities to develop revitalization plans that best meet their vision and needs, and execute them in a manner that benefits the community and does not displace long-term residents. In developing this national grants program, we learned from our state counterparts. Our AWP program was inspired by New York State’s Brownfields Opportunity Area (BOA) Program.

For 2017, EPA is investing approximately $3.8 million in 19 communities from across the nation to assist with planning for cleanup and reuse of brownfield sites. Each recipient will receive up to $200,000 to engage their community, conduct research activities and complete a plan for cleaning up and reusing their key brownfield sites.

photo of a grafittied building behind an overgrown field

Several communities selected to receive funding for 2017 have been affected by manufacturing plant closures. They are looking to make environmentally sound cleanup decisions on these properties and reopen them for business, sparking additional redevelopment in surrounding areas. Some of the notable projects involve improving community housing, transportation options, recreation and open space, education and health facilities and renewed infrastructure, which will lead to increased commerce and employment opportunities.

For example, these planning projects include the area around a former electronics manufacturing plant in Indianapolis, Indiana and a closed paper mill in Bucksport, Maine. One area selected in Wayne County, Michigan is anticipating a coal-fired power plant closure and is aiming to get ahead of the economic disruption that it will cause to its community. Others have recently felt the effects of climate change related natural disasters such as flooding in Norfolk, Virginia and Burlington, Iowa.  Communities in Indianapolis and Maine have been working to recover from both natural disasters and plant closures.

The AWP program helps coordinate federal investments, like infrastructure and economic development, that help environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities. Aligning federal resources allows agencies to better meet communities’ needs and lets communities reap the benefits of collaborative investments for area-wide revitalization. This coordination allocates resources based on community-directed plans rather than historic practices of individual infrastructure funding criteria, which can result in urban sprawl.

For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has committed to prioritizing communities who use the outcomes of the AWP process to inform further transportation projects in their Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant selection process. Carlisle, Pennsylvania is one example of this collaboration. In addition to the Area-Wide Planning grant the Carlisle Borough received in 2013, they received a $5 million TIGER grant in 2016 to help them advance the brownfields revitalization efforts laid out in their area-wide plan. Since 2013, Carlisle has also leveraged more than $10 million through state, local and private funding.

This is the fourth round of grants awarded under our Brownfields AWP program. So far, EPA has awarded a total of over $11 million to 64 grantees. To date, AWP grantees have leveraged over $385 million in additional public and private funding, as well as other EPA resources, to help address key brownfield sites within their communities.

Cleaning up brownfields sites results in significant benefits for communities. Studies have shown that residential property values near cleaned up sites increased between 5 and 15 percent. Data also shows that brownfields clean ups can increase overall property values within a one-mile radius. Preliminary analysis involving 48 brownfields sites shows that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup.

I’m proud of the success we’ve seen across the country and hope to see the continuation of communities utilizing the AWP grant funding to work together with neighborhood stakeholders, local government and the private sector, for a shared vision for community-wide revitalization.

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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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.