Planning Catalyst Cleanups to Spur Broad Community Revitalization

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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