Brownfield Program

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Program Documents


In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a small pilot program called “brownfields” with an initial grant of $200,000 to Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Through this pilot, a seven acre site was assessed and cleaned up, 141 jobs were created, and two sites were created for healthy new businesses. It also sparked a movement to clean up and redevelop idled, underused, abandoned, and vacant properties throughout the country.

Today, the EPA Brownfields Program has changed the landscape of America’s communities and transformed once vacant properties into beacons of hope for many economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. To date, the program has provided more than 2,500 grants totaling more than $600 million in direct funding to communities, which leveraged an additional $12 billion from other sources to assess, clean up and reuse brownfields. This investment has yielded more than 54,000 jobs – many in disadvantaged communities. While these statistics are impressive, there is also a broad range of additional community-wide benefits that can result from the redevelopment and reuse of brownfield properties such as the potential use of brownfields for agriculture and food systems, arts and culture, housing and mixed uses, and other community and civic uses such as greenspace, schools, and health care facilities. Of course, these benefits and the Brownfields Program itself could not occur without our numerous federal, state, municipal, nonprofit, and private sector partners.

In today’s economic conditions, brownfield tools are needed more than ever to clean up and redevelop brownfield properties for sustainable uses that create local jobs. EPA and the City of Columbus has to meet that challenge by working and listening to local communities, fostering public-private partnerships, and providing flexibility in our resources.

City received a $400,000 Assessment Grant

So what’s a brownfield?

Brownfield properties are diverse. For example, An abandoned factory, a boarded up corner gas station, a run down mill. In communities across the country, we see brownfields of every shape and size—from a fraction of an acre to hundreds of acres. They are located in urban, suburban and rural locations. Some properties may have little to no contamination, while others require cleanup to ensure protection of the community and environmental health. Contamination at these properties—whether perceived or actual—can cause them to lay idle, underused, abandoned or vacant; this can lead to blight and disinvestment in neighborhoods.

In many cases, brownfield properties remain vacant or idle because of a lack of funding to assess or clean up the property.

Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment is a primary driver for attracting investment and business to communities that may otherwise be overlooked. With environmental uncertainties addressed, property owners face reduced liability and new incentives for property redevelopment. The successful transformation of one property may encourage interest and development in the surrounding area.

Brownfields redevelopment also demonstrates significant potential to generate new green jobs for environmental professionals who assess and clean up properties. EPA’s investment in communities through its Brownfields grants helped to leverage more than 54,000 jobs related to property assessment, cleanup and reuse.

How are brownfields identified?

Community members play an important role in identifying brownfields. Once citizens have a good understanding of what constitutes a brownfield, they often realize they know of potential sites within the community. Citizens can notify their municipality or regional planning agency of these sites, which may then be included in the brownfields assessment process.

What else can citizens do to get involved?

Citizen involvement is critical to the success of any brownfield redevelopment project. Public participation begins during the initial stages of a brownfield assessment with the formation of a Brownfields Advisory Committee. This committee works with the agency leading the assessment to oversee the brownfields inventory process, establish criteria to rank contaminated sites, and select sites for detailed grant funded assessment. Advisory Committee members also assist in public outreach and help to promote brownfield sites as potential opportunities rather than neighborhood problems.

What can be done with brownfields?

Brownfields that are left idle and contaminated pose environmental risks, threaten public health, and tarnish a community’s image. Fortunately, they do not have to remain this way. Once a brownfield site has been identified, it is typically targeted for redevelopment. Generally, brownfields cannot have levels of contamination that would place them on either the National Priority List (Superfund sites) or a State priority list. As such, they are not likely to cause immediate or serious health effects to individuals involved in the cleanup and redevelopment process. Revitalized brownfields provide opportunities that are far broader than their original uses. Former brownfields can become anything from golf courses and public parks to mixed use developments, housing, or retail space.

Brownfields can be successfully redeveloped into a number of uses. Minute Maid Stadium home of the Houston Astros, was once a contaminated brownfield .

Economic and Neighborhood Benefits

Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment is a primary driver for attracting investment and business to communities that may otherwise be overlooked. With environmental uncertainties addressed, property owners face reduced liability and new incentives for property redevelopment. The successful transformation of one property may encourage interest and development in the surrounding area.

  • Brownfield reuse can create jobs that increase local income and decrease poverty rates in the surrounding area, thus providing financial stability to residents
  • Create green jobs. Architecture, design, engineering, construction, agriculture-related, renewable energy manufacturing, environmental services and consulting, and energy efficiency companies that locate on a former brownfield can all provide green jobs
  • New jobs create a multiplier effect: workers spend more money in the area in which they work, further boosting the local economy
  • The redevelopment of a single brownfield property may be what a community needs to revitalize an entire neighborhood. Physical improvements to a redeveloped brownfield property can help redefine a neighborhood and re-establish a sense of place
  • Providing market-rate and/or affordable housing is crucial to ensuring a stable, healthy and accessible community: Brownfields redevelopment has been linked with increased rates of home ownership, which has, in turn, been linked to an increase in characteristics such as educational achievement, civic participation and well-being
  • Enhanced community image

Brownfields redevelopment is no small undertaking, however, most people agree it is worth the effort. Revitalized brownfields have a much broader impact than simply restoring their immediate surroundings. The overall image and feel of a community is enhanced, which in turn catalyzes additional improvements by both the public and private sectors.

  • Decreasing blight and increasing social connections can help improve community safety
  • Increased Home and Property Values
  • Improved Retail and Small Business Opportunities
  • Improved Community Space
  • Improved Access to Local Gardening and Food Production
  • Improved Opportunities to Meet Demand for Organic Food

Public and Private Partnerships in Redevelopment Brownfields redevelopment can be driven entirely by the public or private sector or by a partnership between the two. In the case of publicly driven redevelopment, a municipality takes responsibility for the entire process. Once redeveloped is complete, the property may be sold to a developer or maintained for a public use. Even in privately driven redevelopment, public funds are often used to conduct preliminary environmental assessments. Under public private partnerships, the public entity often initiates the process by funding assessments and the infrastructure needed to support redevelopment. The private sector then steps in to fund the pre-development and construction stages. These partnerships provide an incentive for the private sector to participate in redevelopment projects. The public sector also benefits from a reduced financial burden and accelerated cleanup and redevelopment process.

Christina Berry City Planner
City of Columbus
1621 Main Street
PO Box 1408
Columbus, MS 39701

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