Brownfield Remediation and Redevelopment
Intro to Sustainability
What is a Brownfield
The term “Brownfield” typically refers to land that is abandoned or underused,
most often, because of concerns about contamination. The federal government defines
Brownfields as "abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties
where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental
contamination." (EPA) When one thinks of a Brownfield, you typically envision a
visibility dirty, polluted, blighted abandoned industrial property. Brownfields comprise a
much broader set of sites though, including industrial sites, former service stations,
former dry cleaners, factories, warehouses, parking lots, hangers, lots where heavy
machinery was stored or repaired, abandoned railroads, former railroad switching yards,
air strips, bus facilities, or landfills to name a few possibilities. Around half a million
sites in the United States today qualify as a Brownfield.
The term "Brownfield" first came into use on June 28, 1992, at a U.S.
congressional field hearing hosted by the Northeast Midwest Congressional Coalition.
Also in 1992, the first detailed policy analysis of the issue was convened by the
Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. The U.S. EPA funded its first Brownfield pilot
project in 1994. The term has been in the US vernacular since then, and in common use
in other European countries since about 1975.
In United States, the cleanup and investigation of Brownfields is mostly
determined by the environmental organizations of the state in cooperation with the United
States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The state codes contain the essential
provisions, with respect to liability and may vary from state to state. Along with the
national and local government, the EPA helps in providing funding and technical
assistance for the cleanup and assessment of the Brownfield areas, along with tax
incentives that are deducted the year that the cleanup costs are incurred. The Department
of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also administers Brownfield programs, with
their focus on redevelopment. HUD provides financial grants through the Brownfields
Economic Development Initiative Program.
There have been many rulings in both the United States, and more specifically in
New Jersey, since Brownfields were first recognized in 1992.
Brownfield legislation developed out of the Superfund program, officially known
as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
(CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. § 9601–9675). The Superfund program was enacted by Congress
in December of 1980 as a response to the Love Canal disaster in New York. The
Superfund National Priorities List was created as a database of sites where responsible
parties could not be found or held accountable. The cleanup of these sites was funded by
the Superfund program.
The first Brownfield legislation approved in the United States by the President
and the Congress was H.R. 2869, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields
Revitalization Act of 2001. The program was designed to promote the clean up and
economic redevelopment of low-level contamination sites not covered by the Superfund
national Priorities List. In 2003, funding for the Brownfield program was separated from
the Superfund account.
On February 13, 2003, the House Financial Services Committee passed H.R. 239,
the Brownfields Redevelopment Enhancement Act. The act proposes to amend the
Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. The act’s target is to give small
communities more opportunities to access Brownfield development funds by de-linking
loan guarantees from the department of Housing and Urban Development's Brownfields
Economic Development Initiative grants. The act also authorizes a Pilot Program for the
National Redevelopment of Brownfields. This would allow the HUD secretary to fund a
common pool for economic development loans.
On March 5, 2003, Senator Michael D. Crapo reintroduced bill S. 515, the EPA
Ombudsman Reauthorization Act of 2003. The bill would reinstate and expand the
powers of the office of a National Independent Ombudsman at the EPA. This would give
the office more administrative and investigative powers, such as the power to issue
subpoenas, the ability to hold public hearings, and to speak freely with members of
Congress. The Ombudsman position would still report to the EPA Administrator but will
be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. On May 22, 2003, the Senate
passed the EPA Ombudsman Reauthorization Act of 2003.
Brownfield Remediation Issues
Though Brownfield remediation can yield many benefits, there are also a number
of hurdles in the process. Cost is often the largest of these hurdles. Cost of cleanup is the
actual or perceived cost to clean a site to acceptable standards. Many contaminated
Brownfield sites sit idle and unused for decades because the cost of cleaning them to safe
standards is more than the land would be worth after redevelopment. Brownfields also
face stigmas, reducing their ability to be resold and developed due to public perceptions.
However, these costs are becoming less and less of obstacles as developable land grows
less available in highly populated areas. Federal and State programs, such as those
sponsored by the EPA and HUD, have been created to assist developers interested in
cleaning up Brownfield sites and restoring them to practical uses.
In the process of cleaning contaminated Brownfield sites, surprises are sometimes
encountered, such as previously unknown underground storage tanks, buried drums,
deeper levels of ground contamination or buried railroad tank cars containing wastes.
These issues can contaminate the area around it, increasing the spread of land that needs
to be remediated. When such circumstances arise, the cost for cleaning up the land can
increase, and work is often delayed or stopped entirely. To avoid unexpected
contamination and increased costs, it is best that a site be thoroughly investigated prior to
starting cleanup activities.
Liabilities are another issue with Brownfield remediation. Early CERCLA and
Superfund acts held the power to place anyone involved with a Brownfield liable for its
cleanup. Liability can not always be placed on prior contaminators. When this occurs,
remediation costs are left to the developer. Another liability issue is contamination of
surrounding properties by contaminants to the groundwater supply, or leaking
underground storage tanks. Many states now offer exemptions from liability for lenders
and new owners who can be proven to have had no part in the pollution process or chain
Brownfield Remediation Benefits
There are numerous community benefits that come from the cleanup of
Brownfield properties, that include but are not limited to, eliminating health and safety
hazards, eliminating eyesores, bringing new jobs into the community, bringing new
investment into the community, increasing the productivity of the land, and increasing
property values and tax receipts by local and state governments. The desire for
Brownfield properties are rising as buildable land becomes more scarce, and protections
are put on virgin lands. Developing on Brownfield land helps to prevent sprawl,
strengthen city fabrics, and protect rapidly disappearing green spaces.
There are also many quantifiable benefits to owners and developers, including
avoiding potential environmental enforcement actions by regulatory agencies that could
impose penalties and costly cleanups, receiving tax benefits for cleaning up and reusing
the property, reducing the likelihood that contamination from the property will migrate
off site or into the groundwater under the site, creating good will from the community,
reducing the potential need to address liabilities associated with the property in financial
statements and Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and realizing an enhanced
return from the property by making it more valuable and marketable.
The Remediation Process, Key Players
In order to understand the Brownfield remediation process, it is useful to have an
idea of the variety of public and private sector organizations that may be involved in the
State Environmental Agencies: Property owners or developers that decide to clean
up Brownfield sites may perform the cleanup under the oversight of a state environmental
agency. In addition to overseeing cleanups, state environmental agencies may offer
incentives such as liability protection from further cleanup. In New Jersey, the state
environmental agency is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
State Economic Development and Planning Agencies: Some states provide
economic incentives, such as low-interest loans, for the redevelopment of Brownfields.
These incentives may be offered through state economic development and planning
offices that are interested in attracting new businesses and investors to their states, as well
as guiding their state's growth. In New Jersey, these duties would be overseen by the
Office of Smart Growth, or the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
Commercial Lenders: An increasing number of commercial lenders are willing to
provide loans to support the cleanup and redevelopment of Brownfields.
Technical Consultants: Technical consultants can help to design and implement
the investigation and cleanup of environmental contamination. Technical consultants may
also help developers work with state regulatory agencies and local communities.
Legal Counsel: Lawyers can assist in many aspects of the cleanup,
redevelopment, and/or sale of Brownfields by advising parties, about regulatory
requirements, negotiating with regulators and prospective buyers, drafting sales
agreements, and communicating with the other people interested in the project.
Citizens and Community Groups: State and federal cleanup programs may require
public involvement, such as opportunity for notice and comment from the public. Some
economic incentives, such as grants and loans, may not be available unless supported by
the surrounding community. Even when not required, support for the project from
surrounding communities is a necessity for the project to be successful over the long
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA is unlikely to be
directly involved in a Brownfield cleanup as most will be overseen by the state it is in.
The EPA can provide cleanup and redevelopment incentives and financial support for
certain types of Brownfield projects.
Developers: Developers typically manage the entire process of cleaning up and
adapting properties for new use. Many may limit their involvement though to
determining and implementing marketable reuses of the Brownfields. A number of firms
have sprung up in recent years that specialize in the cleaning up and reusing of
Real Estate Professionals: Real estate professionals can provide advice on the
market for a particular property, and can help locate buyers or developers.
Local Community Development Corporations (CDCs): Community Development
Corporations are nonprofit organizations created to encourage local urban redevelopment.
These groups can often assist in determining the value of a property, redeveloping, and
marketing a site.
Federal Government Agencies: Federal government agencies other than the EPA
may provide technical and financial support for redevelopment, including the Department
of Housing and Urban Development, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the
Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration, and the Department of
Interior's Groundworks USA Program.
The Remediation Process
Once you have chosen a Brownfield property, and decided upon redevelopment,
the first step in the process is to familiarize yourself with your state’s cleanup program.
The situation will depend on the level of contamination of the site. Other considerations
to keep in mind are whether there is groundwater contamination, or leaking underground
storage tanks. Try to ensure that you keep the surrounding community and public kept up
to date on the process as much as possible, to avoid potential issues in the development
process and avoid NIMBYism.
The next step in the process is to prepare a remediation and financing plan. Once
you have created a preliminary estimate, a quick back of the envelope financial analysis
is necessary to determine the project’s costs and potential profits. Is the remediation
process inexpensive enough that you could come out with a profit, or at least minimal
losses? If it is determined that this is a viable financial undertaking, the next step is to
find a lender to help finance the project. In most cases, the developer funds the actual
site assessment. In many states though, including New Jersey, grants are available for
site investigation and remediation. Oftentimes loans will have to be taken out to
supplement the funding over the full term of the project.
The next step in the process is to form a site use and remediation plan. Examine
all possible options for remediating the site, making sure to look beyond simply just
removing the contaminated dirt and hauling it away. If your site seems difficult, hiring
an environmental consultant can often be a good idea. The most effective way of treating
a contaminated site is to divide it up by regions of contamination. Remove the most
contaminated spots for treatment, and treat the rest of the soil on site. For heavily
contaminated soil, encapsulation may be necessary. This involves containment of the
soil, generally with plastic barriers. Caped soil is often put under structures such as
parking lots, or mechanical spaces. If contaminated ground water is found, you generally
need to allow approximately one to two years for full remediation. Monitoring and
maintenance of the site must continue over time.
At the end of the remediation process you receive a closure letter from the state to
notify developers and lenders that the remediation process is complete. Two types of
these are available, representing two levels of assurance. The first is a No Further Action
letter, or NFA. The NFA states that no further action is required on the site regarding the
remedial action just completed, it does not address any other contamination which may
be present on the site. The second type of letter is a Covenant Not to Sue, or CNTS. The
CNTS is a stronger form of assurance, issued by the state agency. This letter binds other
state agencies not to sue, except for in cases of fraudulent activity, or sometimes for
future change in land use.
New Jersey State Programs, Financing and Consulting
A number of state and government agencies can provide financing for qualified
redevelopment projects. Because financials remain the biggest barrier to Brownfield
redevelopment, almost half of the states in the US have created some type of financing
In New Jersey, one possible channel for aid is the New Jersey Brownfields
Redevelopment Interagency Team. BRIT offers Brownfield project developers,
municipal officials, and others engaged in Brownfield redevelopment projects
coordinated information and access to a full range of state resources in more than 24
agencies. Coordinated by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Office of
Smart Growth, the team reviews specific projects to identify the mix of resources best
suited to assessing, cleaning up, and developing the project, emphasizing the application
of smart growth principles in the plans and design. Since its inception in 2003, BRIT has
fully reviewed 50 Brownfield projects and provided additional consultation at another 50
BRIT also creates special task groups to find ways to improve Brownfield policies
and programs when its work points to specific needs. These issues are collaboratively
explored by BRIT and the NJ Brownfields Redevelopment Task Force, created by statute
pursuant to the state’s Brownfield and Contaminated Site Remediation Act of 1988.
Typically the municipality or entity seeking to redevelop a Brownfield site contacts the
chair of BRIT, for guidance in accessing state technical and financial assistance.
BRIT can also provide access to numerous state financing tools, such as: the New
Jersey Economic Development Authority; the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation
Loan and Grant Program, which provides financing to private and municipal applicant for
assessment, remedial investigations, and remediation; Petroleum Underground Storage
Tank Remediation Upgrade and Closure Program, which provides financing for the
remediation of underground storage tank issues; Revenue Allocation District Funding,
which advises municipalities in revenue-generating development projects;
Redevelopment Area Bond Financing, the Fund for Community Economic Development,
which finances development feasibility studies; the Brownfield Redevelopment Loan
Program, which provides low cost financing for Brownfield developments which have an
agreement with the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth Commission and
Treasury; New Jersey Redevelopment Authority programs, including the Bond Program,
the Urban Site Acquisition Program, and the Loan Guarantee Program; New Jersey
Office of Smart Growth Future Planning Grants, which provides funding for sustainable
initiatives that seek to follow smart growth objectives; and the Brownfield and
Contaminated Site Remediation Reimbursement Program, which allows qualified
developers to obtain reimbursement for up to 75% of remediation costs.
New Jersey State Programs, Legislation
The New Jersey Office of State Planning's Brownfields Program began in July
1997. On January 6, 1998, Governor Christine Whitman signed into law the Brownfields
and Contaminated Site Remediation Act, which established a Brownfields
Redevelopment Task Force. The 11 member task force includes representatives from
five state agencies and six public members. In June 2000, the task force adopted an
action plan to guide its future activities. In addition, the 2001 budget included a new
$15-million Brownfields Redevelopment grant program to provide municipalities with
funds for redevelopment projects. The state plan impact assessment found that the
Brownfields approach would reduce sprawl, saving 68,000 acres of farmland and 122,000
On January 14, 2003 Governor McGreevy signed legislation which provided
incentives for Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment in New Jersey. One provision
authorized a business tax credit to offset the costs associated with environmental
remediation, provided the state determines that the redevelopment is likely to generate
new tax revenue equivalent to the tax credit within a three year period. There is a
$4,000,000 cap on the credit, to be extended over the three-year period, and companies
subject to liability under the New Jersey Spill Act are ineligible for the credit. An
additional Brownfield redevelopment incentive signed by the Governor includes a
provision providing for state reimbursement of up to 75 percent of redevelopment costs.
Innovations in the Remediation Process
A number of innovative financial and remediation techniques have been
employed in recent years in the cleanup of Brownfield sites. Development of new
techniques and technologies helps to ensure that, overtime, Brownfields will become a
more viable option for redevelopment.
A number of environmental firms have begun teaming up with insurance
companies to underwrite the cleanup of some Brownfield properties, and will provide a
guaranteed cleanup cost for a specific property. This helps to limit land developers'
exposure to remediation costs and pollution lawsuits, making Brownfields more attractive
to develop. The environmental firm performs an extensive investigation of the
Brownfield site to ensure that the guaranteed cleanup cost is reasonable, one will not
wind up with any surprises.
Innovative site remediation techniques have also been developed in recent years.
These include bioremediation, a strategy that uses naturally occurring microbes in soils
and groundwater to expedite a cleanup, and in situ oxidation, a strategy which uses
oxygen or oxidant chemicals to enhance a cleanup. A number of firms presently offer
bioremediation and in situ oxidation. The company Adventus Group provides in situ
aerobic and anaerobic chemical reduction technologies. This is done by accelerating the
contaminants natural attenuation into the soil and groundwater. Bioremediation works
particularly well in situations where the contaminated spots are particularly difficult to
get to. In situ oxidation typically involves reduction/oxidation reactions that chemically
convert hazardous contaminants to nonhazardous or less toxic compounds that are more
stable. The reactions involve the transfer of electrons from one compound to another.
The oxidizing agents most commonly used for treatment of hazardous contaminants in
soil are ozone, hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorites, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and
potassium permanganate. This method may be applied to soils, sludges, sediments, and
may also be applied for the in situ treatment of groundwater.
These strategies are most commonly used in conjunction with each other, and
with other more common remediation strategies, such as soil vapor extraction. In the soil
vapor extraction process, a vacume us used to extract vapor from soils and treated, which
removes volitile and semi-volitile organic contaminants from the soils and groundwater
beneath a site. Some Brownfields with heavy metal contamination have even been
cleaned up through an approach called phytoremediation, which utilizes deep-rooted
plants to soak up metals in soils into the plant structure as the plant grows. After they
reach maturity, the plants, which now contain the heavy metal contaminants in their
tissues, are removed and disposed of as hazardous waste.
Additional research is being conducted to determine if some less contaminated
Brownfields can be used to grow crop for the production of biofuels. Michigan State
University, in collaboration with DaimlerChrysler and NextEnergy, has 2 acre plots of
soybean, corn, canola and switchgrass growing in a former industrial dump site in
Oakland County, Michigan. The university is in the middle of a three year study to see if
the plants can serve two simultanious purposes, to assist with phytoremediation of the
brownfield site, and to contribute to the economical production of biodiesel/ ethanol fuel.
It is hoped that they work here will drive similar experiments across the country on sites
not suitable for commercial or residential development.
Brownfield Case Studies
In studying Brownfields, it can be incredibly helpful to examine case studies of
other successful developments to help learn what does and does not work. Looking at
patterns between developments can help find trends; examining emerging technology
Brownfield cases can show the pro’s and con’s of how these work on a site; and
examining developments in your area can give you information on local policies, and
how to work with the local agencies.
An example of a successful redevelopment comes from Kenosha, Wisconson,
which redeveloped a former industrial town, littered with Brownfields and abandoned
factories. The town has experienced impressive early regional success in their
development efforts, and other nearby industrial towns using them as a model of
The process occurred over approximately a decade, and involved the demolition of the
abandoned factories, remediation of large swaths of Brownfield land, and creating a
downtown business center, surrounded by suburban housing. The main Brownfield in the
town was the heavily contaminated former AMC auto-manufacturing site. Due to the
heavy contamination of the land, private developers were extremely gun-shy about
purchasing and developing the land, due to Wisconsin’s laws that any developer, even
municipality acting as developer, would incur substantial liability. In response to this
Kenosha officials worked to change the laws, resulting in Land Recycling Law, Act 453
of 1994. Under this law, remediation was still required, but a specific point of cleanup
was specified where liability would cease at. This allowed the city to purchase and
remediate the land, absolving themselves of the stringent liabilities which so often can
ruin the remediation and redevelopment process.
Once the land was cleaned to state standards, the city was able to plan for a new
downtown civic center, revamped infrastructure, and commercial, office and residential
development which took advantage of their newly remediated lakefront property.
After the success of the AMC remediation, the city has begun remediation efforts on
another industrial Brownfield site, the former home of American Brass metal foundry.
The foundry site is more heavily contaminated than the former, almost 20 acres of land
are contaminated with a heavily leaded slag by-product. Due to their success with the
AMC site, bidding for the brass site has been much simpler, with four responses to their
Requests for Proposals, all coming from companies with specialization in heavily
contaminated Brownfields. The development did a lot to help other possible
development in the area as well, Kenosha convinced many banks of the economic
viability of Brownfield lending, and found numerous small state programs to aid in
financing. Overall, Kenosha can be viewed as an example of successful Brownfield
redevelopment. It will be a good model to look towards as the remediation of the heavily
contaminated foundry site occurs, for guidance in that area.
Another example of effective Brownfield redevelopment is that of 240-acre
riverside tract in Pittsburg. The site, a former steel mill part of Nine Mile Run, was
contaminated with 200 million tons of industrial slag. The tract was prime for residential
redevelopment, with its close location to Frick Park, Squirrel Hill shopping district, and
the Oakland cultural district. A large problem though with the area was its high visibility
to those entering the city from the east. The area was also visible from many of the
surrounding neighborhoods, including the posh Rosemont neighborhood to the North.
The remediation of the site took three years, and was headed by the Rubinoff
Company, who had managed the remediation of a number of other industrial properties in
the Pittsburg area. The remediation of the site was complex, and posed many problems.
Due to the proximity to surrounding residential neighborhoods, none of the slag could be
moved off-site, all remediation had to be done in-situ. Another concern was keeping
Nine Mile Run visible, and restoring it to its former state. The slag was capped, and
covered with topsoil. As the contaminants in the slag were heavy metals, such as
chromium and barium, they would not migrate within the subsoil. Capping the land
would help to ensure this. In addition, ammonium sulfate was introduced into the soil to
reduce the alkalinity of the slag, and plants were chosen based on their hardiness to these
conditions. This plan allowed Nine Mile Run to be saved, instead of burying it with the
slag, as one developer has proposed. The steam has been regarded and replanted to
ensure minimal soil loss and degradation.
By September of 2003, the majority of the homes were built and sold, turning the
heavily polluted eyesore, into an upscale housing development overlooking the newly
restored creek. In addition, the housing on the site has been developed with green
elements, including energy-conserving appliances, durable and recycled materials, and
roofing and paving which reduced storm water runoff. This has caused an approximately
30% reduction in the buildings energy consumption, making the houses built on the site
fit with the sustainable notions present from the beginning in redeveloping such a
contaminated site. For their efforts, the EPA has recognized the development project as
an excellent example of environmentally friendly development.
Though there are still many challenges and setbacks to Brownfield
redevelopment, they have decreased overtime, and will only continue to do so as more
and more Brownfields are redeveloped. Technologies are growing, legislation is getting
stronger and more specific, financing is becoming easier to come by, and available land is
dwindling. As these trends continue, Brownfield redevelopment will becomes a more
common and viable alternative for sustainable and environmentally beneficial
- “Awards profile: Brownfield to Environmental Asset: Bay Harbor.” Urban
Land, May 2004.
-“Taking the Brown out of Brownfields.” Architectural Record, June 2003
-New Jersey Department of Community Affairs: Office of Smart Growth,
-Northeast Midwest Institute,
-National Brownfield Associations
-Government Affairs Program, American Geological Institute,
-Simmons, Robert A. Turning Brownfields into Greenbacks, Urban Land