Cleaning Up for the Right Reasons

The Brownfields Benefit

Brownfields are properties whose ability to be redeveloped is hampered by the real or perceived threat of environmental contamination.  While the distinction between “real” and “perceived” may seem too subtle to mention, there is a reason:  Until the actual condition of a property is known, the property remains a mystery in terms of cleanup costs and liability.

The Brownfields regulatory program has been, with little question, among the most successful and highly sought-after regulatory program over the past decade.  And there is good reason: Receiving Brownfields status offers potentially enormous relief in terms of the cost of assessment, cleanup, and long-term liability.  These benefits alone, not to mention the potential to positively impact communities, makes Brownfields worth the effort for sites that meet the criteria.

The goal behind the Brownfields program is to allow properties that have lain fallow to be put back into service.  By so doing, the opportunity exists for stimulation of the neighborhood and community economies, creation of jobs, increased tax base, improved local infrastructure, and neighborhood beautification and safety.  Who wouldn’t want to see this happen?  The benefit to the community is enormous, and can substantially reduce “Greenfields” development – building a business, usually out of the core of the city or town, on property that might better remain undeveloped, or used for such things as agriculture or green space.  In this sense, the Brownfields program is very much a land-recycling program.

While the Brownfields program is complex, there is one simple difference between it and other regulatory programs:  It is built on land revitalization and economic incentive, rather than on compliance.  That means that the goals and advantages extend much farther than simply “cleaning up” a property.

There are a few critical conditions that must be met in order to qualify.  First and foremost, the parties that stand to benefit from the program cannot have contributed to contaminating the property.  This condition is designed to assure that those who created the environmental degradation can’t use the program to avoid their regulatory responsibilities.  This is truly good news for parties that have come into possession of contaminated property, through inheritance, for example, and who clearly had nothing to do with the environmental problems.

Secondly, the owner(s) must find a redeveloper willing to accept the liability (and accompanying protection) in exchange for the right to redevelop the land after it has been cleaned up. 

Those who are admitted into the program assess and cleanup their property under the guidance of an environmental consultant, and under the direction of the North Carolina Brownfields section at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  Once all the environmental work has been completed to the satisfaction of the Brownfields section, a Brownfields agreement may be enacted that provides liability protection against future claims for the contaminants that have been addressed during the Brownfields process.  That opens the door for redevelopment to begin, without need for long-term monitoring costs or additional remediation.  It’s a formula that has worked in many locations across the country, and if you meet the conditions, it could work for you, too. 

Northwest Geoscience has a great deal of experience at working with Brownfield sites, and we’d be happy to discuss whether the program seems to fit your needs.  Give us a call.