2008 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lennysiegel@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 8 Jan 2008 13:45:41 -0800 (PST)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [CPEO-BIF] CPEO's Brownfields Assistance Project Final Report
[The following may be downloaded as a 168K PDF file from 

The Brownfields Assistance Project: Final Report
Lenny Siegel
January 2008

The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) is concluding its 
four-year-plus Brownfields Assistance Project, supported by a Research, 
Training, and Technical Assistance Cooperative Agreement (#TR-83132102) 
from U.S. EPA's Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization. During 
the first two years of this project, CPEO was affiliated with the Tides 
Center. In September 2005, when CPEO moved to the Pacific Studies Center 
(PSC), it filed an Interim Report summarizing its activities at Tides. 
Therefore, this final report focuses on Project activities for CPEO 
while at PSC, but the lessons it draws are also based on its earlier 
activities at Tides.

The objectives of the Brownfields Assistance Project, building upon 
CPEO's earlier work in this area, have been to educate community 
stakeholders about the brownfields cleanup and revitalization process, 
to empower them to participate effectively, and to learn and communicate 
concerns expressed by those stakeholders to government officials and 
other brownfields professionals. In pursuing those closely related 
objectives, CPEO emphasizes field work: visits to communities and 
continuing communications with community representatives.

Over the past two years, CPEO staff have visited 32 communities, some 
more than once. We have organized, with local partners, seven regional 
workshops. We have taken part in numerous other conferences and 
meetings, including Brownfields 2006, where we once again facilitated 
the Environmental Justice/Community Caucus. Most of those activities are 
documented on CPEO's Brownfields web page at 
http://www.cpeo.org/brownfields/brown.html#general. In addition, those 
reports have been circulated via CPEO's Brownfields Internet Forum 
listserve, which published more than 1100 messages over the two-year period.

While much of our work is designed to enable community participation in 
brownfields revitalization in general, we have found that community 
interest is greatest when the related health issues of school exposure, 
vapor intrusion, or off-site migration are involved, or when there is an 
opportunity to increase the community benefits associated with a major 
brownfields project.

Community Health

Though the brownfields concept originated in environmental protection 
programs, most brownfields professionals see it primarily as a form of 
economic development. Even impacted communities are often more concerned 
about the future impact of brownfield redevelopment than about the 
health impacts of exposure to past contaminant releases. Cleanup is 
necessary, they believe, to enable the community improvements associated 
with brownfields projects.

However, in many instances those direct health concerns are front and 
center. This is particularly true where schools are built on 
contaminated property, where contaminated groundwater may be releasing 
toxic vapors into overlying structures through the vapor intrusion 
pathway, or where contamination is migrating to or from properties being 
addressed as brownfields. At some sites, all three conditions occur 

As CPEO has previously documented, in many parts of the U.S. the only 
property available that is large enough for school construction is 
former industrial property or sandwiched among industrial parcels. This 
is particularly true in New York City as well as other parts of New York 
state. For example, in January 2007 Lenny Siegel visited the Mott Haven 
campus, a site in the Bronx where four new schools are being constructed 
in a former railyard. Two existing schools are next door. Parents, 
teachers, and neighbors are concerned about potential past, current, and 
future exposures.

In October 2007 Siegel visited the Information Technology High School 
(ITHS) campus in Queens. Built within the shell of a former 
metal-plating factory, ITHS has multiple state-of-the-art treatment 
system. But when a Fox-5 television news series featured its 
contaminated history this September, parents and teachers appeared 
unaware of its past or current condition - including underlying 
contamination with the organic solvents, perchloroethylene (PCE) and 
trichloroethylene (TCE). When community representatives sought 
assurances that the air in the school was safe, school authorities 
offered sampling results from equipment entirely incapable or measuring 
contamination anywhere near levels of potential concern for those compound.

After reviewing other data, Siegel met with parents, teachers, community 
members, and elected officials.  He assured them that the school air was 
relatively safe - that is, it was no more contaminated than ambient air 
in that section of Queens, but that long-term monitoring and management 
was necessary. The episode illustrates well what CPEO has found 
elsewhere: Where schools are involved, parents and teachers need access 
to independent technical experts that they can trust. Authorities are 
generally so reluctant to admit potential health risks that they make 
assurances that are difficult to believe. The public remains concerned, 
which is why Congress incorporated school safety language into the 2007 
Energy Bill.

CPEO heard from community members at other locations - such as 
Middleport, New York; Ithaca, New York; East Fishkill, New York; and 
Providence, Rhode Island-that they wanted officials to err on the side 
of caution. That is, even where groundwater contamination contours do 
not show a need for indoor air testing, they want it done, if there is 
known volatile organic contamination in the neighborhood. In at least 
one such case, in a former supermarket building next to a new school in 
Providence, they prevailed. Indoor air sampling demonstrated 
unexpectedly high levels of toxic vapors in the building.

These are all cases where there is suspicion that vapor intrusion is 
taking place. That is, even where other pathways are not complete, 
structures on or above contaminated groundwater may contain toxic 
vapors, exposing the occupants. While vapor intrusion has been more 
widely recognized and addressed in existing residential neighborhoods, 
it is emerging as one of the principal obstacles to brownfields 
redevelopment. Lenny Siegel's February 2007 visit to Douglas, Michigan, 
pointed out that there was no process there for determining whether 
homes should be built above a significant TCE plume.

In CPEO's December 2006 paper, "Homes, Schools, and Parks," we concluded:

It is much easier and less expensive to investigate and remediate vapor 
intrusion before buildings are constructed, and it's much easier and 
less expensive to build mitigation, such as vapor membranes or 
ventilation/depressurization systems, into the original design of 
structures, rather than to retrofit.

The current extent of contamination, as well as its anticipated fate and 
transport, should be understood before structures are sited and 
designed. In addition, shallow contamination should be removed, or 
systems should be in place to reduce contamination quickly to remedial 
action objectives. Mitigation designed to reduce indoor exposures below 
health-based standards should be incorporated into each new building.

Regular monitoring should prove those levels are being achieved once the 
buildings are completed, beginning with sampling prior to occupancy. 
Long-term management, reinforced by funding and continuing regulatory 
enforcement, including institutional controls, should be used to 
maximize the extent of effectiveness.

Homes and schools should only be built on likely vapor intrusion sites 
where there are no safer alternatives.

In some instances, however, the potential source of vapor intrusion is 
not the property being investigated, but another nearby property. In the 
case of the South Hill Elementary School in Ithaca, New York, some of 
the experts believe that the property is being impacted by a plume 
emanating from a successful, complete, upgradient brownfields 
redevelopment, the former NCR property. At the Mott Haven campus in the 
Bronx, much of the environmental response - a grout wall and Waterloo 
barrier - is designed to prevent contamination from migrating onto the 
site from contamination sources that are not undergoing remediation. At 
Info Tech High School in Queens, remediation may need to continue 
indefinitely because there is an unknown upgradient source of 
groundwater contamination.

These cases and others suggest that the prevailing brownfields model of 
addressing contaminated properties one parcel at a time is often 
insufficient. Cleaning up a property for reuse does not fully protect 
occupants if contamination continues to arrive from adjacent properties. 
Conversely, making a property safe for reuse does not necessarily 
protect occupants of properties that receive contamination migrating 
from the brownfield property.

This does not mean, of course, that brownfields cleanup is undesirable. 
Rather, it suggests that many areas should be addressed on a 
neighborhood-wide basis, not just one property at a time. This could 
slow initial reuse of some properties, but it would reduce the chance 
that cleanup issues would be re-opened after new occupants are in place. 
As an additional benefit, neighborhood-wide strategies make it easier to 
involve the local community in a sustained, constructive way.

Community Benefits

Since the earliest days of EPA and state Brownfield programs, community 
groups have been suspicious that developers are taking advantage of 
blight, poverty, and racial inequity to extract substantial subsidies. 
Environmental justice organizers in Clearwater, Florida, for example, 
expressed concern that others were using of ghetto statisics to get 
rich. In 2006, CPEO's Brownfields Internet Forum reported about how a 
Michigan developer was exaggerating environmental obstacles to qualify 
for state funding. This report triggered a vibrant Brownfields Internet 
Forum discussion of the suitability of subsidies for various types of 
brownfields projects.

As a result, CPEO, in cooperation with the Center for Environmental 
Policy and Management and the Urban Land Institute, convened a 
multi-stakeholder discussion in Washington, DC in March 2007. The 
overall question facing the participants was, "How can we generate the 
best possible public returns to provision of subsidies for investments 
in brownfield redevelopment?" From the community perspective, the 
question was, "How can we benefit?"

Historically, community groups have pursued two general approaches. 
Often, through organizations such as Community Development Corporations, 
they have obtained ownership of property and managed development 
themselves. This is viable for small projects, but rarely has it been 
carried out on a large scale.

For larger projects the Community Benefits Package or Community Benefits 
Agreement is emerging as a viable alternative. Under this approach, 
community activists back subsidies for profit-making developers 
conditioned on specific community benefits. Lenny Siegel documented such 
a package following his September, 2006 visit to the Gates Rubber site 
in Denver, Colorado. He originally visited the transit-oriented 
redevelopment project to evaluate vapor intrusion in the adjacent 
neighborhood, but the significance of the Community Benefits approach, 
pursued by the Campaign for Responsible Development, was apparent. 
Later, in September 2007 CPEO led a "Brownfields 101" workshop in 
Denver, in cooperation with local community activists - to help spread 
the message of successful community involvement.

CPEO brought in Denver activist Tim Lopez, as well as Cherokee Denver's 
(the Gates developer) Ferd Belz, to describe the how a broad community 
coalition influenced the planned development. The Subsidies Forum report 

The Denver case study was particularly illuminating because detailed 
descriptions from two perspectives, developer and community activist, 
sculpted a three-dimensional image of the project. In the hope of public 
funding, Cherokee agreed to a series of conditions requested by a broad 
coalition of 55 community groups, the Campaign for Responsible 
Development. In return, the community backed, and Cherokee received $85 
million in tax-increment financing and $41 million in other bonding 
authority. Cherokee's plan is to build as much as 7 million square feet 
of office space and 4,000 housing units.

Cherokee agreed to provide more units of affordable housing - rental as 
well as ownership - than generally required by the city of Denver. It 
agreed to clean the site's contamination to residential standards, and 
to cooperate with the Voluntary Clean-Up Advisory Board. It agreed to 
prevailing (union-level) construction wages for infrastructure 
development, and it agreed to first source (local) hiring for its other 
direct (public facilities) hiring - at a "living wage." It promised to 
make payments to the local school system, in lieu of taxes, after 
build-out, and it even agreed to a novel profit-sharing plan. If, as the 
result of the city-backed development, it makes more money than 
originally expected, it will pay a share back to the city - on a 
continuing basis. It's notable, however, that with one exception - a 
promise not to bring in a big-box retail store - Cherokee did not 
directly make promises to the grassroots coalition. Though it met with 
the coalition for three years, in the final analysis it dealt directly 
with the city. Therefore, activists call the outcome a Community 
Benefits Package, not a Community Benefits Agreement.

In a subsequent (May, 2007) visit to Baltimore, Maryland, Siegel learned 
how local activists had struck a similar deal with the East Baltimore 
Redevelopment Project, a massive revitalization effort centered around 
bioengineering and Johns Hopkins University. This project may serve as 
the cornerstone of the revitalization of wide swaths on blighted, 
depopulated Baltimore.

Robert Hersh of CPEO took the Gates message to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 
where the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition is working to 
influence the cleanup and redevelopment of the A.O. Smith/Tower 
Automotive site, an industrial complex of similar magnitude and 
historical economic significance to the Gates site in Denver. CPEO 
brought in Tim Lopez from Denver to explain how the community organized 
to extract promises of significant local benefits at Gates Rubber.

CPEO believes that emerging success stories, such as those in Denver and 
Baltimore, help resolve the subsidies dilemma. If community groups work 
out among themselves what they want from major brownfields projects, 
they can use their political clout to ensure that the projects move 
forward in a way that benefits the community as a whole.


Over the final year of the project, CPEO found growing awareness, among 
the public and brownfields professionals alike, of the challenges of 
climate change and energy dependence. Significantly, there is growing 
interest in integrating brownfields revitalization, traditionally seen 
as an offshoot of the cleanup of sites with hazardous waste 
contamination, into efforts to overcome what is widely considered the 
most momentous environmental challenge of our time.

First, since brownfields strategies generally favor infill development, 
brownfields activity promotes development patterns that require less new 
infrastructure and create transportation efficiencies. For example, in 
Mountain View, California, where CPEO is based, environmental activists 
actually testified in support of a new brownfield housing development 
that was opposed by many of its neighbors, because it will provide 
residential opportunities near employment centers and public transit.

Second, both developers and community groups are including and 
supporting renewable energy generation and energy efficiency in 
brownfields projects. Increasingly, such developments are qualifying for 
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Other, more 
contaminated sites, are seeing reuse as solarfields and wind farms.

Third, environmental justice groups have seen job training for cleanup 
and safe construction as a way to assure that the neighbors of urban 
redevelopment benefit from projects and have the capacity to resist 
gentrification. Now many such groups see green construction and the 
installation of renewable energy systems, such as rooftop photovoltaic 
panels, as employment opportunities at brownfields sites.

Education and Empowerment

In its field visits, workshops, and electronic communications with 
community members, CPEO has consistently found that activists hunger for 
information, not only about technical issues associated with cleanup and 
reuse, but about decision-making and funding. They seek that assistance 
whether or not they already have a "seat at the table," because 
knowledge makes it easier for them to be heard.

CPEO organized several general-purpose "Brownfields 101" workshops over 
the course of this project. At each event, we brought together a well 
qualified set of presenters from diverse perspectives. The programs were 
well received, but in some case attendance was disappointing. We believe 
this is because most people want to be educated only when issues are 
coming to a head, not because they might. Only the most dedicated 
community members recognize ahead of time what they'll need to be 
effective when the time comes.

Targeted events, such as the Milwaukee workshop focused on the A.O. 
Smith/Tower Automotive site or the regional vapor intrusion workshop in 
Albany, New York seem to generate more enthusiasm. More important, site 
visits with follow-up communications - timed to meet community needs - 
reach slightly smaller groups of people at times where they find 
assistance particularly useful.

Still, it is important to recognize that the brownfields vocabulary is 
foreign to most communities. People care about housing and jobs, or the 
cleanup of pollution, but with a small number of significant exceptions, 
"brownfields" is primarily a term used by government officials, real 
estate professionals, environmental consultants, and attorneys for all 
of the parties. To engage the public fully in the brownfields endeavor, 
it's essential to find a way to describe it in terms that most people 
find familiar.

Overall, brownfields revitalization has been integrated into the 
nation's environmental protection and redevelopment activity. A small 
but growing number of impacted communities are shaping that activity to 
protect their health and serve their long-term interests. But more 
effort is necessary to recruit affected communities to serve as bona 
fide partners, and enhanced training and technical assistance is 
essential if they are to communicate constructively and effectively. 
When they are able to do so, everyone benefits.


Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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