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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.
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Brownfield properties are diverse. For example, an abandoned factory, a boarded-up corner gas station, or 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 the 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. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) investment in communities through its Brownfields grants helped to leverage more than 54,000 jobs related to property assessment, cleanup, and reuse.
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.
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.