The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday announced $900,000 of supplemental funding is slated for successful brownfields revolving loan fund (RLF) programs to clean up brownfields sites in Camden (New Jersey), Niagara County and New York City. The supplemental funds are part of $6.9 million going to communities across the country that have demonstrated success in using their brownfields funds to clean up and redevelop brownfields sites. The funds will be used to continue progress in reusing vacant and abandoned properties and turning them into community assets such as housing, recreation and open space, health facilities, social services and commerce opportunities.
“The EPA brownfields program is transforming communities across New York, New Jersey and the nation by allowing local governments to turn contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and boost economic development,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said. “The supplemental funds announced today will advance the phenomenal work of our partners in Camden, Niagara County and New York City to make on-the-ground progress within these communities.”
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Rebecca Wydysh said, “For the past 20 years, Niagara County has been a leader in brownfield efforts, and the grant award from the federal government will further build upon our progress of remediating brownfield sites throughout the county. Niagara County’s remediation program has successfully helped cleanup sites in urban, rural and suburban municipalities and brought new uses to abandoned properties while generating additional tax revenue and creating new jobs.”
“Cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfields helps revitalize the local economy, protects human health and the environment, removes blight and turns community liabilities into assets,” said Niagara County Brownfield Program Manager and President of the Niagara County Brownfield Development Corporation Amy Fisk. “The new grant funding will be used to provide low interest loans to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites in the county. We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with the USEPA.”
Camden, Niagara County and New York City will each be receiving $300,000 to fund brownfields cleanup projects in their communities with the intention of redeveloping vacant and abandoned properties and turning them into community assets such as housing, recreation and open space, health facilities, social services and commerce opportunities. Specific projects will be reviewed and selected by EPA so that work may begin as early as October.
To the Niagara County Department of Economic Development, EPA will award $300,000 to support brownfields work. Projects under consideration include repurposing a former elementary school into Niagara County’s first senior assisted living complex. The assisted living complex can provide essential services for seniors in Niagara County and create new jobs in both construction and staffing for the complex. Funds may also support cleanup work needed to develop a new commercial retail space with apartments in Lockport.
In Niagara County, EPA has awarded more than $4.3 million in RLF funds since 2012, and $7.3 million in brownfields grants since the program began.
A press release explained, “All of the communities receiving supplemental funds have census tracks designated as federal Opportunity Zones within their jurisdiction. An Opportunity Zone is an economically distressed community where new investment, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Most often, those who reside near these sites are low-income, minority, and disadvantaged Americans. When coupled with leveraged funds, such as other brownfield grants or opportunity funds, revolving loans can be a powerful tool for revitalizing a community of need.”
When revolving loans are repaid, the loan amount is returned to the fund and lent to other borrowers, providing an ongoing source of capital within a community. To date, EPA’s revolving loan grantees across the country have completed 759 cleanups and attracted approximately 45,000 jobs and $8.4 billion in public and private funding.
A brownfield is a property where the expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. There are estimated to be more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.
Grants awarded by EPA’s brownfields program provide communities across the country with an opportunity to transform contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and achieve broader economic development outcomes while taking advantage of existing infrastructure. Under President Donald Trump, over 70% of the communities selected for brownfields grants in 2019 were located in Opportunity Zones.
Brownfields grants have been shown to:
√ Increase Local Tax Revenue: A study of 48 brownfield sites found an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional local tax revenue was generated in a single year after cleanup. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of these sites.
√ Increase Residential Property Values: Another study found property values of homes near revitalized brownfield sites increased between 5% and 15% following cleanup.
As of February, under the EPA brownfields program, 31,516 properties have been assessed and 92,047 acres of idle land have been made ready for productive use. In addition, communities have been able to use brownfields grants to attract 160,306 jobs and more than $31 billion of public and private funding.