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Brownfield Redevelopment – Step Up to the Plate

The next sporting event you attend may be on a redeveloped brownfield site.

With the World Series barely behind us, it’s hard not to enter a room without discussing last night’s winning game. As a favorite pastime activity, baseball boosts the local economy by providing family friendly events and attracting dining and entertainment businesses to the area surrounding the stadium. Generally, minor league stadiums and sports arenas are located in the heart of downtown or at a central location that is perfect for people to gather for a game. It’s not unusual for a stadium to be located where a former manufacturing or transportation hub once stood. In the Northeast, the region famous for hosting the Industrial Revolution, it’s challenging to identify a vacant downtown lot that hasn’t encountered illegal dumping, an oil spill or a botched demolition job in one form or another. There’s a real possibility your local stadium was once the location of a contaminated brownfield site. In Central Pennsylvania, the Lancaster Barnstormers call a former portion of an manufacturing facility home, while the York Revolution play in a redeveloped portion of downtown York where rail yards, body shops, and underutilized buildings once stood.  Nationally, there are a few major league teams who call the strikes on redeveloped brownfields, such as the Nationals in Washington DC and our own Phillies’ Citizens Bank Field located on a former food warehouse.

In our line of work we take part in the action well before the first pitch. Depending on the past use of the site there may have been a leaking underground storage tank, impacted historic fill material or traces of industrial processes that have scarred the land. Former industrial sites are perfect locations for sports complexes due to their size and accessibility; however, there are several environmental risks associated with the operations at an industrial site. Residual heavy metals from smelting or contaminated historic fill, asbestos insulation, in addition to petroleum compounds and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons associated with maintaining mechanical equipment or with heating the facility. Unfortunately, releases of hazardous substances often remain undetected until a proper environmental site investigation has been conducted.

Understanding all existing activity and use limitations of a property is crucial to making an informed decision about purchasing real estate, but is only the first step in managing a brownfield. Cleanup methods are dependent on the type of media contaminated, in addition to the hazardous substance encountered and the site’s intended use. Engineered environmental caps constructed underneath a baseball field or designated open space are idea for managing contaminated soil or historic fill on site. Petroleum compounds detected in groundwater may require a more active remediation process to remove any free product in the aquifer. This method will most likely include ongoing monitoring of the water until the compounds are below established regulatory standards. Restricting groundwater use will support active remediation as well as eliminate exposure pathways. An environmental consultant will factor in the past use of the site, the contaminant concentrations and the impacted medium, the site’s intended use as well as many other factors when determining the best remediation strategy.

In the past, developers may have avoided brownfields because of the perceived cost and time constraints associated with their redevelopment, but more and more communities across the nation have realized the economic benefits to brownfield development. Many states and local governments have implemented Voluntary Cleanup Programs, tax incentives and supplemental funding programs that complement EPA Brownfield’s Assessment, Revolving Loan and Clean Up (ARC) grants. The ARC grants are currently behind of schedule for the fiscal year 2014 RFP due to the Federal Government shut down. Earlier in the fall the EPA released a guidance document for preparing your ARC proposal early, which is a worthwhile read if you’re interested in applying for Brownfield Grants in the future.

The economic and environmental benefits associated with brownfield redevelopment can be experienced community wide such as:

  • Enhanced public health and safety
  • Increased community pride
  • Increased property values and tax revenue
  • Job Creation
  • Attracts more industry
  • Preserves green space

As many can attest, a local or major league sports team creates a strong sense of pride for a community. A brownfield redeveloped into a stadium further enhances a communities pride as a once abandoned property provides a place for residents to enjoy a game that is more than just a game.  These redevelopment projects are catalysts for economic development throughout the community. The benefits of brownfield remediation and redevelopment are long lasting, stretching well beyond the baseball season.

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