BY SID JUWARKER, Client Development Manager, Terracon

When looking to redevelop a plot of land that may be contaminated due to previous industrial or commercial uses — known as a Brownfield site — many development organizations can turn to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield funding programs to expedite the process.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Brownfield sites are “abandoned, idled or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”

Simply put: these are sites that require some cleanup to be used for development.

That’s where the various Brownfield funds come in.

In 1995, the EPA launched the Brownfields program, which allows the agency, in conjunction with local and national governments, to provide technical help and some funding for assessment and cleanup. The so-called Brownfields Law in 2002 helped expand the program.

At the state level, developers in Iowa can receive tax credits and grants for redeveloping property that falls under Brownfield status. There are also a number of other Brownfield assistance programs that aren’t grants, including a revolving loan fund.

These incentives help development organizations find new places to build, and there are a lot of Brownfield sites out there. The EPA estimates there are about 450,000 brownfield sites across the United States, almost 300 of those are located in Des Moines.

Terracon has served as the developers and consultant on many Brownfield projects across the nation. After all, safely restoring a contaminated property and helping find purpose in its reuse is one of the most rewarding opportunities an environmental consultant can have. And the development on these sites leads to some real economic benefits.

According to a 2017 study, cleaning up brownfield properties led to an increase ofresidential property value by 5 to 15.2 percent within 1.29 miles of the site. Another study found an estimated $29 to $97 million in additional tax revenue for local governments in a single year after cleanup, which is two to seven times more than what the EPA contributed in initial funding.

“It assists with the development of disparaged properties that would remain idle for the foreseeable future,” said Dennis Sensenbrenner, department manager of the environmental services division Terracon in Des Moines. “Many projects, like the former Pitt/Des Moines Steel site, would not be redeveloped and brought back into a viable tax base without the Brownfield process. It helped expedite the revitalization of this area.”

The Pittsburg-Des Moines Steel site

Brownfield funding has come into a play in some of the redevelopment in downtown Des Moines.

One example is the Riverfront West Brownfield Redevelopment project, led by Hubbell Realty. When Hubbell was looking to re-develop and revitalize a former industrial property just south of downtown Des Moines, where the former Pittsburg-Des Moines Steel Company was located, it needed to clean up the contaminated area.

Interestingly enough, the Pittsburg-Des Moines Steel Company actually has a rich history that stretches all across the United States. The company created and erected the St. Louis Gateway Arch and has many other works listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the site, the groundwater was contaminated with diesel and other oils in the groundwater, and there were heavy metals and petroleum compounds in shallow soil. Terracon worked with Hubbell, the City of Des Moines and the EPA to earn a Brownfield Revolving Loan from the city. That funding helped speed up the development process.

And because of the proposed future use of the site, some versatility was required when doing cleanup.

“Some areas required cleanup to residential standards while other areas were required to meet commercial standards,” Sensenbrenner said. “The challenge was that some areas proposed for commercial were changed to residential requiring flexibility in our approach.”

Terracon used its environmental, construction materials testing and geotechnical services in the planning and cleanup process. Those services helped assess and remediate the land of lead, arsenic and chromium in soil as well as loose product across the nine-acre site. While Terracon’s work finished in 2009, the redevelopment is still ongoing with the completion of Cityville by Hubbell and the Nexus project by Sherman and Associates.

“I believe the project was a total success,” Sensenbrenner said.

My takeaway

Brownfield funds can make a large impact on a community and help incentivize the redevelopment of sites that were previously through to be untouchable. Whether these sites become housing developments, like the aforementioned Cityville project, or something else, they can boost our city’s economy and revitalize different areas across the city.

Sid_Juwarker Sid Juwarker
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