What is a brownfield?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines a brownfield as "real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant." With over 450,000 estimated brownfields in the U.S., the challenge to transform these properties into more attractive, useable sites is being addressed all over the country.
Where are brownfields located?
Although brownfields are concentrated in urban, industrial areas, they can be found everywhere. Brownfields range in size, from a small corner gas station to a multi-acre mining site. Some examples of brownfields include:
- vacant warehouses and factories
- abandoned railroads
- former service stations
- parking lots
- mine-scarred lands (includes former coal mining sites)
Why is brownfield redevelopment important?
Brownfields can be redeveloped in many different ways: old industrial buildings can be turned into new real estate, new building can occur on cleared sites, and community infrastructure and aesthetics can be improved by creating more greenspace.
Brownfield redevelopment helps to:
- Turn community health and safety liabilities into community assets;
- Create new, local jobs;
- Increase property values;
- Eliminate eyesores;
- Enhance economic/tax base development;
- Support sustainable use of land, by preserving greenfields and preventing sprawl; and
- Links economic vitality with environmental benefits.
What is the difference between brownfields and greenfields?
Greenfields are areas of land that have not been developed. Many new businesses that build on previously undeveloped land contribute to sprawl. Redeveloping brownfields contributes to the preservation of greenfields, which include agricultural areas and farmland.
What are mine-scarred lands?
Mine-scarred lands are "lands, associated waters, and surrounding watersheds where extraction, beneficiation, or processing of ores and minerals (including coal) has occurred."
Who develops brownfields? Who are the stakeholders?
By collaborating, interested parties, or stakeholders, are instrumental in cleaning up contaminated properties and working on successful brownfield redevelopment. Stakeholders can be:
- Local residents
- Community groups and neighborhood associations
- Private developers and consultants
- Nonprofit organizations assisting in community development
- State environmental agencies
- Local government community and economic development departments
Can a brownfield site be redeveloped as greenspace?
Yes, brownfields can be turned into greenspace! Greenspace is another word for outdoor recreation amenities like public parks, urban forested areas, and greenways including bicycle and pedestrian trials. Transforming brownfields to greenspace is beneficial to communities in many ways, including:
- Health - Greenspace gives residents more places to recreate and exercise.
- Environmental - More greenspace in a community supports a diversity of wildlife and can help to improve air and water quality.
- Economic - Eliminating a brownfield with greenspace can increase surrounding property value.
- Connecting Communities - The social benefits to greenspace are immeasurable. Public open space gives the people of a community a place to meet, communicate, and celebrate.
How are brownfield redevelopment projects funded?
There are many sources of funding available for brownfield projects. Several federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) award grants to help cleanup, assess, and redevelop brownfields. There are more than two dozen federal agencies that provide brownfield funding. Find out more in the EPA's Brownfields Federal Programs Guide. The WV Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP) facilitates property assessments. Private lenders and nonprofits like the Trust for Public Land help communities leverage funds to transform brownfields into beautiful public spaces.
What is the difference between state and federal brownfield programs?
There are several federal programs that can assist communities with brownfield assessment, cleanup, and development. The most active federal brownfields program is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA Brownfields Program assists states, communities and other stakeholders realize the potential of brownfields through economic and community development. Grants for site assessment, cleanup, job training and community education efforts can be applied for through the EPA. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is another federal agency with an active brownfields program, the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI). HUD awards grants to communities that are involved in economic development and revitalization efforts, specifically targeting low-income or distressed areas. Read more about the EPA Brownfields Program and other federal programs in the EPA's Brownfields Federal Programs Guide.
At the state level, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP) administers the state Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP), encouraging the remediation or "cleanup" of sites where there is a presence of hazardous chemicals. By supporting communities, companies and citizens who choose to voluntarily cleanup brownfields, the VRP helps promote property redevelopment.
In 2005, the West Virginia Legislature created the WV Brownfields Assistance Centers to promote economic development and environmental and public health protection through innovative redevelopment of brownfield sites in West Virginia. With funding from the state Legislature and other leveraged funds, the centers offer extensive assistance to communities throughout West Virginia by providing training and technical assistance, assistance in engaging community stakeholders, and assistance in grant writing and the leveraging of project funding.
What is the West Virginia state law regarding brownfield redevelopment and cleanup?
In 1996, the West Virginia Legislature passed the Voluntary Remediation and Redevelopment Act (VRRA) to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields. The Voluntary Remediation and Redevelopment Rule (the Rule) enacted in 1997 by the WV Code of State Regulations Title 60, Series 3, administratively:
- Limits enforcement actions of site remediation to the WVDEP;
- Provides financial incentives to encourage brownfield redevelopment; and
- Limits liability under environmental laws for those who participate in brownfield remediation through the VRRA.
West Virginia state law requires brownfield participants to provide a plan for public involvement.
Is there a list of brownfields properties?
Yes, a list of brownfields properties can be found in our WV Brownfields Inventory 2.0, an inventory of potentially contaminated sites in West Virginia. The inventory helps stakeholders locate properties and determine what elements of assessment and remediation have been completed. The inventory also contains site data including: site names, location data, acreages, zoning, status of environmental assessments, status of site utilities, and more. Contact Derek Springston at Charles.Springston@mail.wvu.edu for more information on the WV Brownfields Inventory 2.0.