Planning in Progress
by Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Development and Infrastructure Planner
with Sylvia A. Mosser, AICP, Resource Conservation Planner
Planning, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is stepping up efforts to remediate and reduce the number of brownfields (contaminated or potentially contaminated parcels of land) across Maryland through a new initiative called the Brownfield Redevelopment Outreach Program.
Not unlike the Apollo 11 moon landing, just about everyone born before 1960 will likely recall some of this country’s worst environmental disasters that occurred in the 1960s and continuing into the 70s and 80s including the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, the Love Canal, NY disaster of 1978, the Three Mile Island, PA nuclear accident of 1979, and the dioxin contamination and resulting relocation of the entire population of the town of Times Beach, MO in 1983. (For an interactive timeline of environmental events juxtaposed with the development of environmental policy in the U.S., visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) website).
The earliest of these disastrous events, which followed on the heels of seminal works by prescient environmentalists such as Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, helped to spur the creation of the U.S. EPA in 1970, with several of these notorious disasters becoming some of EPA’s first Superfund hazardous waste sites a decade later. The Superfund Program, created by the law known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), has identified more than 1,500 hazardous waste sites across the country since its inception in 1980.
By comparison, the term brownfield is relatively new, first coming into use around 1992 and only being codified, so to speak, with the creation of EPA’s Brownfields Program in 1994. On its website, the EPA defines a brownfield as “a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.
With more and more cities finding themselves with less and less available land for development, and as technology for containing or cleaning up such sites continues to improve, revisiting former industrial sites, landfills, the sites of hazardous waste spills or even intentional toxic waste dumps becomes an increasingly attractive option for urban expansion. As stated on EPA’s website, “cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improves and protects the environment.”
The Brownfield Redevelopment Outreach Program
With upwards of 1,800 potentially contaminated sites in Maryland, Planning and MDE are taking a more proactive approach to reducing the number of brownfields and reclaiming the land for other, more productive uses. The purpose of the program is to educate and connect local planning jurisdictions across the state with funding opportunities that are available through the EPA as well as local sources for both brownfield assessments and cleanup.
The EPA, for example, offers grants for brownfield sites to states, local governments, Native American tribes, nonprofit organizations, and community development entities to assist with assessments, cleanup, training, planning, etc. The EPA brownfield grant solicitation for 2020 is expected to be announced in early fall 2019, and the applications will likely be due around the end of November 2019. Planning is currently available to help conduct any needed research for the grants, effective immediately, and will assist developing applications as soon as they are available to meet the anticipated November deadline. Planning is, in fact, already aiding various jurisdictions, helping them navigate the sometimes-complex process of managing brownfields by identifying not only essential financial resources but also much needed technical resources.
Planning’s assistance to jurisdictions may include:
- Providing a custom inventory of brownfields within a given jurisdiction
- Assistance in mapping brownfields using MDE’s Land Restoration Program (LRP) mapping tool (see screenshot below) which can also be utilized to search for sites with known environmental issues, determinations and determination areas *
- Acting as a liaison with MDE, EPA Region III, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology Technical Assistance for Brownfields Program (NJIT TAB) for EPA Region III
- Coordinating assistance among various federal, state, and non-profit organizations
- Identifying grants and developing grant applications and, if awarded, assisting in grant management
- Training such as the Vacancy to Vibrancy Brownfields Boot Camp (described below) and other types of trainings or educational events
- Recommending comprehensive plan language or zoning/subdivision code modifications to facilitate brownfield redevelopment (e.g., re-zoning an industrial parcel to commercial, residential or mixed use, as needed and appropriate once remediation is complete)
Using MDE’s LRP Mapping ToolIf we open the Land Restoration Program (LRP) mapping tool, and type a place name or an address in the search bar (in this case an area in southwest Baltimore called Westport), we can see the various LRP sites, MDE determinations and determination areas in and around the area (see areas surrounding the red pins and note their proximity to numerous LRP sites [green triangles] and several determinations [purple stars] and determination areas [purple hatching]).
Interestingly, Westport is characterized by both dense residential areas with typical Baltimore rowhouses and highly industrial and formerly industrial areas associated with Baltimore’s history as a major producer of steel and chemicals, as well as its legacy as one of the largest inland commercial ports in the world. Additionally, Westport and nearby Cherry Hill (off the edge of this map to the south) are unique in that they are both adjacent to the waterfront and have light rail transit stations, potentially making them eligible for additional redevelopment incentives, such as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) incentives — be sure to check out our follow-up article on Planning’s new Transit Station Area Profile Tool (TSAPT) also in this issue of Planning Practice Wednesday!
* Note: Determination areas indicate the geographical extent of a determination issued by MDE that indicates the regulatory status of a site assessment and/or cleanup. As of August 13, 2019, there are 897 determination areas recorded in Maryland’s Land Restoration Program (Westport area examples circled in red above).
Vacancy to Vibrancy Brownfield Boot Camp
Planning is partnering with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), EPA, the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Technical Assistance to Brownfield Communities Program and MDE to host a free Vacancy to Vibrancy Brownfield Boot Camp at ESLC’s artfully redeveloped and adapted brownfield site. The Eastern Shore Conservation Center (ESCC), located on what was the site of the former McCord Laundry facility in downtown Easton, will host the boot camp on September 24, 2019.
Industry-expert presenters from all of these partner organizations plus the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ (MDNR’s) Power Plant Research Program, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), and Maryland’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) Program will attend..
Topics will range from grant funding for brownfields to Maryland tax incentives for brownfield redevelopment; from Maryland’s Voluntary Cleanup Program to how to hire an environmental consultant to assess and clean up brownfields; and from maximizing return on investment through layering Opportunity Zones and brownfield incentives to constructing solar arrays on brownfield sites.
The boot camp format will feature a brownfield basics workshop during the morning session, followed by a lunch break, and an afternoon of delving deeper into hot topics like converting brownfields to solar farms and, finally, tips and tricks for choosing a good consultant for your brownfield project.
Also Coming Soon: New Brownfield Redevelopment Outreach Webpage!
Planning has developed a draft webpage for the Brownfield Redevelopment Outreach Program geared toward connecting and communicating with Marylanders about federal, state and local resources, tools, and incentives to encourage brownfield prioritization, cleanup, and redevelopment across the state. The webpage will include background information and descriptions of the program’s mission, available services and a sign-up form to request Planning assistance for specific brownfield projects. Also, funding sources and other types of incentives, resources and, of course, success stories will be highlighted on the webpage. Currently, it is under review and is expected to go live this fall.
For further information or to request assistance, contact Sylvia A. Mosser, AICP, Resource Conservation Planner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 767-4487.