WHAT IS A BROWNFIELD?

Does your community have a gas station that is no longer in service? An abandoned industrial building? What about buildings that may have asbestos or other contamination? Any of these are examples of brownfields.

A brownfield is any real property that is abandoned, idled or underutlilized due to the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Examples of brownfield sites include former industrial sites, gas stations, dry cleaners, junkyards and landfills.

Left alone, brownfields are detriments to the landscape and environment, negatively affecting property values and deterring investment in nearby areas. Although challenging to finance due to cleanup costs, the redevelopment of brownfields can increase the tax base and property values, create jobs, and spur local investment.

Brownfield redevelopment exists at the intersection of land use, public health and economic development. In isolation, practitioners of these individual disciplines are ill-suited and often ineffective at bringing about the redevelopment of brownfield parcels. By pooling the available local, state and federal resources, communities can effectively address the blight and economic malaise that brownfields pose.

History

Since its inception in 1995, EPA’s Brownfields Program has grown into a proven, results-oriented program that has changed the way contaminated property is perceived, addressed, and managed. EPA’s Brownfields Program is designed to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields.

Initially, EPA provided small amounts of seed money to local governments that launched hundreds of two-year brownfield “pilot” projects. Since then, each state has founded a similar program which distributes federal EPA funding at the state level. In Colorado, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) Brownfields Program was founded to provide public and private property owners with resources to facilitate cleanups at abandoned industrial facilities, long-forgotten gas stations, and other potentially contaminated properties that would otherwise languish and hinder economic development.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) established the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCUP) in 1994 to assist communities and private parties in facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties Colorado. Since its inception, over 400 sites have come through the program. A significant portion of these sites have been put back into productive use and are now generating higher tax revenues and providing jobs and housing. Despite the program’s success, there are likely still thousands of brownfields around the state awaiting redevelopment.

In 2002, CDPHE entered into a partnership with the Office of Smart Growth in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to build on the success of the Voluntary Cleanup Program by studying local community efforts at redevelopment of parcels impacted by real or perceived contamination. A number of other key state agencies and groups were enlisted to provide a perspective on local government economic development efforts and environmental remediation around the state.

Pilot brownfield projects were selected in Alamosa and Rangely. The agency partners worked with these communities to leverage resources and develop model approaches incorporating existing redevelopment tools. Additionally, the partners analyzed and documented roles and interrelationships of various levels of government as they worked to implement the redevelopment process, with the goal of identifying potential institutional obstacles to brownfield reuse.

From 2003 to 2013, the nonprofit Colorado Brownfields Foundation (CBF) acted as the outreach organization for CDPHE’s Brownfields Program. The CBF designed and implemented strategies to recycle abandoned sites into economically productive community assets. Its strategy focused on clearing environmental remnants left over from earlier times such as gas stations, dry cleaners, dumps, asbestos, and mining-related uses.

Today, the Colorado Brownfields Partnership (CBP) continues the outreach begun by the Colorado Brownfields Foundation. The CBP provides technical assistance, workshops and webinars to educate Colorado communities about the CDPHE’s Brownfields Program and connect these communities with available funding for brownfields assistance, cleanup and redevelopment.

Read more about Colorado’s Brownfields Program in the Colorado Brownfields Handbook.