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Q & A: Getting Redevelopment Done

We had a great webinar last week with Doug Jamison, Alissa Schultz, and Fonda Apostolopoulos with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Brownfields Program. They explained how to access CDPHE’s Brownfields Program, the nuts and bolts of how the program works, and its importance in facilitating redevelopment projects.

Doug shared all of the financial assistance offered for brownfields sites with the state, and provided more detail from a success story at the Ute Ulay Mine Site in Hinsdale County. Our senior advisor, Jesse Silverstein, was on the panel as well with additional information and he assisted with the Q & A period.

If you missed the webinar, you can watch it HERE.

Our audience raised many great questions, here are Doug, Alissa, and Fonda’s answers:

Q: Aren’t brownfields the site of heavy industry and large manufacturing plants?

A: Almost anything can be a brownfields site, other than a virgin parcel of land that has never been used or developed. But you’ll find most brownfields programs take a very liberal view of what can be a brownfield, including talk of another state that considered a golf course as a brownfields site. The definition is purposefully very vague so that as many properties that might need assistance can be brought through these programs.

In my 20 years of working with brownfields, I’ve seen everything from landfills to clandestine meth labs to old schools filled with asbestos to dry cleaners to gas stations. Anytime there is a question about environmental conditions at a site that might impede any kind of transaction or funding you have to self determine brownfields.

Q: How is a site designated as a brownfield with this wide-spectrum definition?

A: A lot of the brownfield designation is a self-determining process. We have eligibility requirements for different elements of our programs, but those really relate to the ownership issues, the all appropriate inquiry requirements put out there by EPA, and if you can really pass those eligibility requirements there’s not too much question that it could be a brownfields site. The other piece of course is, as Fonda pointed out, the sites that are regulated under other programs wouldn’t really fit the definition of a brownfield site, at least from a program assistance perspective.

And the brownfields definition comes from the federal US EPA program and really the way they define brownfields is that it is not designated under any other regulatory program and there is no designation (unlike Superfunds which are a designation), brownfields are self-determined.

Q: What are the known locations of brownfields in Colorado? Is there a single map of all known brownfields sites in Colorado, and, even better, if the map shows which sites have been cleaned up and which are ready for redevelopment investment? And conversely, which sites have not had any assessment and/or mitigation done?

A: We do not maintain a list of potential sites. What we do maintain is a list of both voluntary cleanup sites and other brownfields sites where we have performed assessments or 1306 grants or revolving loan funds or tax credits. There is a little bit of a Catch 22 when trying to maintain a list or an inventory so to speak, just because property owners feel that sort of list devalues their property or puts a stigma on their property. So we purposefully do not maintain a brownfields inventory. Like I said, the potential universe is almost limitless to what a brownfields site could be, other than limited by the factors we discussed earlier (if it’s covered under another regulatory program and if it does meet the eligibility requirements). If it’s not limited by one of those two, the chances are it could be a brownfield.

Any municipal downtown area, any small town, their whole downtown can potentially be affected by brownfields sites.

A lot of communities do inventory brownfields for internal purposes if they’re developing neighborhood plans or comprehensive plans or looking to revitalize and redevelop. I’ve worked on several inventories and there are communities who do their own, but they’re not public.

The one thing that is public is if you’re curious about a particular property or an address you can quora, under the Colorado Open Records Act, to the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division records center and see if they have any files in house and what types of reports are available for a particular property and see whether or not there are any Targeted Brownfields Assessment (TBA) services or Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCUP) services the state might have provided for that particular property or site.

Some of the best uses I’ve found of the state’s programs are actually those sites that we have unknown conditions, and it is the perceived stigma that keeps a deal from moving forward. There is a lot of sites that we can take through a TBA program and get them cleared as not being an environmental issue at all.

Q: Does this program proactively market and promote redevelopment opportunities of brownfields sites within Colorado and/or nationally?

A: We, here at CDPHE, we’re not a development agency. Although we’ve come to recognize that brownfields are a part of the redevelopment landscape, we’re really environmental professionals. So we leave that sort of marketing to you (Colorado Brownfields Partnership) and to Jesse. That’s really one of the roles of the Sonoran Institute (Colorado Brownfields Partnership) is to help users of the program develop marketing and development strategies for their property. Now I will say on the National level, there are probably some efforts to do that, it’s just hard to get state environmental programs together with people on the redevelopment market that deal with this on a consistent basis. Although you might occasionally see an effort where at a conference there might be a forum that tries to get those two groups together, to just doesn’t happen on a regular basis except on the cleanup piece of a project.

I think brownfields redevelopment is a process and a lot of the work that I’ve done, and that Jennifer and I have done together, has been working to help understand the real issues of the asset, environmental and other issues, and continuing to position and add value into enough places to make a deal viable. So it’s kind of the whole strategy side.

A lot of times, also, when we have people come to us, like a buyer of a property will show us information and say “hey, what’s going on here?,” and I’ll explain to him what needs to be done and what does not need to be done and they I’ll talk to him about what tools we have as far as environmental covenants and everything else while at the same time explaining to them that when  you leave liability on a property (and it’s not cleaned up), you are buying the other person’s liability. So you really have to understand what you’re getting into and that with liability left behind, that will most of the time cause a cost dependent on location, but you have to understand what you’re getting into. I always tell people, I’m not a gambler, so I give the information and I look at it, I want to be risk free. So that they can understand what they’re getting into and what they’re acquiring.

And the state programs are designed to address that very issue.

Q: What is the difference between the state’s TBA program and the EPA’s TBA program?

A: There is not much of a difference, as far as the end result goes. Both EPA and CDPHE offer and provide assessments for brownfields properties. The difference is that we do ours in house, with our staff (and with consultants for certain pieces like the lead-based paint and asbestos surveys), but other than that the assessment is performed by CDPHE staff. And I would highly recommend EPA’s staff, in the case of their brownfields staff they’re absolutely fabulous, so I would highly recommend them if you don’t want to use CDPHE feel free to call EPA, but their assessments are performed by outside contractors.

The only difference too is that sometimes if we’re backed up and there’s a time crunch, EPA can get it done in a quicker turn around time.

Right, that’s a possibility, the other thing I want to mention is that through the state TBA program, you know how we keep stressing that that applicant needs to have performed a Phase 1, that’s All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) compliant prior to purchasing a property. Sometimes we’ll get applicants or local municipalities that own the property and is interested in redeveloping a building that’s on a particular property that they own and they might want to remodel or demolish it and build another building and they know that they may have some asbestos or lead-based paint issues, so even though they may not have done a Phase 1 prior to purchasing  that property years ago whenever they acquired that property, it could still come through our TBA program and we can provide, in that particular example, an asbestos and lead-based paint survey for that property and to give them what their abatement cost estimates might be in the redevelopment plan. So they can do just a small piece of our TBA services even though they already own the property and may have not done their due diligence prior to purchasing the property. They just would not be eligible to apply for EPA cleanup grant for that asbestos or lead-based paint abatement, if they didn’t have a Phase 1 that was done ahead of time.

An advantage of using the state is that if you’re going to go through the voluntary cleanup program, or access other grants, you’re working right off the bat with the people you’ll be working with the whole way.

Q: Will the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCUP) actually connect you with a consultant for the cleanup process or should a community select a consultant first before applying for the VCUP program?

A: Typically, it all depends on where you are in the process, but we don’t try to recommend people, what I do a lot of the time, depending on the situation, is I can give you a list of people who perform a lot of voluntary cleanup plans, that do an adequate job, and that’s a matter of interviewing them and seeing how you feel. But, it’s really a matter of looking at the situation and certain locations (like in City and County of Denver, there’s tons of people I can refer). If you’re somewhere in a small town it limits the available options. The least I can do is talk to you and try to guide you in the direction of trying to find somebody for you.

Thanks to our panelists and our audience for a great discussion, and stay tuned to our webinars page for recordings of past webinars and information about upcoming sessions. 

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