The six brownfield experts you’ll need and how to leverage them
There’s no secret roadmap, no magic three-step formula, when it comes to redeveloping, reusing or expanding property that may be complicated by the actual or perceived presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.
Brownfield sites might be abandoned gas stations. They might be hillsides scarred by mining. They might be strip malls with prior commercial or industrial land-use that didn’t necessarily introduce contamination but may have been impacted by off-site sources or perceived to be impacted by historical land-use activities. One thing they all have in common: They could very well become the catalyst for transforming a previously blighted area to become a revitalized region with bustling economic growth, new employment opportunities and improved community pride and quality of life.
That is, in fact, the driving motivation of the EPA's Brownfields Program. It’s designed to empower states, counties, municipalities, private and community stakeholders to collaborate to identify, assess, clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields properties.
To create a brownfield success story, though, those key stakeholders must have at their disposal an “environmental consulting toolbox” with the right mix of resources. That mix of resources almost always includes the hands-on involvement of six types of experts who know how to navigate the brownfield process to make the impossible a reality.
To create your brownfield success story, make sure these six experts are involved:
- Strategic Plan Visionary
- Funding Champion
- Community Relations Ambassador
- Data Visualization Specialist
- Assessment Expert
- Cleanup Planning Genius
1. Strategic Plan Visionary
A poorly planned brownfields program might identify brownfields properties and get Phase I and II ESAs completed, but it won’t reap the same benefits that a Strategic Plan Visionary can deliver through their tactical, end-game approach – an approach that ties remediation to logical and probable future-use scenarios to reduce cleanup standards.
Your Strategic Plan Visionary should be someone who can provide a 360-degree perspective of EPA’s brownfields program processes and procedures with the redevelopment and/or economic stimulus goals.
Your Strategic Plan Trailblazer is someone who will earn the trust and confidence of the stakeholders by listening to the stakeholders’ motivating drivers, incorporating their perspectives and ultimately building a strategic plan that’s inclusive and doable – a plan that merges the community’s unique dynamics, the market’s emerging needs/demands, and the environmental industry’s latest innovative techniques with all possible funding resources.
The most successful reuse of environmentally impaired properties must incorporate a design plan from project initiation. Beginning with the end in mind, environmental strategies from investigation conception through remedial design could be developed to most effectively achieve the cleanup and redevelopment goals.
2. Funding Champion
Grant writing expertise is a must for the Funding Champion on your brownfield team. Your Funding Champion is ready long before EPA’s grant guidelines are posted every fall. They’re ahead of schedule when winter deadlines hit for grant proposal submittals, writing applications that specifically address the possible presence of hazardous substances as it pertains to the application’s ranking criteria. They know the community need and they fully comprehend the redevelopment goals. They understand that spring grant awards are only the beginning when it comes to brownfield funding.
Your Funding Guru has learned just how powerful a tool the EPA’s Brownfields Program is for leveraging additional economic development funding, especially when grant recipients are strategic about their use of grant funding. They offer a broad geographic knowledge of how funds awarded to other communities across the country are leveraged for success, which will assist in preparing reports to the municipal commissions, departments, or other interested community members and stakeholders. They’ll collaborate with the Strategic Plan Trailblazer to leverage catalyst sites as successful case studies on which they can leverage additional resources to support ongoing economic development efforts.
Because your Funding Guru understands that brownfields grants are limited in their scope and funding contribution, they’re focused on uncovering resources from non-profit organizations, affordable housing agencies, and economic development initiatives such as HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding.
3. Community Relations Ambassador
Your Community Relations Ambassador knows that, historically, projects have failed when the affected communities are not actively involved in the regulatory process. To be truly successful, your Community Relations Ambassador must have a pro-active outreach and communication program that is highly considerate of the demographics, economic drivers, cultural priorities, political dynamics and specific community needs.
Their outreach program acknowledges, engages and involves the community through public participation events that pave the way for the project’s resiliency and impact. They create marketing and communication tools, such as factsheets, web pages and informational letters, for more effective public forums, educational workshops, and risk communication seminars. They enhance your Strategic Plan Trailblazer’s ability to identify priority site redevelopment uses based on community members’ specific missions and priorities. And because they’re of the community, not just in the community, they can make securing property owner access a more efficient, low hassle process.
4. Data Visualization Specialist
The right Data Visualization Specialist can provide GIS-based area-wide brownfields inventories to identify candidate sites and prioritize opportunities that support the specific goals for the redevelopment – whether a mixed-income housing development or an anchor for a new commercial district. But your Data Visualization Specialist can provide much more than that.
Their visualization capabilities provide the other six key player with essential tools:
- Maps and drone-captured data that enhance understanding at strategic stakeholder meetings, public forums and workshops
- Filtered investigation and cleanup cost estimates that help establish budgets for revitalization plans
- Integration of existing parcel information (like land use, ownership information, address, parcel number identification, size, and zoning) that complements or integrates seamlessly into existing regional or local planning platforms
- Compatibility with existing GIS databases (such as parcel databases, planning or permitting systems, or project specific planning databases) that supports seamless transitions with property
- Customizable spreadsheets to incorporate drivers specific to revitalization efforts, such as location of parcels to a waterfront, tax delinquent status, or designation as high- or low-need park area, for example
- Real-time information updates using ESRI’s ArcGIS data collector app for smartphones access
- Web viewers with layered data (such as parcel information, census tract, land use type, strategy/target areas, opportunity zones, and aerial imagery)
- Dedicated SharePoint sites for ready access to documents, calendars, and information
With powerful tools from your Data Visualization Specialist, you’re able to screen properties within your rehabilitation area, determine those that provide early redevelopment opportunities and those that are eligible for Brownfields grant funding, and strategically plan for redevelopment.
5. Assessment Expert
The Assessment Expert on your team understands that properly planned due diligence and environmental assessment activities remove a significant barrier to redevelopment — unknown environmental liability.
Your Assessment Expert will likely start with an environmental database records search that can provide regulatory agency listings, enforcement actions, closures, cleanup actions, etc. After your Data Visualization Specialist (see #4 above) uses the results of the database research effort, desktop survey information and other parcel-specific information to construct a searchable catalog, your Assessment Expert, together with input from your team experts, will identify and vet properties for Phase I and II ESAs.
Historic site records will likely allow your team to identify specific site contaminants, their likely concentrations and locations, which may lead to sample collection, possibly the most invasive activity conducted during the assessment phase.
6. Cleanup Planning Genius
Your Cleanup Planning Genius should know how to navigate, high-profile projects for remediation, risk mitigation and regulatory compliance. Interacting with regulatory agencies, speaking their language and meriting their respect, should be second nature. From planning and feasibility testing to the intricacies of water, vapor, and light non-aqueous-phase liquid recovery systems, they have their finger on the pulse when it comes to new innovations for evaluating and remediating brownfields.
During the cleanup planning phase of your brownfields project, the Analysis of Brownfields Cleanup Alternatives (ABCA) that your Cleanup Planning Genius develops will serve as a baseline document of site contamination issues and suggested remediation alternatives. An effective ABCA will consider all relevant regulatory guidelines, community needs and input, contaminants of concern, and future development alternatives. Additionally, the most successful and usable ABCA reports do more than just evaluate remediation alternatives based on site conditions, these documents will also consider the potential impacts the suggested alternatives might have on the cost, schedule, and limitations on future development plans.
The Total Brownfield Package
Your community eyesore is ready to become your community’s asset! And it can with the right environmental experts on your team.
Forty years ago, both the term brownfield and the firm EnSafe were just starting to make their debut. Growing from two founders’ passion to help clients navigate complex environmental issues, EnSafe was one of the first firms to apply what are now considered brownfield solutions for sites, developing the case for site remediation keyed to logical and probable future land-use scenarios to identify appropriate cleanup standards. Now forty years later, we’re still doing what we’re passionate about – and leading the pack when it comes to brownfield innovations. We offer the personal attention of a small firm with the national resources of a large firm. We take on your challenges as if we were in your shoes.
“EnSafe involvement with community and stakeholder outreach & designing innovative tools and strategies for prioritizing projects, has made our program an essential resource for urban revitalization efforts. Many of the successes our program has had may not have been possible without the unique perspective offered by EnSafe.” - Brownfields Redevelopment Program Manager, City of Houston