In my previous post, I wrote about the ponzi scheme that most municipalities fall into by investing public dollars for infrastructure improvements so that developers can build strip malls and big-box stores on greenfields and that ultimately fail in the long term to return on the public’s investment in them. I said that there are typically two factors that work symbiotically to discourage brownfield development in favor of greenfield development. They are: haste to start building; and inflexible, outdated zoning and land development ordinances. Here is how this dysfunction happens.
|(photo credit: London [Ontario] Free Press)|
(photo credit: http://www.sonorannews.com)
|(photo credit: http://www.capturelehighvalley.com)|
Brownfield development is nothing new. By now, I suppose that most states have cleanup laws that were written specifically to grant environmental liability protection to entities that purchase a contaminated property and cleans it up. My own state of Pennsylvania was one of the leaders in developing a realistic regulatory framework to help get environmentally compromised properties back on the tax rolls and employing people.
Sites do not have to be cleaned up to pristine conditions; their owners simply have to eliminate any contaminant pathways to human or ecological receptors. After delineating the bounds of the contamination in the soil, sometimes installing a simple concrete or asphalt cap on the soil is sufficient to prevent humans from coming into contact with the residual contaminants and to prevent rainwater from leaching the contaminants down into the groundwater. And sometimes the closure process is nothing more than collecting enough samples to prove that there are no contaminants present at concentrations above their cleanup standards for soil or groundwater. Usually it’s just environmental science, not rocket science.
I should also say that I’m not completely opposed to government subsidies for development projects. If the cost-benefit analysis shows an acceptable return on the taxpayers’ investment, why not? However, I think you’re more likely to see a reasonable return on investment from updating existing utilities or infrastructure to facilitate redevelopment of a brownfield than you would building new utilities or infrastructure to accommodate building on a greenfield.
|You can teach an old dog new tricks. When Bethlehem Steel shuttered operations at their flagship plant in Bethlehem, PA, in the mid-1990s, the city rallied to create a renaissance at the dilapidated, 100+ year old industrial property. (photo credit: http://kgurban.com/new/beth.html)|
The brownfields are there, and they already have utilities. They already have roads in front
of them with people driving past them. Many already have rail lines adjacent to them to move either freight or commuters in and out. Let’s use the infrastructure that we already have in place and let the greenfields alone to continue to recycle our carbon dioxide into oxygen. Building a new big box with a 4-acre parking lot on top of a fallow farm field does not do a thing to mitigate our carbon footprint. But it does create a need to extend utilities and roads that taxpayers will have to start maintaining in 10 years when the developer is long gone.
Concertgoers gather for a show at the base of the former Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces in the heart of the new SteelStacks arts and cultural center in Bethlehem, PA. (photo credit: http://www.philadelphiafed.org/community-development/publications/cascade/81/03_keys-to-success-for-small-industrial-cities.cfm)
|The former Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces were retained as an historical and cultural monument in the heart of the new SteelStacks arts and cultural center in Bethlehem, PA. (photo credit: http://www.philadelphiafed.org/community-development/publications/cascade/81/03_keys-to-success-for-small-industrial-cities.cfm)|