New legislation makes it easier to clean up brownfield sites in Washington state

Esplanade Park in Tacoma, WA
Esplanade Park in Tacoma, WA, is a former brownfield site that was cleaned up and redeveloped. Newly passed legislation will help more sites achieve this success. Photo by the Washington State Department of Ecology via Flickr.

In June 2013, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that will make it easier for communities to clean up brownfield sites across the state.

SB 5296 modifies Washington’s Model Toxics Control Act and creates new tools for brownfields cleanup. “There are a large number of toxic waste sites that have been identified in the department of ecology’s priority list,” the bill explained. “Addressing the cleanup of these toxic waste sites will provide needed jobs to citizens of Washington state.”

A prominent feature of the new law is its provision about “Redevelopment Opportunity Zones.” Counties, localities and port districts can designate any area as a Redevelopment Opportunity Zone, provided that at least 50% of properties in the area are brownfields. For port districts, at least 50% of the property must be owned by the port. The designation allows public agencies to concentrate resources in these areas, and makes the area eligible for several new tools designed to promote redevelopment.

In addition, the legislation also created or enhanced several remediation resources and tools:

  • Brownfield Redevelopment Trust Fund: In assisting Redevelopment Opportunity Zone projects, this new fund can receive revenue from legislative appropriations, voluntary contributions made to specific zones or brownfield redevelopment authorities, and “receipts from settlements or court orders that direct payment to the trust fund for specific zones.” The latter reference sets up a potential link between Supplemental Environmental Projects and Redevelopment Opportunity Zones.
  • State Toxics Control Account: This account receives funding from a dedicated source of revenue under the Model Toxics Control Act. The new bill increases the percentage of Model Toxics Control Act funds that go to the State Toxics Control Account, and expands the allowable use of funds to include assistance to prospective purchasers to pay for remediation at sites within a Redevelopment Opportunity Zone, provided that the project leads to a “substantially more expeditious or enhanced cleanup with public benefits.” Previously, this account only assisted public entities, but now it can assist private development (only in Redevelopment Opportunity Zones and only if it meets the criteria).
  • Expedited Liability Protection: Properties in Redevelopment Opportunity Zones are eligible for a more expeditious liability protection measure, and the new bill allows the Department of Ecology to issue “Agreed Orders” granting liability protection against state enforcement actions. Outside of Redevelopment Opportunity Zones, liability protection is only offered through the more time-consuming and expensive Prospective Purchaser Agreements, negotiated with the State Attorney General.
  • Brownfield Renewal Authorities: Localities and port districts may create a Brownfield Renewal Authority to implement cleanup and reuse of properties within a Redevelopment Opportunity Zone. However, other public and quasi-public entities may also act as managers/implementers of the Redevelopment Opportunity Zones.
  • Model Remedies: Another reform, not limited to Redevelopment Opportunity Zones, mandates that the Department of Ecology establish model remedies for common categories of facilities, hazardous substances, media, or geographic regions to streamline and accelerate the clean-up process.

Washington’s new legislation was based on a series of recommendations to the Washington State Department of Ecology by the consulting team of Maul Foster and Alongi (a member of the National Brownfields Coalition Leadership Circle), Redevelopment Economics, Chmelik, Sitkin and Davis, PS and K&L Gates, LLC, together with Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation. The Department of Ecology commissioned this report as part of its work making brownfields redevelopment in Washington state more strategic, efficient, community-driven and economically responsive.

Additional resources:

Evans Paull is director of Smart Growth America’s National Brownfields Coalition and principal at Redevelopment Economics, a member of the consulting team that produced the report for the Washington State Department of Ecology. Jim Darling of Maul Foster and Alongi was the project manager and contributed to this article.