The BUILD Act of 2015 can help communities revitalize

Harrison Commons in Harrison, NJ

All across the country, in communities big and small, are remnants of an industrial past—underutilized land, often sitting vacant. When the Langdale and Riverdale textile mills closed in the 1990’s, Valley, Alabama not only lost a major employer, but a piece of their heritage. Residents were inspired to make the historic building once again a strong part of their community, but industrial contamination stood in their way. The small town used a federal brownfields grant to help clean up the land and achieve their vision. Further west, McComb, Mississippi’s only hospital closed in 1969, and four decades later the city received a 2012 Brownfields Assessment Grant to turn the remnants of an old hospital into a restored health facility.

This week, a showing of bipartisan support brought six Senators together to introduce the Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2015. This legislation would provide the tools local governments and other entities need to clean up and revitalize brownfield sites—a similar version was introduced in 2013. Brownfields cleanup spurs economic activity in existing communities by revitalizing underutilized and contaminated land. Authorization for the Brownfields program expired in 2006, and this bill would not only reauthorize the program, but also make significant improvements—opening up the program for more communities and local entities to clean up brownfields and transform them into a part of the community’s economic engine.

“The Brownfields program is where we have found common ground to achieve real results in cleaning up contaminated sites while also promoting economic development.”

– Senator Jim Inhofe

The bill reauthorizes a wide array of financial and development tools for communities to help with site assessment and cleanup, all administered by the EPA’s Brownfields program. Among its provisions, the BUILD Act expands non-profit eligibility to receive brownfields grants, provides technical assistance for rural communities, and authorizes multi-purpose grants to fund multiple elements of a project and streamline the process.

Senators Inhofe (R-OK), Markey (D-MA), Rounds (R-SD), Boxer (D-CA), Crapo (R-ID) and Booker (D-NJ) all signed on as original cosponsors—a demonstration of how the bill benefits rural areas and small communities to big cities, alike.
In bigger cities and towns as well, the support of the federal Brownfields program has helped to advance new economic development projects. Across the river from New York City, Harrison, New Jersey was a booming manufacturing center for the first half of the 20th century. The city used the Brownfields program to take 250-acres of blighted industrial area bordering the waterfront and transform it into Harrison Commons, a mixed-use retail and residential development. In San Diego, the building of Market Creek Plaza on a 20-acre brownfield site, transformed the underutilized property adjacent to the Village at Market Creek into a thriving commercial and cultural center.

“Cleaning up Brownfield sites is a win-win for Massachusetts and the country, helping to create jobs and spur economic activity while revitalizing underutilized and polluted lands.”

– Senator Ed Markey

Brownfields like those in small towns like Valley, AL and McComb, MS to more densely populated parts of the country like Harrison, NJ and San Diego, CA exist all across this country. Redeveloping these sites is a good investment for health, for the environment, and for the economy, but for even the most risk-taking developers, remediation costs on a balance sheet can often sway them elsewhere. Relatively few tools are available to help redevelopment efforts move along, even with the massive returns that cities and small towns can expect from revitalizing once-blighted areas. The EPA estimates there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites in the United States. Rusted rail yards, abandoned factories, shuttered gas stations, decaying warehouses—there are nearly 4,570 square miles of land in the United States in need of remediation.

Ultimately, the BUILD Act can help communities across the country begin building the country’s most vibrant places. Brownfields represent tremendous economic development opportunities. Communities can make it happen, when the federal government steps up and helps to make it easier for them. The BUILD Act of 2015 is a strong step forward.