Since its inception, the EPA’s Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Communities program has been providing brownfields renewal help for hundreds of communities across the country. When communities need help with community engagement, assessment or cleanup techniques, understanding the potential health impacts of site contamination, and financing brownfields projects, among other topics, the TAB program provides critical assistance. For the TAB program, EPA has turned to technical assistance providers, which are organizations that work directly with the communities to get them started in brownfields renewal. Chances are, if you work on brownfields, you have worked with one of these providers. Currently, the TAB providers are the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR – Regions 2, 4, 9 and 10), Kansas State University (KSU - Regions 5, 6, 7 and 8), and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT – Regions 1 and 3). In this month’s NALGEP Spotlight, NALGEP posed three questions to each of the TAB providers.
1) What is a good example of how your assistance made a difference in a community?
A good example is Habitat for Humanity Oakland, where we assisted the organization with the purchase, financing and cleanup of a former junkyard. The project turned out to be more complicated than originally anticipated because the site had been a nursery and was loaded with DDT and other herbicides and pesticides. Habitat is good at building homes, but they knew very little about environmental contamination. We helped them put together the purchase and sale agreement, apply for EPA brownfield grants and state cleanup grants and loans, and facilitate the cleanup and regulatory closure on the site.
This project is significant because it is one of the largest Habitat projects in the country (150 homes), and certainly the largest on a brownfield site. They could not have done it without our assistance. The junkyard was an eyesore, and in this neighborhood of working class single family homes, this project has changed the entire neighborhood by removing this significant source of blight.
A video about the project is available by clicking on the “Edes Avenue Redevelopment” on the CCLR website’s media gallery: http://cclr.org/case-studies/gallery
We are currently working with Howardville, Missouri, a rural African-American community (less than 700 residents). A local non-profit, Howardville Community Betterment, is spearheading an initiative to redevelop the former Howardville High School (contaminated with lead and asbestos) into a center that provides a variety of needed community services. TAB conducted visioning sessions both within the community and with stakeholders in the surrounding counties who could benefit from the redeveloped site. Through this work, we were able to help create a vision that addressed a wide range of needs and provided a lot of momentum for the project to move forward. An exciting outcome was that a significant number of youth were involved in the process and able to participate as equals with the community elders.
NJIT TAB helped the rural community of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine redevelop the Maine Leathers Tannery brownfield site. Specifically, NJIT TAB helped develop and implement a strategy for community consensus building regarding the redevelopment of the site. The community was at an impasse with strong sectors for and against the remediation plan. NJIT TAB developed the community involvement framework and then led a community workshop. Ultimately, the community reached a consensus to redevelop the site as a park with trails for running, walking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing, and waterway access. NJIT TAB also assisted the community with developing a strategy to integrate the cleanup with the redevelopment by reusing the access roads for the park trails. The benefit of NJIT TAB’s involvement was that we not only developed and implemented the community consensus building process, we served as a neutral party, listened to the community’s views, articulated what we heard, and developed an action plan for next steps. The site redevelopment was successfully completed in 2013.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Technical Assistance to Brownfield Communities Program (NJIT TAB) provides a wide range of assistance in areas such as reviewing and commenting on grant applications, interpreting site characterization results, explaining clean up technologies, explaining regulatory requirements, developing strategies for site redevelopment, and community outreach. Assistance is provided through workshops, our website www.njit.edu/tab, direct technical mentoring and broad information sharing.
2) How do communities contact you, and how do you respond to requests for assistance?
Communities typically find out about us from our outreach or through a referral. Our extensive outreach program includes workshops and special seminars that we market broadly. The referrals typically come from the EPA regional office and EPA headquarters, and from state brownfield offices. We work a lot with the affordable housing community, which has an extensive network that makes affordable housing organizations aware of our services.
Our decisions about going deep with a project are based on an assessment of the project having a high probability of coming to fruition. Typically, this depends on whether the project: 1) has community support; 2) has identified its developers and end users; and 3) has identified revenue to complete cleanup and development.
We begin by having a conversation to explore the needs of a community and make sure that we’re the right people to address them. If not, we can usually put them in touch with someone who can help. Once we identify tasks that we can help with, we formulate a team and a plan of action in partnership with the community and get to work. Assistance is provided on a first come, first served basis.
Many of the communities we assist have either been referred to us by the EPA regional offices, have attended a workshop or seminar we held or participated in, or found our website when searching for resources.
NJIT TAB responds to every request for assistance either via email (if the request can be fulfilled with a quick response, such as an answer to a question) or through a telephone conversation in which NJIT TAB obtains a thorough understanding of the community’s challenges and needs. NJIT TAB prioritizes our resources as follows:
NJIT TAB’s ability to effectively fulfill the service
Order in which requests are received
Relative need of the community, such as:
- insufficient technical expertise available
- need for redevelopment
- difficulty getting project started/completed
- value of service to a broader area or region
- equitable balancing of service between communities and stakeholders across the service area
NJIT TAB has never turned down a request for assistance from an eligible community.
3) What are the biggest challenges for communities with which you work, and how do you help communities overcome those challenges?
It always comes down to funding. As long as the project has community support, the biggest obstacle is funding. That’s where we can sit down and assess whether we can piece it together with state, federal, or local funds. Most states have brownfields funds. Most local communities can find funding and financing. Often, it’s a matter of sitting down with the project to identify funding sources. That’s where our involvement is critical. Habitat for Humanity in Oakland had some redevelopment funding, but they didn’t know about cleanup funding. We figured out how to piece together funding from different sources, and the project came to fruition.
The biggest challenges are: understanding the brownfield redevelopment process; knowing where to locate the needed resources and assistance; and developing a shared vision of the end use. We are able to help with all of those challenges. All of our services for communities are tailored to the specific needs of an individual community. We are there to help explain the process and who can help at local, state and federal levels, which we do through workshops and one-on-one consultations. We are also there every step of the way as needed, from reviewing applications for funding, to helping select a contractor, to reviewing and explaining the remediation work and results. We also facilitate community involvement processes which result in redevelopment plans in which all stakeholders have a role in creating.
Just as every site is different in terms of contamination, past community importance, present community impacts, and future potential, every community’s needs are different in terms of its challenges and the type of technical assistance required. Some communities, particularly rural and smaller communities, have limited knowledge of and experience with brownfields. Other communities such as large cities may have more knowledge of and experience with brownfields, but have other, greater challenges.
Often times, the most important factors in brownfield redevelopment are “funding” and “people”. Every project needs a champion, someone who will go out and knock on doors and meet with community members, someone who will make the case to lenders, and who will work with state regulators.
NJIT TAB assists communities with developing strategies and plans for redevelopment, as well as educating communities on the various funding and financing sources that can been used for brownfield redevelopment.