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Ontario Environmental Protection Act and Regulatory Changes: More Brownfields Open for Business

Written by F.F. (Rick) Coburn and Barbora Grochalova, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (“BLG“)

On May 2, 2019, the Government of Ontario introduced Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019. Bill 108 makes several amendments to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), such as enhancing the enforcement powers available to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (the Ministry), and broadening the scope of use of administrative monetary penalties.

The Ministry has also proposed amendments to the Records of Site Condition Regulation (O. Reg.153/04, Brownfields Regulation), with the stated purpose of enhancing the economic viability of brownfield projects by reducing delays, enhancing clarity, and providing certainty for redevelopment. The proposed regulatory amendments are provided on the Environmental Registry.

Brownfields and Redevelopment

Brownfields are properties that have become contaminated as a result of prior industrial or commercial use. Brownfield properties are often left vacant or underutilized, and may be located in areas where redevelopment would otherwise be desirable.

The Brownfields Regulation governs the process of redevelopment of contaminated properties and converting them into more sensitive types of use. Part XV.1 of the EPA only allows the change of use of a property from those that are potential sources of contamination to the types of use that are more sensitive (e.g., residential, agricultural, community, or institutional use) upon first completing and filing a Record of Site Condition (RSC). An RSC summarizes the environmental condition of the RSC property, describes any contaminants that are found to exceed the applicable standard, and reports any remediation measures that were done, including the removal of contaminated soil from the RSC property.

Proposed Exemptions to the Requirement to File a Record of Site Condition

The proposed regulatory amendments exempt certain redevelopment from the requirement to file an RSC.

  • Low-rise buildings changing from commercial or community use to a mixed use adding either residential and institutional use would be exempt, as long as the residential and institutional use is limited to floors above the ground floor. This exemption would only apply to properties that have never been in industrial use, or as a garage, a bulk liquid dispensing facility, a gas station or a dry cleaning operation, and if the building envelope will not be changed during the redevelopment.
  • Properties which are not otherwise included in the exemption described above may be exempt in situations where a part of a building is already in residential or institutional use and another part is used for commercial or community use, and the property is converted for a more sensitive use. This exemption would similarly be applicable only to properties that have never been in industrial use, or as a garage, a bulk liquid dispensing facility, a gas station or a dry cleaning operation, and the building envelope will not be changed during the redevelopment.
  • The definition of community use is proposed to be amended by removing from the definition temporary roads that are required only during the early phases of construction. The effect of this change is that an RSC would not be required once the temporary roads are converted to residential use when the buildout is completed.  
  • The conversion of indoor places of worship to residential use is also proposed to be exempt from the requirement to file an RSC.
  • Indoor cultivation of crops using hydroponics or other cultivation methods that do not rely on soil from the property is proposed to be defined as industrial use, as opposed to the more sensitive agricultural use, if the building was previously in industrial, commercial, or community use.

Additional Situations Deemed not to Exceed the Standard

The brownfields regime requires that if the RSC property is contaminated, the concentrations of each contaminant must be sampled and evaluated against the generic site condition standard. If certain contaminants exceed the applicable standard, the owner of the RSC property must either undertake further remediation, or prepare a risk assessment that provides a site-specific plan to address the risk posed by the exposure to those substances.

The Brownfields Regulation already included a provision by which exceedances resulting from the application of road salt or other de-icing substances were deemed to be within the standard. The deeming provision was previously restricted only to road salt use on a highway by the Ministry of Transportation and road authorities, but that restriction would be removed by the proposed amendments. Three new situations are proposed to be added where exceedances on any property are deemed to meet the standard:

  • Exceedances resulting from a discharge of treated drinking water;
  • Exceedances in fill material where a contaminant exceeds the applicable standard but does not exceed the naturally occurring concentration typically found in the area; and
  • Exceedances that arise from the deposit of excess soil onto the subject property, if the concentrations are in accordance with the standards established as part of the proposed On-Site and Excess Soil Management Regulation. (This proposed regulation would establish a comprehensive excess soil management regime, and will be discussed in more detail in a future update.)

Reduced Requirement to Delineate Contaminants

The Brownfields Regulation prescribes the requirements for phase one and phase two environmental site assessments. One of the elements required of a phase two study has previously been the full delineation, vertically and laterally, of contaminants which exceed the applicable site condition standards.

The proposed amendments introduce a “non-standard delineation”, which would not require the delineation of the full extent of a contaminant on the phase two property in situations where a risk assessment for that property has been accepted by the Ministry. The phase two study must instead show that appropriate steps have been taken to locate the maximum concentration of each contaminant found on the property, and that any additional efforts to delineate the contaminant are unlikely to contribute significant or meaningful information.

The proposed amendments to the Brownfields Regulation also introduce other technical changes to how phase one, phase two, risk assessment and other environmental studies are to be completed.

While the Brownfields Regulation are not part of Bill 108, these proposed amendments are an important piece in the larger landscape of changing environmental and land-use laws in Ontario. The majority of the amendments are proposed to come into force on the day the regulation will be filed. The proposed regulatory amendments are provided on the Ontario Environmental Registry.


About the Authors

Rick Coburn is a partner in the Toronto office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Rick practises in the area of environmental law with an emphasis on environmental aspects of major development initiatives and transactions involving heavy industry, transportation, energy and infrastructure projects. With members of BLG’s litigation practice groups, he also acts as defence counsel on regulatory prosecutions and in civil actions.

Barbora Grochalova

Barbora Grochalova is an associate in the Environmental, Municipal, Expropriation and Regulatory Group in our Toronto office. Barbora is member of the Canadian and Ontario Bar Associations and acted as Counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association prior to joining BLG. She has had exposure to many different areas of law, with a focus on environmental, administrative, and regulatory matters before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT).

Investigation finds Contaminated Soil from Montreal is being dumped on Prime Farmland

As reported by Marie-Maude Denis and Jacques Taschereau of CBC News, contaminated soil generated from the development of properties in Montreal is ending up on prime agriculture land.

Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête recently tracked demolition waste from Montreal sites to farmland in Saint-Rémi. When the investigators confronted the farmer, he claimed the material dumped on his property would be used as a foundation for a greenhouse and that it was legal.

An environmental lawyer contacted by the Radio Canada investigators disagreed with the farmer as did Quebec’s Environment Ministry. The Environment Ministry confirmed it found contaminated soil at the site last year, but it’s offered no further details about its origin, saying the matter is still under investigation.

When The Radio Canada investigators questioned the general contractor working on the site that was the source of the contaminated soil, he claimed the a subcontractor properly trucked the soil away.

Properly managed soil treatment facility

The claim of the general contractor and farmer is that the material is construction debris consisting mainly of bricks and stones and not contaminated soil. The investigators noted that the material they saw dumped on the farm included metal and concrete. According to the Environment Ministry, the kind of debris that was tracked by the investigators can’t be legally be use for the intended farmland construction.

In a similar investigation conducted by Radio Canada in 2016, investigative reporters followed trucks and observed debris being dumped in the countryside. The investigators arranged for the sampling and analysis of the soil from several farms and that found some samples to be contaminated.

Brownfield Redevelopment in New York City and Community Air Monitoring – What you need to know

Written by Paul R. Pickering, Aeroqual Ltd.

Brownfield cleanup in New York City

As New York City’s need for space grows, existing stock of land must be used more effectively. Brownfield cleanup and redevelopment represents one of the best opportunities to engage communities and reclaim land for development in many cities. In 2018, the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (MOER) announced 1000×21, the most aggressive land cleanup and revitalization goal of any city in the world. This OneNYCinitiative seeks to remediate and redevelop 1,000 lots in NYC by the end of the de Blasio administration in 2021.

A vacant lot in Mott Haven, NY before remediation. Photo: OneNYC

Remediation air quality challenges

Any time a remediation or construction project involves earth-moving, it has the potential to release particulate (dust) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contaminants that exist below the surface. VOCs will readily transition to the gaseous, breathable phase, when exposed to air. Particulate emissions must be controlled to prevent impacts to the respiratory system. Negative impacts range from mild lung irritation to chronic lung disease. 

Regulations to protect community

To protect workers and the surrounding community, construction and demolition projects that involve excavation need to follow a stringent Community Air Monitoring Plan(CAMP), as specified by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). If the excavation activities are occurring on a remediation or cleanup site, additional requirements are outlined in a guidance document known as DER-10. NYSDOH and DER-10 specifically apply to sites in New York. However, agencies and authorities in other states may also recognize these guidelines. They have been known to apply or refer to them for projects in their designated territories.

What is DER-10?

In 2010, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) issued Division of Environmental Remediation (DER)-10 Technical Guidance for Site Investigation and Remediation, known as DER-10. This is the source document the NYSDEC refer to for authority to oversee remediation projects. It was designed to help parties and consultants (environmental and engineering) in developing and implementing investigation and remediation projects at contaminated sites.

DER-10 extensively (over 225 pages) describes the A to Z requirements for remedial site investigations, cleanups, post-cleanup monitoring and site closure. It presents detailed technical guidance for each of the investigative and remedial steps undertaken at contaminated sites. DER-10 covers procedures for assessing the environmental conditions at the site, including air monitoring during remediation activities.

What is CAMP?

Appendix 1A of the DER-10 outlines requirements for the implementation of a CAMP. This air monitoring plan is prescribed by NYSDOH. It involves direct-reading air monitoring instruments placed at defined locations around the perimeter of a remediation, construction or demolition site.

A CAMP requires real-time air monitoring for total VOCs (also referred to as total organic vapors) and PM10 (particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter) at downwind and upwind locations relative to each designated work area when certain activities are in progress at contaminated sites. The CAMP is not intended for use in establishing action levels for worker respiratory protection. Rather, it is intended to protect the downwind community) from potential airborne contaminants released as a direct result of investigative and remedial work activities. The downwind community includes off-site receptors such as residences, businesses, and on-site workers not directly involved with the subject work activities. The specified CAMP action levels require increased monitoring, corrective actions to abate emissions, and/or work shutdown. Additionally, the CAMP helps to confirm that work activities did not spread contamination off-site through the air.

VOC and particulate monitoring

Basic requirements of a CAMP call for real-time air monitoring for VOCs and/or particulate levels at the perimeter of the exclusion zone, or work area. Sites known to be contaminated with heavy metals alone may only require particulate monitoring. If radiological contamination is a concern, additional monitoring requirements may be necessary in consultation with NYSDEC and NYSDOH. The table below summarizes CAMP Monitoring Action Levels for total VOC and particulate monitoring.

CAMP air monitoring equipment

Since the introduction of DER-10 in 2010, sensor-based technologies have reduced the cost of air monitoring and increased efficiency of the implementation of CAMP. Real-time air monitoring solutions are available to fit the budget and complexity requirements of every project. Below is a sampling of equipment options:

Entry Level – Basic environmental dust monitoring kit

Assembled kits, like this Basic Environmental Dust Monitoring Kit from Raeco Rents, are portable and suited to short-term or temporary CAMP. The ensemble includes an off-the-shelf dust monitor, handheld PID monitor for total VOCs, and a cloud-based telemetry system mounted in an environmental enclosure.

Ultimate Flexibility – All-in-one air quality monitor

All-in-one air quality monitors, like the AQS1 and the Dust Sentry from Aeroqual, are highly flexible and defensible, as well as good allrounders for short or long-term CAMP. In addition to the primary particulate fraction PM10, these monitors can also measure PM2.5, PM1 and Total PM. They can also be configured for monitoring total VOCs and NO2 emissions from remediation and construction sites. A robust light-scattering Nephelometer with sharp cut cyclone is integrated with a PID-based VOC analyzer module (or GSE-based NO2 gas module), Cloud telemetry platform, air quality software, and optional plug-and-play weather and noise sensors. Trigger alerts are programmable for SMS and email notifications, or can be used to activate an external VOC canister sample collection for speciated analysis according to EPA Method TO-15.

The Rolls Royce – GC-based perimeter air monitoring station

Perimeter air monitoring stations, like the AirLogics Classic 2, contain analytical, climatic, and communications instrumentation. This equipment includes: a gas chromatograph (GC) to measure specific VOCs, a respirable particulate meter to measure dust levels, shelter heaters and air conditioners, and a radio-based data acquisition system. These systems were originally developed for use in the cleanup of former manufactured gas plant (MGP) sites.

Weather monitoring

DER-10 guidelines require daily measurement of wind speed and direction, temperature, barometric pressure, and relative humidity, to establish background weather conditions. Wind direction data is used to position the air monitoring equipment in appropriate upwind and downwind locations.

The evaluation of weather conditions is also necessary for proper fugitive dust control. When extreme wind conditions make dust control ineffective, remedial actions may need to be suspended. There may be situations that require fugitive dust suppression and particulate monitoring requirements with more stringent action levels.

Additional monitoring

Under some circumstances, the contaminant concentration and/or toxicity may require additional monitoring to protect site personnel and the community. Additional integrated sampling and chemical analysis of the dust may be required. This must be evaluated when a Health and Safety Plan (HASP), is developed. Appropriate suppression and monitoring requirements are established for protection of people’s health and the environment.

Reporting

All recorded monitoring data is downloaded and field logged daily, including Action Limit Reports (if any) and daily CAMP monitoring location plans. Records are required to be maintained onsite for NYSDEC and NYSDOH to review. A description of the CAMP-related activities is also included in a monthly progress report submitted to the NYSDEC. The overall report submitted to the NYSDEC should include all CAMP monitoring records. If site works are stopped due to inability to control fugitive emissions to below the action limit, the NYSDEC is to be notified within twenty-four hours of the work stoppage.

For a real-life example of air monitoring at a remediation site please read my blog about the pilot cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, NY.

What CAMP solutions does Aeroqual offer?

Aeroqual’s Dust Sentry and AQS1 are flexible air monitoring platforms used by air quality professionals, and environmental and geotechnical consultants, for community air monitoring plans on remediation sites. We help environmental consultants deliver defensible data on projects by providing cost-effective and reliable instrumentation. For insights on the latest air monitoring trends at construction sites please read our blog about measuring NO2 and multiple PM fractions.


About the Author

Paul R. Pickering is the Business Development Director at Aeroqual Ltd., and is located in Auckland, New Zealand. Aeroqual Ltd. is a company that delivers innovative air quality and environmental monitoring solutions. He is passionate about making it easier to measure the air with advanced sensor-based technology. He believes that more relevant information about our environment can help us make better informed decisions, enjoy better quality of life, and make our planet a better home. 

Canadian NCC Awards Contracts for Environmental Site Assessment

The Canadian National Capital Commission recently award contracts to a number of environmental consulting firms to conduct environmental assessment of contaminated sites in Ottawa.  A number of firms were awarded contracts of $833,333 for providing contaminated site assessment services.  The firms were DST Consulting Engineers Inc., Geofirma Engineering Ltd., GHD Ltd., Golder Associates Ltd., SNC-Lavelin Inc., and Terrapex Environmental Ltd.

Under the contracts, the NCC may request as part of the purchase order process, but is not necessarily limited to the following consultant services under the resulting Agreements:

  • Provide environmental reports (either English or French);
  • Contaminated Site Identification and characterization associated with various sources of contamination;
  • Historical review of site activities, including consultation with municipal, provincial and federal regulatory agencies;
  • Field surveys;
  • Site investigations (sampling of contaminated or potentially contaminated media);
  • All parameters analyzed should be compared to both the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Federal Guidelines as well as the applicable provincial criteria;
  • Interpretation of laboratory analyses;
  • Contaminated area delineation for soil and groundwater, which includes coloured maps that clearly identify and illustrate the testing locations, the contaminants found, the dimensions of the contaminated volumes and the affected area;
  • Recommendations of further investigations, if required, with all the associated costs;
  • Provide guidance and expertise with Federal Regulation compliance;
  • Provide maintenance and repair services for existing monitoring infrastructure;
  • Evaluation of remediation technologies, which includes, identifying the different remediation options and the costs associated;
  • Evaluation of strategies to optimize recycling of material during remediation projects;
  • Completion of risk assessments (human health and ecological) under federal and provincial guidelines;
  • Provide Engineering Plans and Specification documents for remediation and construction projects (French & English);
  • Provide site surveillance during remediation and construction activities;
  • Provide project management and construction management services;
  • Provide landfill engineering and management services; and,
  • Provide long-term management strategies for complex contaminated sites.

The NCC has a number of development and rehabilitation projects underway in Ottawa including the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, a property just west of Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  The property is contaminated from historical industrial activity and must be remediated before it can be redeveloped into a commercial and residential community.

In the past, the NCC spent $6.7 million to decontaminate the soil on a 5.7-hectare site. The process involved removing and remediating 110,000 cubic metres of soil.

With the current area awaiting remediation being just over three times that size at 21 hectares, RendezVous LeBreton, the development company that is partnering with the NCC to develop the site, has a considerably larger and undoubtedly more expensive amount of soil to remediate.

As of the Spring of 2018, the total cost of the soil decontamination at LeBreton Flats is undetermined at this time, but is estimated to be around $170 million, according to RendezVous LeBreton Group.

The empty land in LeBreton Flats awaits its redevelopment, but the soil that lies beneath its surface is in need of a cleanup, as well. Photo By: Meaghan Richens, Centretown News

 

Can a Saskatoon brownfield be transformed into fertile green space?

The City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is in the process of implementing a Brownfield Renewal Strategy that it deems essential to growth in its main corridors. The initiative aims to assess and prioritize redevelopment potential of abandoned, vacant, derelict, or underutilized properties along the City’s major corridors that may have or do have perceptions of contamination.

The results of the brownfields evaluation will lead to the formulation of an incentive program that will help overcome financial and environmental barriers for redevelopment, as well as provide contamination management plans for future development.

One recent brownfield development in Saskatoon was initiated by a not-for-profit organization called CHEP Good Food.  CHEP has been promoting food security in Saskatoon for nearly 30 years. The organization is currently working toward restoring a plot of contaminated land to an agricultural plot of land.

The non-profit group, which works to promote food security, has already won a grant from CN Rail that will help them plant native trees and bushes at another brownfield site in Saskatoon and to restore the soil.   The project received the CN EcoConnexions grant through Tree Canada / Arbres Canada and Canadian National Railway Company to plant native trees and shrubs on the site.

The Askîy Project grows crops on brownfield land in Saskatoon using re-purposed containers. (CBC)

A previous fruit and vegetable garden project by CHEP began in 2014 under a different name as rooftop gardens at the University of Saskatchewan. The project relocated to the brownfield site  in 2015 and was renamed the Askîy Project — which means “Earth” in Cree.

The latest CHEP project is more ambitious than the existing Askîy Project.  It involves growing trees and bushes directly in the soil as well as remediation the site.  A professor from the University of Saskatchewan, Susan Kaminskyj, will oversee experimental bio-remediation at the site.

The bio-remediation will consist of utilizing native a fungi that will assist the plants in growing but will also biodegrade the petroleum hydrocarbon contamination at the brownfield site.

Professor Kaminskyj explained in an interview with CBC, that the microbe is a common fungus, but one with “unique abilities.”  A property in the fungus allowed plants to grow and thrive on coarse Oil Sands tailings.  In early field trials, Professor Kaminskyj’s team found more than 90 per cent of dandelion seeds treated with the fungus sprouted on coarse tailings while no untreated seeds sprouted. The researchers also found the fungus was able to grow with diesel, crude oil and similar materials as its only nutrient source.

 

 

 

Brownfield Remediation Success in Hamilton

A recent report by the City of Hamilton has revealed that significant progress has been made over the last 10 years to reduce the number of brownfield sites in the municipality.

According to Brownfield Inventory Report, there were 91 vacant brownfield sites listed by the City in 2008. As of early 2018, 51 of the sites had been developed representing over 72 ha. Of the 40 sites still considered vacant and contaminated, approximately 13.2 ha are within the Bayfront Industrial Area.

Hamilton is one of the oldest and most heavily industrialized cities in Canada and includes a large number of brownfields in Hamilton’s older industrial areas, downtown, and throughout the urbanized area.

Part of the success in Hamilton in brownfield’s redevelopment is the Environmental Remediation and Site Enhancement Community Improvement Plan (ERASE) (CIP) which began in 2001.

Since the ERASE CIP was approved, approximately 145 property owners and potential
property owners have been approved for Environmental Study Grants. A number of
these studies have led to brownfield sites being redeveloped. A total of 47 projects
have been approved by City Council for ERASE Redevelopment Grants. These
projects once complete will result in:

  • Over 380 acres of land studied;
  • Total assessment increase due to Environmental Remediation Grant in excess of
    $129,029,379;
  • Every $1 contributed by the City has generated $11.10 in private sector
    construction; and,
  • Remediation and redevelopment approval of approximately 210 acres of Brownfield land 123 acres (59% of approved land area) remediated to date.

In its 16 years, the ERASE CIP has proven to be very successful in providing the
financial tools needed to promote the remediation and redevelopment of Brownfield
sites. There is consistent support for the expansion of programming and updating of
policy in order to meet the significant challenges associated with Brownfield
redevelopment.

Two noteworthy recent brownfield remediation projects have included the Freeman Industrial Park, located at the site of former Otis Elevator and Studebaker plants, and the former Consumers Glass property.

The Freeman Industrial Park is the site of the old Otis Elevator and Studebaker plants. It is the largest brownfield development project in the City of Hamilton to date. the developer, UrbanCore Developments, has City approval to divide the 10.5-hectare property into 18 lots and build a road through the property.

440 Victoria Street, Hamilton (former Otis Elevator Building)

The Freeman Industrial Park property is zoned K, which allows nearly any type of heavy industry from fertilizer production to a coke oven. UrbanCore has prospective buyers for about half of the lots.

Initiated in 2014, the site clean up and remediation program on the Freeman Industrial Park is now complete.

On the Consumers Glass property, the City has plans to build a sports field. The property at Lloyd Street and Gage Avenue North is the future home of an outdoor sports facility, which will be an $8-million project that will replace the former Brian Timmis Field. In 2015, it was used as a parking lot for the Pan Am Games.

With respect to the existing inventory of brownfield sites, consideration by Hamilton city Counsel with respect to the viability of contaminated land to be used
for purposes such as the growing/harvesting of medical marijuana, given the concerns
expressed with respect to this industry placing pressure on current viable farm land.

Staff reviewed the prospect of using brownfield land for growing medical marijuana and noted that under Regulation 153/04, cultivation of marijuana would be treated as an agricultural operation, and therefore, deemed a more sensitive operation if located on former industrial or commercially used lands. There are companies similar to ILGM that sells seeds for the cultivation of marijuana. On this basis, a mandatory filing of a Record of Site Condition would be required and the threshold for site remediation would be one of the most onerous to conform. We are seeing the benefit that different dispensaries and programs are having on local areas and communities, allowing people to access marijuana for medical purposes. Hopefully, we will see more programs similar to the new jersey medical marijuana program developing in other areas and communities to allow more people to access medical marijuana to help them deal with any issues they have.

Growing Interest in Brownfield Redevelopment in Windsor

As reported in the Windsor Star, it has taken almost seven years for a municipal brownfields development incentive program to take hold in the City of Windsor, immediately across the Detroit River from the City of Detroit.

In the last several months, applications to the Brownfield Redevelopment Community Improvement (CIP) Plan have been steadily streaming in — seeking grants to help fund feasibility and soil studies, and then even more money to help pay for the pricey cleanup.

If they become realities, these developments could add up to hundreds of new residences on: the former GM Trim site on Lauzon Road; a collection of former industrial properties between Walkerville and Ford City; and most recently a large property near Tecumseh Road and Howard Avenue that for 50 years was the home of Auto Specialties, a manufacturer of malleable castings and automotive jacks for the auto industry.

Greg Atkinson, a senior planner with the city who co-ordinates the Brownfields CIP program, said it’s “awesome news” that investors are finally taking advantage of this “great incentive package.”  The reason they’re jumping aboard now, he said, is that Windsor’s land prices have risen and residential vacancy rates have declined to the point where developing these cheaper brownfield properties now make financial sense.

“But without the incentives I don’t think they would be redeveloped,” Atkinson said. “With them, they’re pushed into that realm of viability, and that’s what we’re starting to see.”

Almost 140 sites across the city have been identified as brownfield properties, covering 559 acres.

“Historically, there has been little interest in redeveloping brownfield sites due to the uncertainty surrounding the extent of contamination and the potential cost of cleanup,” says a city report that goes to the city’s planning, heritage and economic development standing committee Monday. It says one redeveloped brownfield acre saves 4.5 acres of farmland on a city’s outskirts from being developed, and that for every dollar invested in brownfield redevelopment, $3.80 is invested in the community.

An illustration cut out from an unknown trade publication/manual, circa 1940, shows the Auto Specialties Manufacturing Company (Canada) located near the northeast corner of Tecumseh Road and Howard Avenue. The plant made malleable castings for the automotive industry and also automotive jacks. Photo courtesy of the University of Windsor, Leddy Library. UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR / WINDSOR STAR

“It’s great to see owners and developers coming forward and saying ‘We’d like to tap into this fund because we’re interested in redeveloping this site,” Mayor Drew Dilkens said of the recent flow of applications. “The more of these 140 properties we can activate, the better it will be for all of us in the City of Windsor because it provides more taxes and lowers everyone’s share.”

The most recent application is from THMC Windsor, for a $7,000 grant to pay half the cost of a feasibility study on the viability of redeveloping part of the massive parking lot behind the medical buildings at Howard and Tecumseh into a residential project. Auto Specialties operated on the 12.5-acre site from the 1920s to the 1970s.

The next grant THMC could apply for provides up to $15,000 to cover half the cost of soil and groundwater testing for possible contamination. Then if the owner decides to go ahead with cleanup, the Brownfield Rehabilitation Program compensates for the cleanup costs by effectively freezing taxes where they are (versus what they would rise to when the site’s redeveloped) for the first 10 years. There’s even a big break on development fees.

“It really does cover a lot of costs,” Atkinson said of the program.

Of the 15 applications to the program since 2010, 13 have come in the last 22 months. Grants have totalled $1.9 million, leveraging $16.9 million in private sector investment, according to the city.

The earliest and most prominent success happened at a former gas station property at Dougall Avenue and West Grand Boulevard, which was turned into a small commercial development with the help of $67,000 in city grants. The former Wickes bumper plant — now run as a big UHaul operation, also was rejuvenated thanks to $1.5 million worth of grants. A former gas station at Riverside Drive and Marentette Avenue has been cleaned up and readied for redevelopment. And earlier this year, the Sood family received study grants to redevelop the former Seagrave fire truck plant property on Walker Road into about 12 townhouses and turn 17 acres of largely vacant industrial land south of Edna Street, west of St. Luke Road and north of Richmond Street into between 200 and 250 residential units.

On Monday night, council approved grants totalling $32,000 to help pay for three feasibility and environmental studies costing $97,000 for the 60-acre former GM Trim site. The current owner Farhi Holdings has plans to redevelop the site into a commercial-residential project with about 240 residential units. 

Dilkens said there’s clearly a demand for residential development in the east side of the city where Farhi’s land is located, and replacing the derelict site with a new housing project would benefit the entire area.

But Atkinson cautioned that not all these projects end up being developed. “Sometimes, they’ll determine it’s not feasible, there’s no demand for what they’re thinking of, or they might do the sampling and find out it costs too much to clean up.”

The Walker Power Building in Windsor, Ont., summer 2015

Brownfield Redevelopment in Western New York

As reported in the Buffalo Law Journal/Buffalo Business First, Gov. Andrew Cuomo designated four Brownfield Opportunity Areas in Buffalo last month, providing another tool for area stakeholders to have the areas developed.

He designated areas in South Buffalo, the Buffalo Harbor, the Buffalo river corridor and the Tonawanda Street corridor.

“These designations will equip Buffalo officials with tools and resources needed to carry out their vision of community revitalization and help turn these blighted properties back into economic engines,” he said. “This is one more reason why Buffalo remains a city on the move.”

Before the designation, the city had to submit plans for the areas, said Michael Hecker, senior associate at Hodgson Russ. “The goal is to find these areas and figure out a way for the state to work with them to help them with long-term planning on how to redevelop the sites.”

It’s a three-step grant process to determine how to revitalize a brownfield area, Hecker said.

“The first step is a pre-nomination study,” he said. “The second is step is nomination and the third is implementation strategy.”

South Buffalo Brownfield Opportunity Area (Credit: Buffalo Urban Development Corporation)

In the pre-nomination phase, a municipality and associated groups look at an area that may have an issue and explore ways to revitalize the area. In the nomination process, funding sources are considered, as well as market trends. And in the third step, implementation of the plan is identified and there’s a thorough accounting of funding sources.

“It’s a wholesome package that the state has developed as a basis to spur economic development,” Hecker said.

The three steps are completed through the New York State Department of State. Once the governor designates a brownfield opportunity area, various programs can lead to more state benefits.

“If you do your redevelopment project through a BOA, there are additional tax credits available,” Hecker said.

“It’s basically the governor recognizing that these areas have spent the time and focus on an economic redevelopment strategy and they should qualify for additional credits to spur redevelopment in these areas.”

He said the designations fit in with the city’s Green Code under Mayor Byron Brown.

“(BOAs) are a central component of our city’s Green Code initiative and my administration’s place-based economic development strategy,” Brown said in a statement.

“The State’s approval of the BOAs, created by the city of Buffalo with significant public input, places Buffalo at the forefront of brownfield redevelopment nationally and will further enhance Buffalo’s ability to compete for investment, bringing new life to even more neighborhoods by making use of underutilized properties that create jobs for city residents.”

Some of the areas will need to go through remediation in order to be redeveloped, according to Hecker. For instance, the South Buffalo Brownfield Opportunity Area, which consists of approximately 1,968 acres in an area that was once heavily industrialized by the steel industry, has sites that will require remediation.

Plans for that site include a nine-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor recreation and expansion of the Tifft Nature Preserve.

The Buffalo River Corridor Brownfield Opportunity Area also has long-standing contamination issues. It’s made up of 1,050 acres in the Old First Ward, containing 58 possible brownfield sites.

“One of the main areas of that project is restoration and enhancement of the environmental quality of the river and enhancing waterfront access,” Hecker said.

“Buffalo is lucky in the fact that it has an unbelievable natural resource with water access. Over the last 10 to 15 years, you’ve definitely seen an enhanced focus on trying to leverage that natural resource to be an economic driver. I think the city, to its credit, has done a very good job of doing that. This is just another option for them to utilize that program to benefit it.”

The Buffalo Harbor Brownfield Opportunity Area is 1,045 acres, with six brownfield sites. The area includes waterfront space at both the Inner and Outer harbors.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan said BOA designation will help with future waterfront development.

“Investing in environmental remediation prepares our communities for revitalization and renewed economic activity,” Ryan said. “Contaminated sites along our waterfront have made progress difficult over the years.”

The Tonawanda Street Corridor Brownfield Opportunity Area is 650 acres containing 46 potential brownfield sites. Plans include reconstruction of the Scajaquada Expressway and restoration of Scajaquada Creek.

Hecker said the designated areas represent places where longtime residents can see the potential benefit to redevelopment.

“One of the interesting things to me about these projects is that they really are fully integrated community projects,” he said.

Brownfield funding is available at the federal level through the Environmental Protection Agency, as well, Hecker said.

While the Trump administration has pared back the EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that brownfields would remain a priority to the agency.

“There hasn’t been any change in that area,” Hecker said.

Pruitt is focused on shifting the responsibility for contaminated sites to states, Hecker said.

“(Pruitt) wants states to work together with the federal government in a limited capacity to manage these things on their own,” he said.

“From a standpoint of economic development, especially with President Trump’s focus on infrastructure, I don’t think this is going to be a major issue unless there are further cuts in the budget. That remains to be seen.”

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