2000 Winner; 1998 Semifinalist
Environmental Protection Agency
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards
A January 1998 report by Public Works Management Policy estimated the presence of more than 600,000 unproductive former industrial, manufacturing, and commercial properties within the U.S. These urban "brownfields," abandoned and neglected, have kept away investors and developers, largely due to fear of hazardous substance contamination within these sites and its incumbent liability. As a result, any new urban growth has moved to outlying areas and suburbs leading to urban sprawl. In order to improve this condition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Program, a revolutionary Federal government initiative that manages the process of prevention, cleanup, and redevelopment of contaminated property while involving local agencies and the private sector in meaningful partnerships. To date, this program has proven to be the most innovative and effective solution to combating this major urban development problem.

The Brownfields Project works by using small amounts of seed money to spur communities to help themselves. The initial funds are used to conduct critical assessments of unproductive sites and spark free enterprise by leveraging private investment for cleanup and redevelopment. In that sense, the program distinguishes itself from the traditional "monitor and enforce" approach of the Federal government. Private funds are the most important source of funding to meet local needs. The Program's $200,000 site assessment grants have already leveraged millions of dollars in cleanup and redevelopment funding in cities across the country. Brownfields Pilot grantees are selected through a competitive application process open to states, cities, towns, counties and federally recognized Indian tribes. The selection panel uses criteria such as creative methods of addressing brownfields assessment, cleanup and reuse; transferability and replicability of lessons learned; and the severity of the applicant's brownfields problem. The program is targeted toward improving the lives of the disadvantaged communities of ethnic minorities and low-income citizens who live in or around these sites.

In the few years since its inception, the Program has achieved significant results. It has funded more than 1,600 brownfields site assessments to determine the true extent of contamination. Nearly 600 of those properties were deemed to have no cleanup required, instantly allowing their return to productive reuse. Based on these assessments, more than $100 million in cleanup and nearly $2 billion in redevelopment funds have been leveraged from public and private sources, and these redevelopment efforts have created more than 4,400 jobs.

The Program also has been a model of replicability as it seeks to share information, tools and procedures between varied communities tackling problems of cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated property. Every new round of Brownfields Pilots learns from the successes and mistakes of previous rounds. The Program has assisted more than 30 states in developing and implementing voluntary cleanup programs in association with private parties. As the Brownfield Project has restored dilapidated sites across the country, crime has diminished, property values have risen, jobs have been created, and the local economies have soared. Its biggest achievement, however, has been the delivery of hope to previously neglected communities.
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