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Panel To Look For Ways To Develop Brownfield Lands

State and city leaders came together to created a blue ribbon panel Thursday focused on so called "brownfields"  around the Portland harbor.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the area has stagnated since the federal government declared it a superfund site seven years ago.

The threat of massive clean-up costs means about 6000 acres of inner city industrial lands are lying vacant around the Portland harbor — lands that used to house the city’s economic engine.

Mark Rosenbaum chairs the Portland Development Commission. He says that if the city wants to remain a vibrant, economic hub, those 6000 acres need to get back into circulation.

Mark Rosenbaum: “We only have 900 acres of developable industrial lands in the Portland area and we’re going to need close to 2,000."

Rosenbaum says 8 out of 10 requests about economic development in Oregon from out-of-state businesses, are focused on  Portland. But many of those businesses end up going elsewhere — because of the lack of land.

To fix the problem the Portland Development Commission, the City, Metro and the Governor, commissioned a study by industrial land experts – The National Brownfields Association.

A couple of weeks ago, the association released a series of recommendations — including the formation of a blue ribbon panel.

That panel has now been convened, and it’s charged with finding ways for the owners of ‘brownfield’ sites to sell or re-develop their land – without shirking the responsibility to clean it up.

The trick is to make the land more valuable by sparking economic activity — for example by attracting a new factory or store to the area. In turn, that activity would generate the cash  to clean up the area.

Robert Colangelo directs the National Brownfields Association. He  says it’s not easy, but the Portland Development Commission appears ready for the challenge.

Robert Colangelo: “This group is at the point of action. They want to get something moving. And they took a very serious interest in it. There’s a lot of people that are looking at it. And I think we gave them very logical steps in a sequence to pursue and so I fell like, you’ve got the political will, you’ve got the market demand and you’ve got reasonable, logical actions to take forth.”

But Colangelo says it’ll take more than a blue ribbon panel – the law needs to change too. He says the reason the area stagnated in the first place is that Oregon has a tax system that allows owners to leave land vacant with out paying much tax.

Robert Colangelo: “I don’t know if the intended consequence of the law was to let people to leave their sites sit un-cleaned. But that is the consequence of your property tax law. Is that if it’s contaminated, you can abate your taxes, get them down to nothing, and then you have no pressure to clean up your property.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil: “And how does that compare to the rest of the country?”

Robert Colangelo: “That’s very unusual. I don’t know of any other states that allow that to that degree.”

PDC chair Mark Rosenbaum, says he plans to look into helping getting a bill before state lawmakers to address the problem.

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