In 2005, Oregon had $9.5 million in its Brownfield Redevelopment Fund for cleaning up contaminated sites around the state.
Now, many loans and grants later, the fund is down to around $600,000, according to Business Oregon Brownfield manager Karen Homolac.
Homolac has six requests for funds on her desk right now that will quickly consume that remainder.
Meanwhile, thousands of sites across the state remain in limbo because of contamination from leaking undeground fuel tanks, former dry cleaners and car service stations, asbestos, heavy metals and industrial waste.
Add A Few Million To The Fund?
Oregon Rep. Tobias Read State says that contamination is a barrier to economic development. He wants to add “a few million dollars” to the state’s redevelopment fund through a bill in the Legislature this session in the hopes of spurring more site cleanups.
Read said he’d also like to offer forgivable loans to pay for assessing possible contamination. The loans could be forgiven if businesses add enough jobs or property taxes through redevelopment.
“Sometimes business owners don’t know if there is a contamination issue, and that uncertainty may be holding back development,” he said. “In some cases, a site may be in a situation where if nothing happens no further cleanup is required, but in order to do something new with that site additional cleanup work is required, and if you don’t have those resources, the land may just sit.”
Beaverton’s Case In Point
Redeveloping contaminated sites could deliver an economic boost in the city of Beaverton, which Read represents, where officials have flagged 25 Brownfields on 179 acres of land that hinder development in and around downtown.
“They’re a known entity that we need to resolve if we’re going to go forward with our civic plan,” said Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle. “We really want our downtown core to become vital. It’s been pretty quiet since I moved here in ‘86, and I’d love to see it change.”
A pillar of the Beaverton’s downtown revitalization plans – moving the Lanphere car dealership out of the city core and freeing up several blocks of developable land – is currently stymied by contamination at the dealership’s alternate car lot site.
“It’s the old Amoco transmission shop,” said Jerry Jones, who represents the dealership. “They had some underground storage tanks and hydraulic auto lifts, and over the years those fluids have leached into the soil.”
Bob Lanphere Industries didn’t know about the contamination until the company applied for financing to turn the site into it’s new car lot, Jones said. Now it faces the added costs of testing the site to determine the scope of the contamination, as well as the costs of cleanup.
And until that site is cleared for development, the downtown blocks earmarked for new housing and restaurants are still occupied by Lanphere’s new and used cars.
“As the downtown core redevelops, the city has envisioned that site as a catalyst for redevelopment to create a vibrant downtown,” Jones said. “But before we move our downtown operation, we need to figure out the assessment needed to remedy that Brownfield.”
Cleanups As A Smart Growth Strategy
Cleaning up the other contaminated sites in Beaverton would free up additional land within the city’s Urban Growth Boundary, Doyle said.
“We have that boundary around us, so we can’t just go out and out and out and forget the places that are damaged,” said Doyle. “Saying we don’t have to fix them because nobody can use them isn’t the solution. We want to actively remediate and build.”
Finding the money to do that could be a challenge. The city has applied for Brownfield cleanup funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but Doyle said the city could use state funds as well.
Gil Wistar, Brownfields coordinator for Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said his agency has about 5,000 sites listed across the state as possibly contaminated, formerly contaminated or currently known to be contaminated. About a third of the sites have been cleaned up, but more than half of them are idle, with no cleanup work or testing taking place.
There are some success stories of businesses that have risen from the ashes of Brownfield sites by tapping state and federal cleanup funds, Wistar said, including a 24-hour cafe and coffeehouse called Ava Roasteria in the
heart of Beaverton. I’ve reported on another example, the June Key Delta community center in North Portland.
But a lot of property owners sit on contaminated sites without reporting them or taking action to clean them up said Wistar.
“There’s a lot of fear about identifying sites and getting blacklisted or burdened by regulations,” he said. “But really the opposite is true. They can have access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have if they come forward.”