Connecticut made real progress on brownfields this spring when “An Act Concerning Brownfield Remediation and Development as an Economic Driver” became law. Once implemented, the Act will help spur economic development, put us on a more equal footing with our neighbors and promote the conservation of natural resources. It does this by creating a new program to facilitate the revitalization of brownfields, historically contaminated properties which have not been redeveloped due to the cost of dealing with the contamination. The Act also fine tunes existing brownfields programs.
There are many reasons why this legislation is good news. Support for the Act was widespread, vocal and crossed party lines. Towns and cities (nearly every town and city in Connecticut contains at least one brownfield) stand to gain substantially under the Act. Some abandoned sites will be properly evaluated and cleaned up which should result in a further cascade of benefits. State agencies estimate that every dollar invested in brownfield redevelopment yields three to ten dollars in additional benefits. When a brownfield is developed it often means that a “ greenfield” or open space is spared and infrastructure development leading to sprawl can be avoided. When a brownfield is returned to productive use it means that properties generate increased taxes, jobs are created, existing infrastructure is utilized, neighborhoods are revitalized and blight is diminished. Many brownfields are located near transit hubs so their development necessarily is transit oriented, important in today’s climate.
Section 17 of the Act creates a new brownfield remediation and revitalization program. This program protects participants who investigate and remediate brownfields from liability to the state and third parties for any contamination at or from the property that others caused. Participants are also relieved of any obligation to investigate and remediate off site contamination. The property must be investigated and cleaned up to state standards in order for the liability protection to be made permanent. Up to 32 properties will be accepted each year into the program by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) which is given a detailed list of factors for admission to ensure there is geographic distribution and diversity of projects. Only applicants that are not responsible for the contamination on their site are eligible. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) will administer the program which also expedites certain DEEP timeframes.
Existing brownfield programs are also given a boost under the Act. This includes substantial expansion of the Abandoned Brownfield Cleanup Program, which is also administered by DECD. More properties will now be eligible for this program, which provides relief from some regulatory requirements and contains extended liability protections for eligible properties.
Small but significant changes were made to the Transfer Act and other environmental programs. These range from limiting the responsibility of a certifying party under the Transfer Act to releases which occur prior to their investigation of the property to providing the commissioner of DEEP with additional flexibility to waive some use restriction recording requirements.
The Act, when combined with the $25 million a year dedicated to brownfields remediation included in the budget, puts Connecticut in place finally to become a leader in brownfields redevelopment.
For further information contact any member of the Pullman & Comley, LLC environmental practice group, or e-mail us at Brownfields@pullcom.com.