Engineering and Environmental Sciences: Our E&ES team shares information and perspective on an important topic that is attracting increased attention from landowners and developers, particularly in large, urban regions.
It is a term that has been familiar to most of us in the consulting & engineering space for at least two decades. However, in recent years, the term has received a lot of attention in the wider A&E world, and even in the mainstream press. This is particularly true in U.S. large urban centers, and industrial corridors, home to most of our brownfield properties. There are many reasons for this attention, certainly not the least of which are the lack of available developable land in these areas, and the often-exorbitant price points. Also, there is a nationwide shortage of housing, and push toward transit-oriented retail and residential development in most of these urban centers. In addition, the growth in logistics and industrial development in these regions is also an important factor. These, and other, factors have increased the interest in brownfields because there is a high demand for land, and a lack of available, clean property. In some cases, particularly in these urban centers, brownfields are becoming development alternatives that are difficult to avoid. But because brownfields are often associated with contamination, there is risk (real or perceived), thus controversy. Often controversy attracts media attention. And media coverage attracts the attention of the public.
What is a Brownfield?
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Similarly, the California EPA (DTSC) defines a brownfield as: Properties that are contaminated, or thought to be contaminated, and are underutilized due to perceived remediation cost and liability concerns.
Risks Associated with Brownfields
With contamination comes risk. Sometimes substantial risk. First, there is the potential health risk associated with chemical contamination. In order to use the property, it must be cleaned-up (environmental remediation) to levels determined as safe, for its planned end-use, by the regulatory agency authority. This environmental remediation process can be awfully expensive. This highlights another risk: financial. For many brownfield sites the cost to clean them up (remediate) exceeds the value of the clean property. This is referred to as “upside down.” Such projects don’t “pencil.” In such cases, the end-use can be reconsidered, which might reduce the clean-up levels required by the regulatory agency. Or an alternative, lower cost remedial approach can be sought, but it will need to reach the same clean-up levels. If no solution can be developed, then the property sits, and remains an unproductive, underutilized parcel. A brownfield.
For any brownfield redevelopment project to be successful, it must begin with a viable end use for the target property. Viable both in terms of finance and overall project execution.
The environmental component of a brownfield project pro forma is built on a foundation of comprehensive understanding of site environmental conditions, impediments, and cures. The financial analysis of reaching the regulatory required environmental endpoints (clean-up levels) requires experience with a variety of remedial alternatives – there is typically no ready off-the-shelf solution. Confidence in the cost analysis for site cleanup and management during development requires a skilled, experienced environmental partner.
Over and above expertise in terms of site understanding, remedial trade-off evaluation, cost estimation and delivery, a valuable environmental partner must also possess awareness around community engagement, maintain current and productive relationships with the regulatory community, and have a solid grasp of local permitting requirements and CEQA. These skills allow the consulting team to help offer advice when needed with respect to these other areas that often intersect with traditional environmental.
The Citadel EHS brownfield redevelopment environmental team understands and has proven successful experience developing and implementing this holistic approach. We begin with a full understanding of the entirety of the project. Only then can we offer sound advice and, through an iterative engagement, refine the goals along each step of the process. We also bring experience with innovative, risk-sharing financial approaches that can make the difference between a project penciling and moving forward, or not.
As the metropolitan centers in the U.S. continue to grow, the interest in brownfields will also grow. More developers will need to take-on these challenging, sometimes complicated brownfield redevelopment projects. They will need an experienced, proven environmental partner on their development team. Citadel has this deep skill set and perspective. Citadel can be this partner.