City of Burlington, Vermont

City of Burlington, Vermont

CEDO / City Hall Room 32
802-865-7144 / cedofd@burlingtonvt.gov
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Who Does What?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)

USEPA’s main office is in Washington, D.C. It has ten national regions. The Regional Offices administer the vast majority of programs and initiatives, and each has developed different philosophies on implementing environmental regulations.

Vermont is part of USEPA Region One, located in Boston, which has been in the vanguard of brownfields redevelopment.

The interaction between National EPA, Regional EPA, Brownfield grant recipients, and their contractors is a critical component for successful redevelopment. Additionally, there is significant cooperation and information sharing between members of Congress, Mayors, Governors, and local officials on brownfields issues, bolstered by the research work of non-profit partners like the Northeast Midwest Institute, which provides a critical role of providing scholarly analyses of the lessons learned from brownfields redevelopment across the country.
 

The Vermont Department Of Environmental Conservation (DEC)

The Vermont DEC is the regulator of brownfield sites in the state of Vermont. All activities related to the cleanup of these sites are administered and overseen by Vermont DEC.

States vary widely in how environmental laws are applied: some have contractor licensing systems and rely heavily on the private sector, many have Voluntary Cleanup laws that offer significant liability protection in return for owners agreeing to clean up within a specified timeframe and adhere to a pre-determined work plan. Some states rely heavily on enforcement, others work closely with landowners to craft solutions to site issues. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation utilizes a case management system, coupled with strong state laws, grant support, and incentive programs.

Vermont DEC manages the process of mitigating contaminated sites under the “umbrella” of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and other federal statutes. Under state law, any site that is found to be contaminated must be reported to Vermont DEC, after which each site is managed on a case-by-case basis, with an individual Site Manager assigned to evaluate and manage each site throughout the assessment and cleanup process.

The largest issue for Vermont DEC are thousands of abandoned underground storage tanks (UST’s), most of which contain residues of gas, oil, kerosene, and other hazardous substances. Many are still in the ground across the state, often in unknown locations. Many of these tanks leak, and release contaminants into the soils and groundwater. These substances can migrate onto other properties, and/or leech into the groundwater, causing significant issues for downgradient properties and water bodies. About 70% of Vermont’s polluted properties are UST sites, and the State has a program and funding source dedicated to UST’s.

Vermont DEC has made a number of changes in recent years to address brownfields issues. Some liability relief and grant assistance is available through the Vermont DEC’s Redevelopment of Contaminated Sites Program (RCP).

Vermont DEC works to keep improving the availability of resources for brownfields redevelopment, and works each year with the Vermont legislature on legislative rule changes and creation of new incentive and grant programs. Vermont DEC also works to obtain federal grant support to supplement their efforts.
 

City of Burlington

City leadership identified the revitalization of brownfield properties as a major priority in the late 1980’s. Many of the City’s properties were stigmatized with real or perceived contamination threats. In 1990, the City obtained HUD “Enterprise Community” status, and formalized a plan to reclaim brownfields, receiving significant support during public hearings and subsequent planning documents. Subsequent designation as a “Renewal Community” has reinforced this commitment, and the redevelopment of brownfields is a specific strategy in the city’s Consolidated Plan.

By the mid-1990’s, the City of Burlington and it’s nonprofit partners were very active reclaiming contaminated sites. The City purchased over 60 acres of waterfront land formerly used for bulk petroleum storage, scrap yards, and rail siding, converting 11 acres into Waterfront Park in 1991. The Thelma Maple Coop, and Multigenerational Center are examples of two of the first sites that had significant environmental issues that were resolved with successful developments resulting.

A complicating factor in these projects (and brownfields generally) is the high cost of getting reliable data on the degree and extent of contamination at each site, and to identify remediation alternatives and costs. Even in small projects, the cost for conducting Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments can reach amounts that approach or exceed the value of the property. If there is significant contamination, cleanup costs can be very excessive, often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

These problems got national attention from the Clinton administration, and beginning in 1996, USEPA started the “Brownfields Redevelopment Pilot” grant program to provide funding for Environmental Site Assessments on brownfield properties. Brownfield assessment grants were offered to states, municipalities, regional planning authorities, Indian Tribes, and state governments for the first time. These entities would use the funds to hire consultants, to perform professional site assessments on high priority brownfield sites, and promote site redevelopment..

The City of Burlington successfully applied for this funding, and was one of the first EPA Brownfield Pilot Programs. The program is managed by the Community and Economic Development Office. The City’s Brownfield grant monies are administered by EPA Region One.

Due to the success of the Burlington Brownfield program, the City was subsequently awarded additional grant monies since that time to keep the program active. Twice, Burlington has been selected as a national “Brownfields Showcase Community Finalist”, and has had two projects selected as “Success Stories” by Region One EPA: the Bus Barns project and the Waterfront Apartments project.

EPA allows several different organizational models for the administration of brownfields grants, based on the needs of specific communities. Often, a single consulting firm is be contracted to manage all Environmental Site Assessments (ESA’s) funded in a community’s brownfields program. In the case of Burlington, for most sites, ESA’s are put out for a Request for Proposals. As a result, there have been a number of companies that have provided service to the City’s program, either funded through the EPA grant, or by developers or landowners. Some of the companies that have worked on Burlington’s brownfields include:
 

  • ATC Associates
  • Clay Point Associates
  • ECS Environmental
  • Environmental Products and Services
  • Greatwood Environmental Management
  • Griffin International
  • Heindel and Noyes
  • KAS Environmental
  • Johnson Company
  • KD Associates
  • Lamoreaux and Dickensen
  • Lincoln Applied Geology
  • Mansfield Environmental
  • MacIntyre Fuels
  • Stone Environmental
  • Twin State Environmental
  • Verterre
  • Waite Environmental Management.

The City’s Brownfield program tracks and identifies potential sites that have both contamination issues and redevelopment potential. The City considers the below factors to evaluate a site for grant assistance:
 

  • Threat to human health or the environment
  • USEPA and Vermont DEC Site eligibility
  • Community Support
  • Conformance to City and Regional Plans
  • Conformance to local zoning
  • Stormwater and other environmental impacts addressed
  • Infill Development or responsible use of space
  • Historic Adaptation/re-use or design appropriate for area
  • Creation/preservation of green space on site
  • Viability of proposed re-use
  • Reputation/track record of developer
  • Financial Need
  • Likelihood of redevelopment success

 

Non-Profit Organizations

 

The role of non-profit organizations in brownfields redevelopment cannot be overemphasized. Locally, the Burlington Community Land Trust has emerged as a national leader in brownfields redevelopment. Most recently, the Waterfront Apartments project was recognized by EPA as a “Success Story”, and also received an award from Home Depot as an example of a successful green building project.
 

Congressional Delegation

Since the initiation of the national Brownfields Program, there have been a series of legislative actions related to the redevelopment of contaminated sites. Congress has created a series of new programs and funding, and has worked to find ways to reduce liability for innocent landowners and prospective purchasers.

Vermont’s congressional representatives Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch work together on crafting new legislation and obtaining new funding sources for brownfields redevelopment. This tri-partisan effort has significantly benefited the City of Burlington, and helped grow new programs across the state.

 

For more information, contact:

Gillian Nanton, Assistant Director of CEDO, 802-865-7179, or 
Kirsten Merriman-Shapiro, Project and Policy Specialist, 802-865-7284