Kentucky nearing century mark on brownfield property reclamations

Nearly 100 properties reclaimed in less than three years

You may not know what a “brownfield” really is, but you’ve seen them.

It’s the piece of land or old building that used to be something like a pencil factory, a gas station, an old hospital or a dry cleaner that sits empty year after year. Not only is it an eyesore at times, it might sit in what would otherwise be a prime location for a business, a parking garage or something that could be useful to a public or private entity.

But because brownfields often have a complicated history of real or perceived environmental issues, the sites often sit empty or unused for long periods of time, can become blighted, an insurance liability or have other problems that make them unusable or difficult to obtain financing for purchase.

Through the Department for Environmental Protection’s Division of Waste Management, Kentucky is nearing its 100th completed brownfield reclamation project since the program began in 2012.

Why are brownfield reclamation projects so important? By reclaiming brownfield properties, we can simultaneously enhance environmental protections with a site, preserve greenfield space, and help certain areas improve in economic development. Conversely, by leaving a brownfield property idle, it can deter other economic development and possibly harm the property values adjacent to the site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates through fiscal year 2014, on average, $17.54 was leveraged for each EPA Brownfields dollar and 8.2 jobs were leveraged per $100,000 of EPA Brownfields funds expended on Assessment, Cleanup, and Revolving Loan Fund cooperative agreements.

Brownfields sites tend to have greater location efficiency than alternative development scenarios.

Another EPA study found that residential property values increased from 5.1 percent to 12.8 percent once a nearby brownfield was assessed or cleaned up. The study determined that brownfield cleanup can increase overall property values within a one-mile radius by $0.5 to $1.5 million. Initial anecdotal surveys indicate a reduction in crime in recently revitalized brownfield areas.

Reclaiming brownfield properties became a higher priority for the state in 2012. The Kentucky legislature passed laws during that legislative session to enhance programs aimed at the redevelopment of brownfields in the Commonwealth. To further support and encourage economic redevelopment of properties with real or perceived adverse environmental conditions, lawmakers created the Kentucky Brownfield Redevelopment Program.

The program provides property owners and prospective property owners (who can certify that they did not cause a release or have relationships with those who did, and who develop a plan to reuse the property safely) documentation that they will not be held responsible for conducting site investigation and remediation under Kentucky Superfund laws.

The technical definition of a brownfield property is real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

What is an example of a brownfield success story? Kentucky has several but here some examples:

Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom Pizza on Bardstown Road in Louisville, KY
Dry cleaner
Mellow Mushroom site before demolition

The location of the Mellow Mushroom Pizza on Bardstown Road in Louisville was once occupied by a company called Miracle Dry Cleaner. Dry cleaners are often candidates for brownfields because the chemicals used in the cleaning process can contaminate the site and soil surrounding it.

What was a shuttered business in an unusable building is now a thriving pizza eatery. But several steps of corrective action had to be taken to allow the business
developer to use the site, including remediating the concrete slab after demolition of the building with a synthetic barrier to prevent any contamination from seeping into the environment.

Another brownfield success story comes from Lexington. What do you do with a contaminated   brownfield that used to be a light bulb factory? In this case a bus depot
was developed there after taking many steps to ensure safety of the public. The former GE factory on Loudon Avenue is soon going to be the new home for Lextran, the transit authority for Lexington, Kentucky.

Current plans include a two-story, 20,000-square-foot, light steel framed, slab on grade, office and administration and operations facility and a one-story, approximately 23,000-square-foot maintenance facility for the bus fleet.

In order to make the site usable for Lextran, several precautions must be taken.

First, a geo-membrane vapor barrier system (Liquid Boot or similar) will be installed below all slabs for all structures intended for human occupancy (office and maintenance buildings).

A retaining wall approximately 15feet tall on the north end of the site will allow development of fuel storage, fueling and wash facilities. The new location, infrastructure  and structures will allow Lextran’s bus fleet to grow to 100 buses, 30 support vehicles and 150 employee/visitors/drivers automobile parking.

To make sure the area is safe for the human traffic it will receive, the bus parking and circulation areas will be constructed of heavy-duty concrete paving. The employee/visitor parking area will be a combination of permeable pavers and asphalt paving. Pedestrian walks will be constructed as a combination of concrete and pavers. A 4,000-square-foot outdoor patio space will be provided for shared use by drivers, maintenance and administrative staff.

The project will be designed and certified to meet federal Transit Administration regulations with a goal of meeting LEED Silver status.

Kentucky is getting closer to the hundredth brownfield reclamation project in the last three years. It’s a number to be proud of because it represents nearly 100 opportunities to revitalize neighborhoods, communities and businesses that can better serve the people of the Commonwealth in a safe and environmentally sound manner.