Launch Slideshow

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Changing blight into beauty

Changing blight into beauty

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    From left: Todd Awe, president of TAG Realty; Amy Meadows, vice president & executive director of The Belo Foundation; Thom Hubacek, landscape architect/ project manager with Dallas Park & Recreation Department; and John Sallman, environmental department manager, principal with Terracon. Photo: David Woo/The Dallas Morning News

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    In 2002, EPA removed 30,000 sites from the Superfund list. Today, the U.S. General Accountability Office estimates the nation harbors 400,000 brownfields. CERCLIS stands for Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System, which is EPA's database of Superfund sites. A regional version is called WasteLAN. Map: U.S. Conference of Mayors

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    Like much of downtown Dallas, the soil below this former surface parking lot and future site of Belo Garden is rife with potentially carcinogenic cinder from a fire in the late 1800s. The inset image shows the land's strata: native soils underlying a former brick-paved road followed by excavated soil. Photos: Terracon Consultants Inc.

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    Hargreaves Associates

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    Hargreaves Associates

    Here's what Belo Garden will look like when completed in 2012. The white arches are fountains.

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    The Hensley Field Operations Center is the only city facility capable of converting sedans, trucks, and other equipment to run on compressed natural gas. Photo: City of Dallas

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THE ULTIMATE RECYCLING CHALLENGE

Defined by the U.S. Conference of Mayors as abandoned or underutilized properties whose redevelopment is hindered by either real or perceived environmental contamination, brownfields are an offshoot of the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, otherwise known as Superfund.

The law discouraged redevelopment by lumping both gravely and less compromised land together. In 2002, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act removed less contaminated sites from the Superfund list and absolved potential developers of liability associated with the negative impact of pollutants left behind by former owners and occupants.

The strategy's had its ups and downs since then, depending on federal priorities. The stimulus package increased funding for grants and revolving loans, making owners and developers more willing to endure the additional time — on average, several months to a year — and paperwork required to revitalize a brownfield. (EPA requires sites to be assessed according to federal standards and then entered into a state regulatory program that regulates remediation.) With Congress now focused on reducing the deficit, funding probably will tighten.

But in general, it's working. In 2002 there were roughly 600,000 brownfields; today there are 400,000.

The latest potential stumbling block is dioxin. EPA and environmentalists have been wrestling with just how toxic the compound is since 1985, and in May 2010 the agency proposed that acceptable levels be lowered from 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt) to 72 ppt. The issue is still under discussion.

The author of the following two examples of redevelopment isn't too concerned, however. As the byproduct of burning older electrical transformer oils and hydraulic oils and industrial processes that aren't common to most contaminated sites, dioxin isn't found in most brownfields.

In 2003, his client — the City of Dallas — mandated that all city construction be green. That led to a green building ordinance for private construction in August 2008. Beginning Oct. 1, public and private projects will be required to be LEED certifiable.

— Stephanie Johnston