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These are before-and-after views of 14 acres formerly containing a manufactured gas plant (upper right in the black-and-white photo) and now home to a public works complex dubbed the “Taj MahGarage” by Asheville, N.C., residents. From the 1970s through the 1990s, the city built six buildings totaling 90,000 square feet. A creek runs parallel to the street from lower left to upper right.

Today, Public Works Director Mark Combs coordinates access for environmental sampling and completes an annual certification to document that deed restrictions are being followed, a process that takes about four hours. Because of a state-regulated manufactured gas plant assessment program funded by utilities in the early 2000s, he helped prepare a “snapshot” of site conditions. Between 2003 and 2006, he spent 20 hours on conference calls with an environmental consultant paid by the utility that had owned the plant, consulting with the city attorney, coordinating access for sampling, and reviewing reports.

When the entity that caused contamination can't be identified, site assessment — sampling and laboratory analysis of soil and water, documenting properties in the area that could be impacted by the contamination, and evaluating potential for vapor intrusion — and remediation costs are the responsibility of the agency or company that wants to redevelop the site.

Meanwhile, the private sector is jumping on the brownfield bandwagon in Asheville.

In April, BD90 LLC announced it will redevelop 13 acres that had housed the nation's largest tannery of its kind for mixed commercial-residential use.

The firm's $30,000 EPA assessment grant funding was provided through the Land-of-Sky Regional Council serving North Carolina's Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, and Transylvania counties. The EPA's also helping fund a national competition in which college students create an environmentally friendly, sustainable, mixed-use development design that incorporates innovative building techniques, LEED certification, and low-impact development methods. (Visit www.RecycleThisSite.org.)

THE BASICS OF BROWNFIELDS

To help overcome environmental regulatory obstacles in the redevelopment of brownfield sites, states designated with brownfield program authority through the EPA provide liability relief in the format of brownfield agreements based on individual site contamination evaluations and intended reuse.

Liability relief comes in the form of a covenant “not-to-sue,” which is intended to reduce barriers to obtaining financing. Eligibility criteria for enrollment in a brownfield program varies from state to state, but usually requires an identified developer with a redevelopment plan or project versus buy-and-resell, job creation, and perceived economic benefit for the community.

Once an agreement between the state and the developer is executed, there are ongoing requirements for compliance.

Typically, annual certifications must be completed by the property owner stating that the engineering or administrative controls — passive or active barriers to contaminant exposure, restrictions on groundwater use, etc. — placed on the property via a deed restriction continue to be used as documented in the agreement to protect the property user from the contamination.

Given the emphasis on reusing existing resources as much as possible, a public works operation can generate goodwill by converting a community eyesore into a facility that everyone can be proud of.

—Wallace (mewallace@mactec.com) is a principal environmental engineer for Mactec (www.mactec.com).