Share this article

print logo

Another Voice: Brownfields programs strengthen communities

By J. Justin Woods

The ability of municipalities to remediate contaminated sites and redevelop areas abandoned by the private market is hampered by a lack of resources and exacerbated by the state property tax cap. Therefore, highly functioning and integrated state-level brownfield programs are essential to revitalizing environmentally and economically distressed communities across the state.

The governor and Legislature extended the brownfield tax credits and reformed all the state’s brownfield programs as part of the 2015-2016 budget. However, with the session nearing an end, their work is not complete without also passing a bill to streamline and enhance the Brownfield Opportunities Areas program (BOA). The Senate passed the legislation, and the Assembly should immediately pass it also.

The BOA program was crafted to enable low-income communities burdened with multiple brownfield sites, high incidence of disease and high unemployment rates to identify and implement alternatives to noxious uses at reclaimed brownfield sites.

BOA accomplishes this by providing grants for area-wide redevelopment planning, which covers feasibility studies, market analyses and other important predevelopment work. In addition to being out of money, the problem with BOA is that the process has been cumbersome and slow, with multiple steps, funding cycles and long contract delays.

BOA reforms are supported by groups such as the New York Conference of Mayors, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and New Partners for Community Revitalization.

The 2015-2016 budget extends the cleanup program for 10 years, and includes important reforms to protect taxpayers and promote brownfield redevelopment, particularly upstate. The budget also extends for 10 years the state Superfund Cleanup Program, which has been instrumental in identifying, investigating and cleaning up hazardous waste sites throughout the state.

Unfortunately, the budget included minor reforms, but no new funding, for BOA. With over 120 communities presently engaged in various stages of redevelopment planning, BOA integrates the state brownfield programs and strengthens communities’ abilities to conceive a realistic, cohesive redevelopment vision that can attract private investment while building on a neighborhood or community’s character and strengths. The budget’s other brownfield reforms are significant and positive, but reforming and ultimately funding BOA is necessary to meaningfully redevelop distressed areas.

The Assembly should not let the session expire without joining the Senate in passing the BOA enhancement bill.

J. Justin Woods is a law student focusing on environmental law and public administration at Pace University. He is also a land use and sustainable development scholar at the Pace Land Use Law Center.