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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced efforts to help clean contaminated brownfield properties by offering approximately $10.7 million in supplemental funding to economically disadvantaged communities across the country.  The potential benefits to come from this support, such as increasing the city and county tax revenue, job growth and encouraging safer neighborhoods, have piqued the interest of cities nationwide.

The EPA defines brownfields as the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of real property that might be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Several properties are considered to be brownfields: former service stations, heavy machinery storage lots, warehouses, parking lots and abandoned railroad yards.

In Tennessee, numerous areas, including Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson and Lenoir City, have previously taken on brownfield projects. Memphis’ projects include the Shelby Farms Greenline Trail, the Wolf River Corridor and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s EPA Job Training Grant. Chattanooga was the only Tennessee city included in this year’s round of funding.

This new EPA program will provide supplemental funding, ranging from $200,000 to $500,000, to 33 successful Revolving Loan Fund grantees, facilitating cleanup and redevelopment projects in more than 40 communities. The selected communities have already achieved success in cleaning and redeveloping brownfield sites, while encouraging other communities to take action as well. According to the EPA, these investments create nearly 109,000 jobs nationwide, increase property values by 5 to 15 percent once cleanup is completed and produce $29 to $97 million in additional tax revenue for local governments in a single year after cleanup.   

The plan should have a snowball effect of sorts as the supplemental funds help maintain momentum so that more cleanups can be fulfilled. The EPA is hoping to inspire innovation to the estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated sites in the U.S. through its brownfields program. While we are on the right track, completely ridding our cities of contaminated brownfield properties will take time and a unified effort.