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Heard It Through the Grapevine: Trends in Brownfields

06 Jul 2021 12:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Brownfields, wine, good discussion-a webinar trifecta. Hopefully you didn’t miss it.  On the off chance you did, here’s the recap.  

Participants and speakers from PA, CT, NY, NJ, DE, MO, and Washington DC, shared views and asked questions on the changes they have observed in the current world of brownfield remediation, investment and redevelopment. Liz Gabor, formerly of Goldenberg Development (now with Link Logistics), Mary Ann Grena Manley of 15E Communications and Randall Jostes of Environmental Liability Transfer shared their insights in what they are observing and experiencing first-hand. Some of those observations are outlined below.  If you were unable to attend this event and would like access to the recording for a fee,  contact sboyle@geiconsultants.com and BCONE will make the arrangements with you. 

Remediation

For those of you who work in PA, you know how impactful Act 2 has been on getting brownfields put back into reuse. A second-round of Act 2 sites are being re-opened as areas that were initially capped, and are now undergoing development transformation with the ever-growing demand for land for e-commerce. Keith D’Ambrosio, VP of Whitestone Associates commented, “A good portion of our brownfield work is directly connected to sites that are being redeveloped for multifamily residential, self-storage and industrial end uses.  The multifamily development is not what I would have expected.”  

Investment

What if you are a corporation with legacy brownfields – are you proactively developing a strategy to address them? After all, asset managers are looking for responsible corporate citizens in the areas of Environment, Social and Government (ESG) to place their investment funds.  An in-depth presentation on ESG ensued, as many participants were not familiar with this initiative. The Environment and Social pieces of ESG probably have the most obvious connection to brownfields.  The manner in which corporations deal with their environmental impacts is a topic of discussion today in most board rooms. Additionally, stronger actions taken in the area of Environmental Justice and conversion/closure of polluting industries suggest that organizations are using a social lens in their decision-making. The stronger focus on environmental and social action is demonstrated by government entities as well. “The State of Delaware has invested significant public dollars into remediating brownfields for both economic and environmental benefit,” stated Marian Young, President of BrightFields.   “We have conducted much more ecological restoration lately, to the benefit of many.”

Redevelopment

We know anecdotally that brownfields are a win all around, but do you know how much of a win?  A current transformation of a former steel mill in Claymont, DE, has already dedicated $70M in investments in a new transit center that will be the catalyst for an overall estimated $450M transit-oriented reuse of the site, resulting in over 2000 new jobs and an annual output of $110M from economic activity.  Managing the risk in a real estate transaction of a contaminated site (to ensure success) is an important piece of brownfield redevelopment.  “We are seeing a trend toward sellers making environmental insurance mandatory, rather than discretionary as we’ve experienced in the past,” noted Paul Scian, Risk Analyst at Great American Insurance Group.  

Liability

The foundations of successful brownfield projects are a predictable remediation process, a reliable funding source for orphan sites and liability protections for purchasers.  When these are jeopardized, there can be heightened reluctance for brownfield redevelopers to invest in brownfield sites.  A recent case in point, as described by Neil Yoskin, partner, Cullen & Dykman LLP, involved a circumstance in which  a  developer was sued by NJDEP for response costs incurred by the agency to address groundwater contamination even though DEP had issued an NFA to the developer and the original responsible party more than 20 years ago with knowledge of the groundwater condition.   Something like that can be a real deterrent to attracting a vertical developer after a responsible party  has remediated  a site and an RAO has been issued.  

This deep discussion of brownfield trends concluded with a wine tasting, hosted by John Cifelli, General Manager of Unionville Vineyard, an awarding winning winery in Ringoes, NJ.  Attendees sipped Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, an atypical Riesling, Revolutionary Red (blend) and Cabernet Sauvignon and learned about New Jersey’s robust wine industry.  

One speaker’s observation sums up the event in grabbing the audiences’ attention.  “There were the same number of participants at the end of the program as there were from the initial program kickoff.” One can only describe that as successful in meeting its goal to inform, educate and connect the various sectors of brownfield professionals.   

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