UD Study Quantifies Economic Benefits of Delaware Brownfields Program

by Dave on May 28, 2010

Every dollar spent by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Brownfields Program returns almost $17.50 on the state’s initial investment, a University of Delaware study has determined.

Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or underutilized industrial and commercial facilities and sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by the real or perceived threat of environmental contamination. Left untouched, brownfields pose environmental, legal and financial burdens on local governments and their taxpayers. As the study illustrates, after cleanup and redevelopment, these sites can once again become powerful engines for economic growth and stability.

The study, conducted by the University of Delaware’s Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research, examined 119 brownfields properties in the program during a 10-year period through 2008. That year, the study found that remediation and redevelopment of the sites stimulated almost 700 jobs and added $394 million to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), while substantially increasing wages and personal income for Delawareans. Disposable income in Delaware grew $105 million from activities associated with site cleanup and construction in 2008.

Also, during the decade on which the study focused, the total assessed value of brownfield properties in New Castle County – where 90 percent of the state’s brownfields exist – increased more than $455 million. Sussex County brownfield properties rose more than $15 million in assessed value during the same time.

“Redeveloping contaminated sites makes sense for the economy and the environment,” said Governor Jack Markell. “By focusing on cleaning up industrial sites, we strengthen local communities and create new economic opportunities for innovative companies like Fisker Automotive looking to invest in Delaware.”

DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara noted that the study confirmed the positive economic impact of the Brownfields program. “Delaware’s Brownfield Development Program plays a vital role in promoting economic growth and environmental sustainability by protecting our natural resources. UD’s study confirms that one of the best returns on investment is redevelopment close to existing infrastructure and local communities.”

The study also found rising societal value through the brownfields program, which is instrumental in supporting non-profit redevelopment projects, including churches, community centers, parks and open space along with inclusionary housing for people with low to moderate incomes.

Economically, more than half of all brownfields in Delaware are scheduled for business use when they have been fully remediated. Of other brownfields, at least 21 are planned for residential use, 19 intended for mixed use and at least eight sites are expected to be open space. As of 2008, when the study concluded, 10 brownfields were being remediated for nonprofit agencies, such as homeless shelters and museums.

The largest concentrated collection of brownfield sites that has been transformed into a renewed landscape is along Wilmington’s riverfront that is now home to international banking firms, restaurants, residential housing, recreational amenities, retail business and public venues including the Chase Center, Blue Rocks stadium and the Delaware Children’s Museum. Key brownfield projects underway today include the remediation of the former General Motors plant in preparation for manufacturing by Fisker Automotive and the revitalization of the former Chysler plants by the University of Delaware. In Sussex County, the Cannery Village in Milton has transformed a frozen food canning industrial complex into homes, open space and commercial establishments including the Dogfish micro brewery.

“From the revitalization of the Wilmington Riverfront to the cleanup of the former General Motors plant for Fisker Automotive, the Brownfields program facilitates redevelopment of environmentally distressed sites within the state, while helping businesses create jobs in Delaware,” said Secretary Alan Levin of the Delaware Economic Development Office.

In the past, concerns over liability and the added cost of cleaning up a site have hindered the redevelopment of brownfields. The Brownfields Assistance Program, supported by the Delaware Strategic Fund, provides matching grants to owners and developers to encourage the redevelopment of brownfields. In collaboration with DNREC, DEDO has awarded nine projects through the Brownfield Assistance Program since the beginning of fiscal year 2009.

The Brownfields Development Program, initiated in 2004 under Senate Bill 328 sponsored by Senator David McBride, provides liability protection and grant funding to eligible participants. To date, 135 properties have been certified in Delaware, with more than 60 of these sites in the middle stages of cleanup and redevelopment. Additionally, 98 percent of all certified brownfield sites are redeveloped in existing urban and suburban areas of the state’s strategic spending plan, which targets investment to reduce and rebuild urban centers.

“The success of the brownfields program has exceeded expectations since the passage of legislation strengthening the program in 2004,” said Senator David McBride. “UD’s analysis confirms that investing in cleanups and redevelopment is a smart investment.”

For more information, and for a list of Delaware’s certified brownfields, visit the Site Investigation and Restoration Branch’s Brownfields website at http://www.awm.delaware.gov/SIRB/Pages/Brownfields.aspx . The study can be found at http://www.awm.delaware.gov/BAC/Documents/UD%20Economic%20Impact%20Study.pdf .

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