What is a Brownfield Site?
A Brownfield site is any real property that is abandoned, idled or underutilized where environmental contamination, or perceived environmental contamination, hinders redevelopment. The hindrance comes from the fact that it is very difficult to obtain loans for redevelopment on these properties because they come with potential environmental cleanup liability. The City’s Brownfield grant program is designed to lesson that liability for prospective developers with intent to facilitate redevelopment in the City’s targeted revitalization corridors.
Who can apply for a Brownfield Grant?
Provided the prospective Brownfield site is located within the City’s Business Corridor Revitalization area, Businesses, property owners, and infill developers who have in no way contributed to the contamination are eligible to apply for the City’s Brownfield Grant programs. (See also "I caused or contributed to the contamination at a Brownfield site…how can I take part in the assessment and/or cleanup process?")
Why is redevelopment of Brownfield properties important?
Brownfield properties are often abandoned and boarded-up with owners no longer maintaining the property or paying taxes. Neglected and deserted properties can quickly become eyesores and attract vandalism and illegal dumping which degrade the environment, depress the community, and potentially put residents’ health at risk. Productively reusing such properties reduces urban sprawl, increases the tax base, cleans up the environment, encourages revitalization, and creates jobs for our community. Redeveloping Charlotte Brownfield properties automatically links economic vitality with environmental protection.
What is an environmental site assessment?
Environmental site assessments are typically conducted in phases, and are used to determine whether a site is contaminated or not. A Phase I environmental assessment is a review of available documentation and knowledge associated with the property’s historical record to see if there is known recognized environmental conditions (RECs) or the potential for environmental conditions (PECs) at the property. The scope of work for a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) should be based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) (see below definition). If the Phase I results indicate that there is known or potential contamination, the assessment of the site proceeds to the next phase.
A Phase II ESA involves sampling of the site, evaluation of the site data, and sometimes a preliminary screening level risk evaluation. The Phase II scope of work should be designed to provide results that will determine: the extent of contamination, the type of probable sources of contamination, the level of risk to humans and the environment associated with the contamination, and whether the contamination needs to be cleaned up based on a particular property’s planned reuse.
Phase I ESAs performed under EPA Brownfield grants are required to satisfy EPAs AAI rule that was developed as part of the 2002 amendments to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). AAI is a process of evaluating a property’s environmental conditions, and must be done in order to obtain certain liability protections under federal Superfund Law. If a property can be assessed through federal grant funding, it makes the site all the more attractive to a potential developer.
What is meant by “All Appropriate Inquiry” (AAI)?
All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI), is an environmental site assessment that meets the requirements of US EPA’s AAI rule (40 CFR 312). Following the requirements of AAI in a pre-purchase environmental site assessment gives a prospective purchaser liability protection from CERCLA (also known as, Superfund) for those environmental issues that are identified by the AAI assessment.
Prospective property owners who were never involved in any practices that might have contaminated the property may be eligible for liability protection from CERCLA, if AAI is conducted prior to purchasing a property. In addition, to maintain protection from CERCLA liability, property owners must comply with certain “continuing obligations” provided in the statute. For more information on the AAI rule, visit the US EPA web site at www.epa.gov. Most of, but not all, of these obligations will be met when you enter the NC Brownfields Program with the state of North Carolina and perform the work necessary to obtain a NC DENR Brownfields agreement.
Will an environmental assessment performed several years ago meet the new AAI requirements?
No. Information from older Phase I reports may be used as a resource, but the 2002 Federal Brownfields Act requires that a Phase I assessment used to meet the requirements of AAI must be completed within a year prior to taking ownership of the property. This is to ensure that the current environmental status of the property is known at the time the property is transferred. In addition, certain aspects of the AAI assessment must be completed within 180 days prior to the property transfer (i.e., the on-site investigation, the records search, the interviews, and the search for environmental cleanup liens). This protects the buyer from inadvertently accepting liability for contamination that may have occurred between the time the initial assessment was conducted and when the property actually transfers. However, the point may become moot once a Brownfields agreement is reached with the NC Brownfields Program as the agreement is a liability protection and assurance of due care vehicle for the property.
Can I have an environmental site assessment before I own the property?
Yes, if you have permission and access rights from the owner of the property. Municipalities and developers often include access rights and permission to conduct an environmental assessment as part of their pre-purchase agreement with property owners. Costs incurred prior to applying for the grant program and signing a grant contract are not eligible for reimbursement.
What types of cleanup might be necessary at contaminated sites?
Soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater or indoor air that is impacted above unrestricted use standards may need to be cleaned up at a contaminated site. Techniques have been developed to address contamination in each of these areas. In many cases, site risks can be controlled through the use of institutional controls like land use restrictions (examples include prohibiting groundwater use or limiting the site to industrial use).
Other times, more active cleanup may be needed. The type of cleanup and institutional controls selected is based on situation-specific considerations such as type of contamination, amount of contamination, depth to groundwater, intended use of the property, and extent of risk to human health or environment. Additional actions might be necessary during a building demolition phase to address issues such as asbestos or lead-based paint.
Any cleanup activities or plans must be approved for participation in the City's grant program.
I caused or contributed to the contamination at a Brownfield site…how can I take part in the assessment and/or cleanup process?
If you caused or contributed to the contamination, you cannot obtain a City Brownfield grant but the grant program can offer assistance to a prospective developer interested in buying the Brownfield site so that the property can transfer and the asset can be sold (as long as the property is abandoned, idled or underused and the transfer is not a real estate transfer for the purposes of continued operation of an already operating facility). Also, while this might facilitate the sale of this asset, it does not alleviate your past or future site liability. The City’s Brownfield grant programs do not make the determination of future liability and/or enforcement for responsible parties.
What is the Brownfield Tax Incentive?
Owners of Brownfield properties that have received Brownfield agreements with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural resources (NCDENR) are entitled to the partial City and County property tax exclusions for the first five taxable years beginning after completion of qualifying improvements. To learn more, visit the Brownfield Tax Incentive page or contact Bruce Nicholson at NCDENR at 919-733-2801 ext 353.
Are there other grant programs that I can apply for?
Visit the Business Financial Programs page to learn about other available programs you may consider applying for.