Frequently Asked Questions

What is a brownfield?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Brownfields as: Real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

Many people picture brownfields as abandoned industrial sites. That view is too narrow, as brownfields can also include commercial buildings with little or no environmental contamination. Brownfields can be warehouses, former service stations, abandoned railroad lines, dry cleaners or vacant property amongst many others.

Is there a brownfield in my community?

Is there land that is idle, vacant, or less productive than it could be? Are concerns about environmental contamination contributing to the problem? If you answered “yes” to both questions, then that property might be a brownfield.

What is the timeframe for the Lewis & Clark County Brownfields Assessment Grant?

The 2010 Lewis & Clark County Community-wide Assessment Grant funds three years of work through September 30, 2013.

What does the grant fund?

Under EPA guidelines, this grant can only be used to fund: site inventory, site assessment, community involvement, and developing cleanup and redevelopment plans.   Ten (10) percent of the grant funds will be used to develop an environmental permitting system for the Lewis & Clark County and to conduct voluntary medical testing.

What are the objectives of a brownfield inventory?

An inventory can assist in the prioritization of brownfield sites for redevelopment and create a marketing tool for interested redevelopment partners.

Why do we need brownfield inventories?

A Brownfield Inventory can assist a municipality in prioritizing sites for redevelopment by identifying its assets and liabilities in terms of redevelopment potential. With all of this information compiled, potential redevelopment partners identify sites that have the criteria they are looking for to locate their project. Easily accessible information facilitates communication with potential developers and can expedite site selection for a project. The inventory also helps the municipality keep track of issues which may be complicating site redevelopment for certain properties, therefore allowing them to dedicate resources, such as grant funding, to sites that have a higher potential for redevelopment.

How is a brownfield inventory created?

There is no standardized methodology for creating an inventory. It is important that the type of data compiled in the inventory can meet the goals of all potential users including municipal staff as well as potential redevelopment partners. Given the needs of the parties the inventory will serve, the types of information relevant to each must be identified and the data sought. To create an inventory, data must be gathered from a number of sources including, but not limited to: the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, local records of past use, and neighborhood surveys and interviews. Specific information about the property such as its structural integrity, proximity to public water and sewer service, access to major transportation routes, lien status, existing infrastructure, available parking, neighboring land use and zoning, etc. Once this information is compiled and weighted as to relevance or importance for redevelopment, a prioritization schedule can be assigned to each property.

What is a site assessment?

A site assessment, also known as a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), is a report prepared for a real estate holding which identifies potential or existing environmental contamination liabilities. The analysis typically addresses both the underlying land as well as physical improvements to the property.

Actual sampling of soil, air, groundwater and/or building materials is typically not conducted during a Phase I ESA. The Phase I ESA is generally considered the first step in the process of environmental due diligence. Standards for performing a Phase I ESA have been promulgated by the U.S. EPA and are based in part on American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM ) Standard E1527-05.  Below are the major work tasks involved in completing a Phase I ESA.

  • Performance of an on-site visit to view present conditions (chemical spill residue, die-back of vegetation, etc) ; hazardous substances or petroleum products usage (presence of above ground or underground storage tanks, storage of acids, etc.); and evaluate any likely environmentally hazardous site history.
  • Evaluation of risks of neighboring properties upon the subject property
  • Review of Federal, State, Local and Tribal Records out to distances specified by the ASTM 1528 and All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) Standards (ranging from 1/8 to 1 mile depending on the database)
  • Interview of persons knowledgeable regarding the property history (past owners, present owner, key site manager, present tenants, neighbors).
  • Examine municipal or county planning files to check prior land usage and permits granted
  • Conduct file searches with public agencies (State water board, fire department, county health department, etc) having oversight relative to water quality and soil contamination issues.
  • Examine historic aerial photography of the vicinity.
  • Examine current USGS maps to scrutinize drainage patterns and topography.
  • Examine chain-of-title for Environmental Liens and/or Activity and Land Use Limitations.

If a site is considered contaminated, a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment may be conducted, ASTM test E1903, a more detailed investigation involving chemical analysis for hazardous substances and/or petroleum hydrocarbons.

If a site is considered contaminated, a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment may be conducted, ASTM test E1903, a more detailed investigation involving chemical analysis for hazardous substances and/or petroleum hydrocarbons.

What specific area will the community-wide assessment cover?

All of Lewis & Clark County is included in the assessment area.  View the Assessment Area page on this website for maps showing the Lewis & Clark County brownfields assessment area.

Why redevelop brownfields?

Brownfields are often blight on urban neighborhoods and can potentially harm human health and the environment. Most brownfields produce little tax revenue and reduce local employment opportunities. When brownfields are investigated, cleaned up, and returned to productive use, the County, its economy and its neighborhoods benefit.

When brownfields sit idle, everybody loses. Neighbors face environmental worries and reduced property values. Cities see roads, sewers, and other infrastructure underused. New business seeks out “greenfields” or undeveloped land, encouraging sprawl. And, brownfield owners must deal with a long list of worries – from potential lawsuits to deriving too little income from their property.

What are the benefits of brownfield redevelopment?

Cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfields increases the local tax base, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land and both improves and protects the environment.   Brownfield redevelopment:

  • Benefits the community;
  • Eliminates health and safety hazards;
  • Eliminates eyesores;
  • Brings new jobs into the community;
  • Brings new investment into the community;
  • Increases the productivity of the land; and
  • Increases property values.

Why do some owners leave a brownfield property in its current condition?

Many brownfield owners are satisfied with leaving their properties in their current condition. In many cases, the neighborhood property values may seem too low to justify any sort of investment in the site.

A property owner who decides to do nothing should be sure that the decision is based on a full understanding of the situation. Unfortunately, many owners may not have full information or analyze all the implications of leaving a brownfield as is. In particular, the owner should look at possible liabilities for environmental contamination. Even potential liability can affect a business, making it harder to get credit or raise equity for projects not directly related to the brownfields. Also, a property owner who is letting a brownfield sit idle probably should make sure that things are not about to get worse. If the site is posing a health or environmental threat to neighbors, delay could lead to bigger injuries and bigger liabilities. On a site bad enough to justify government attention, an owner who waits may be inviting cleanup on expensive terms dictated by the government, possibly with years spent with attorneys arguing over the process. In such a situation, both the owner and the community may lose as the cleanup is likely to take longer, be more expensive, and not be coordinated with redevelopment options. Even when cleanup appears to be a losing proposition, prompt cleanup may make sense as a way for an owner to cut losses.

What are the benefits of brownfield redevelopment to property owners?

In addition to providing benefits to surrounding communities, property owners who clean up and reuse their brownfield properties may benefit directly by:

  • Avoiding potential environmental enforcement actions by federal, state, and local regulatory agencies that could impose penalties and costly cleanups;
  • Receiving tax benefits for cleaning up and reusing the property;
  • Reducing the likelihood that contamination from the property will migrate off-site or into the groundwater under the site,
  • Limiting liability for, and long-term costs of, cleaning up the property;
  • Creating goodwill within the community;
  • Reducing the potential need to address liabilities associated with the property in financial statements and Securities and Exchange Commission filings; and
  • Realizing an enhanced return from the property by making it more valuable and marketable.

What are the barriers to Brownfields redevelopment?

Communities, municipalities, and private investors encounter many impediments to redeveloping brownfields, such as:

  • Concerns about liability
  • Potential environmental concerns
  • Lack of funding for investigation and cleanup
  • Unfavorable neighborhood or market conditions
  • Reluctance to invest in distressed communities due to concerns with socio-economic conditions
  • Lack of community support

Who is involved in brownfield redevelopment?

One important goal of Lewis & Clark County’s brownfields assessment is to involve the many different stakeholders within the community. A variety of private and public sector organizations will play a role in identifying and redeveloping brownfield sites. Key players include: citizens, community groups, developers, community development corporations, the Brownfields Task Force, Lewis & Clark County Health Department, the Cities of Helena and East Helena, the unincorporated communities within the County and neighborhood groups, among many others.

How do I become involved?

You don’t have to be an elected official, environmental specialist, or property owner to identify potential brownfield sites in the target area and envision a better, more productive use for those sites.  As a member of the community, your help is needed to assist with identifying potential brownfields sites, select those sites that have the greatest potential for development or redevelopment, and plan for potential cleanup and development that meets the needs of the community.

A series of public meetings will be held for your input and involvement. Dates for these meetings will be announced at a later time.

Where can I find additional information?

Information is available online from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website at www.epa.gov/brownfields.
The project website at www.lcc-brownfields will be updated to provide information on the program and upcoming public meetings.

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