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A National Call is Made to “Recycle America’s Land”
Third Annual Brownfields Report Released

By Judy Sheahan, Tony Iallonardo and Jubi Headley
March 6, 2000


Continuing the efforts to promote Mayor Webb’s “A New Agenda for America’s Cities”, Cedar Rapids Mayor Lee R. Clancey and Miami-Dade Mayor Alexander Penelas released the Conference’s third annual brownfields report at a press conference held in Miami-Dade on February 24.

Calling for a national commitment to recycle the thousands of brownfield sites in America’s cities, Mayor Clancey stated, “While there are success stories throughout the nation, the report we are unveiling today demonstrates that there are even more examples of missed opportunities.”

The report entitled “Recycling America’s Land: A National Report on Brownfields Redevelopment Volume III” finds brownfields redevelopment could generate 550,000 additional jobs, and up to $2.4 billion in new tax revenue for cities. The press conference was held at the Poinciana Industrial Center, a brownfield undergoing redevelopment in Miami-Dade.

Regarding the site of the release of the report, Mayor Penelas said, “The Poinciana Industrial Center is an appropriate spot to unveil this survey because it is a microcosm of the nation’s brownfield challenge. Through great effort, local residents and business people have redeveloped some of the land. We removed 10,000 cubic feet of solid waste and concrete rubble and 3,000 tons of contaminated soil. However, current federal law stands in the way of further improvements. I am pleased to join my fellow Mayors in the drive toward making brownfield recycling simpler and more efficient.”

Brownfields redevelopment and farmland preservation are among the Conference’s highest priorities. At the Winter Meeting of the Conference of Mayors, Conference President Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb presented “A New Agenda for America’s Cities” before more than 260 mayors. The ten-point “New Agenda,” which the Conference has called upon Presidential Candidates to adopt, calls for federal action to help eradicate the nation’s estimated 600,000 brownfields sites, and to restore these properties to productive use while preserving farmland and open spaces. Brownfields are abandoned or underutilized properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.

Conference President Webb

In a statement released with the report, Mayor Webb said, “As mayors, we want to see every piece of property in our cities reclaimed and put back into productive use. Brownfield sites are eyesores that blight neighborhoods and negatively impact the economic vitality of the nation. By redeveloping these brownfield sites, we are also able to utilize our existing infrastructure, including our roads and sewer systems, while easing the pressure to develop open spaces and farmland.”

The Conference’s third annual brownfields report documents the pervasiveness of the brownfields problem throughout the United States. A total of 231 cities provided information on the status of brownfields in their communities.

Key Findings

  • 210 cities estimated that they had more than 21,000 brownfields sites, which range in size from a quarter of an acre to a single site that measures 1,300 acres.

  • Of those that could estimate acreage, 201 cities had more than 81,000 acres of land that were abandoned or underutilized. This acreage is nearly the same as the total land area of the cities of Minneapolis and Pittsburgh combined.

Potential Benefits

Responding cities reported three major obstacles to the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Lack of funding was cited most often, followed by liability problems arising from Superfund legislation, and requirements for expensive environmental assessments.

Respondents were also asked to identify potential benefits that brownfields redevelopment could provide to cities:

  • Three-fourths of respondents estimated that if their brownfields were redeveloped, their cities would realize $878 million to $2.4 billion annually in additional tax revenues.

  • 187 cities estimated that more than 550,000 jobs could be created on former brownfield sites.

  • More than 180 cities said they could support additional people moving into their city without adding appreciably to their existing infrastructure. Of these, 118 respondents estimated that, collectively, they could support more than 5.8 million new people in their cities—nearly equivalent to the population of Chicago and Los Angeles combined.

An additional benefit of brownfield redevelopment cited by mayors was the preservation of farmland and greenspace, as a tangible means of curbing sprawl. “The latest statistics from the Department of Agriculture confirm that...the impact of sprawl is getting worse,” said Mayor Clancey. “On average more than three million acres of unspoiled land was developed each year from 1992 to 1997, more than doubling the 1.4 million acres lost per year from 1982 to 1992. The American Farmland Trust (AFT) calculates that fifteen percent of all land developed in our entire history as a nation was developed in the most recent five year period.”

After the press release, Mr. George Yap, CEO of LEASA Industries Inc., gave Mayors Penelas and Clancey a tour of his facility which is located at the Poinciana Industrial Center. LEASA, which is the largest manufacturer of tofu in the nation, is planning on expanding their operation to an adjacent property (also a brownfield site) which could enable Mr. Yap to double his current workforce.

Miami-Dade Commissioner, Dorrin Role, whose district includes the Poinciana property, said at the press conference, “We see this as a gold mine in the black community …we see a lot of jobs here for the black community.”

The full report, and searchable city results, is available at the Conference’s website, www.usmayors.org 

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