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Frequently Asked Questions About Brownfields

What is a brownfield?
A brownfield is defined as: “A piece of industrial or commercial property that is abandoned or underused and often environmentally contaminated, especially one considered as a potential site for redevelopment.”*

For purposes of obtaining financial assistance from the federal government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a definition of “brownfield” as “real property, the expansion, red evelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contamination.”** EPA goes on to identify sites that are excluded from this definition, to ensure that brownfield assistance goes only to those sites for which it is intended.

Although Alaska does not have its own definition for the term “brownfield,” the EPA definition is generally accepted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC): Brownfields are abandoned, unused, or underused properties that are hindered from desired reuse or redevelopment by real or perceived environmental contamination. A brownfield can be anything from a 200-acre industrial property, to an old lumber mill, or a small abandoned corner gas station.

Why is brownfield reuse and redevelopment important and how can it benefit my community?
Brownfield redevelopment is important in many ways: to preserve open space that would otherwise be gobbled up by urban sprawl; to reuse valuable existing infrastructure in city—planning projects; to revitalize stressed and depressed neighborhoods; to increase economic growth, employment opportunities, property values, and tax revenue; and to protect public health and the environment by reducing environmental threats.

It is important to remember that brownfields are not only an urban problem, and reuse doesn’t have to mean new construction projects. Brownfields do exist in rural Alaska, and often take up valuable space within the community and are harmful to subsistence resources and other traditional pursuits. The recycling of brownfields is important both environmentally and economically.

What is DEC’s involvement in Alaska’s brownfields?
DEC’s Contaminated Sites Program (CSP) strongly supports and promotes the reuse of brownfields through its Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup Services. DEC understands the importance of brownfield revitalization as a means to correct environmental problems. DEC’s brownfield program assists Alaskans by providing assessment services and identifying funding opportunities for assessment, cleanup, and training. Brownfield staff members also educate the public about brownfields, and are working to continually broaden brownfield awareness and redevelopment throughout Alaska.
Who do I contact with questions about brownfields?
We invite you to contact us with any questions or concerns about brownfields. Both Lisa Griswold (269-2021) and Christy Howard (465-5206) are available to help answer your questions about contaminated sites and potential brownfields, workshops and training, and funding opportunities. Please consider us your first stop for information.
What brownfield concerns are particular to Alaska?
Alaska’s urban areas have many of the same brownfield concerns as large urban centers in the rest of the country: former industrial sites, petroleum and chemical storage areas, abandoned commercial businesses, old gas stations, railroad yards, and many others. However, Alaskan rural communities have brownfields that are unique to their remote locations. Some of these sites include:
  • old canneries and fish processing facilities;
  • old fuel-storage tank farms
  • abandoned, inactive dump sites
  • logging camps
  • old civilian federal facilities such as schools and hospitals
  • and formerly used defense sites
Very often, these brownfields may directly affect a subsistence resource or recreational area.
If I assess a brownfield property, do I become liable for the contamination that is found?
Liability for contamination on a property is defined in Alaska Statute (AS) 46.03.822, which outlines those who are liable for the release of a hazardous substance. The general liability categories include:
  1. those with an ownership interest in the property;
  2. those in control of the substance at the time of the release; or
  3. those who arrange for disposal or transport of the substance.
If you are not the owner of the property on which an assessment is completed, and you did not cause or contribute to the problem, conducting a non-invasive assessment (such as a historical search or walk-through) would not cause you to be considered liable.
What types of Brownfield funding or services are available to Alaskans?
EPA’s Brownfields Program provides grants and services for eligible applicants. DEC also provides brownfield assessment and cleanup services (DBAC) to eligible applicants. Alaska has been awarded a State and Tribal Response Program Grant from EPA to fund brownfields-related work. Application periods for DEC’s DBAC services are typically from October to January. EPA accepts applications for Targeted Brownfield Assessments year-round, but only for a limited period for competitive assessments and cleanup grants.

* Definition according to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

** Public Law 107-118 (H.R. 2869), the “Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act,” signed into law on January 11, 2002.

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