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Brownfields Frequently Asked Questions

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What is a brownfield?
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. Due to changes in technologies, economic forces, local priorities, among other localized forces, brownfields can be found in many corners of Alaska, in both urban and rural communities alike.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a brownfield 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 contamination.” Meeting this definition is important when applying for EPA’s grants and services. Although Alaska does not have its own definition for the term “brownfield,” the EPA definition is generally accepted by DEC’s Brownfields Program.

Why is brownfield reuse and redevelopment important and how can it benefit my community?
Communities can realize many environmental, social, and economic benefits through brownfield reuse and redevelopment, including: preserving open space that would otherwise be developed;
  • reusing valuable, existing infrastructure;
  • reducing vehicular miles traveled and associated air emissions;
  • revitalizing stressed and depressed neighborhoods;
  • increasing economic growth, employment opportunities, property values, and tax revenue; and
  • improving local safety and public health.
It is important to remember that brownfields are not only an urban problem, and reuse doesn’t have to mean new construction projects. Brownfields exist in rural Alaska as well, and often take up valuable space within a community and are harmful to subsistence resources and other traditional pursuits. Thus, recycling brownfields may have benefits to a community that are unique to it and important to its identify, but not easily quantifiable.
What is DEC’s involvement in Alaska’s brownfields?
The DEC Brownfields Program strongly supports and promotes the assessment, cleanup, and reuse of brownfields, working with local governments, tribes, and community stakeholders by providing information, funding, technical assistance, and other resources to facilitate brownfield redevelopment. In particular, DEC:
  • Provides technical assistance and services through DEC Brownfields Assessment and Cleanups (DBAC) Program
  • Provides regulatory guidance
  • Provides assistance in applying for additional grants
  • Provides community outreach and training
  • Conducts project oversight
  • Manages state database of contaminated sites
Who do I contact with questions about brownfields?
We invite you to contact us with any questions or concerns about brownfields. Lisa Griswold (907-269-2021) and Marc Thomas (907-465-5206) 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.

Understanding liability in the brownfields context is critical to anyone interested in assessing, cleaning up, and reusing brownfields. For more frequently asked questions about liability, visit the DEC Liability Issues and Brownfields page.

What types of brownfield funding or services are available to Alaskans?
Anyone can contact DEC’s Brownfields Program to learn more about the program and what resources may be available to help assess whether contamination is present at the site and, if so, how to address the contamination so the property can be safely and productively reused.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) Brownfields Program can provide direct funding or services for brownfields assessment, cleanup, revolving loans, environmental job training, technical assistance, training, and research. EPA’s Brownfields Program provides support through competitive grants for assessments and cleanup, as well as through non-competitive means through its Targeted Brownfields Assessment (TBA) Program, as well as through its team of Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) providers.

Through DEC Brownfields and Assessment and Cleanup (DBAC) services, the DEC Brownfields Program can help reduce the environmental uncertainties or conditions that hinder the reuse and/or redevelopment of an eligible property. DBAC services can include providing soil and groundwater assessments (Phase I and II), hazardous building materials (HBM) surveys, asbestos abatement and disposal, cleanup services, landfill permit assistance, et al. Generally, the application period for DBAC services runs from November through February.

In addition to providing DBACs, the DEC Brownfields Program also can provide direct, informal technical assistance to Alaskan communities and tribes, such as providing community outreach and training, researching site history and cleanup status, and facilitating collaboration with other state and federal agencies in an effort to leverage other additional resources.

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