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Udall Highlights N.M. Success Using Brownfields Program to Revitalize Communities

July 24, 2013
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    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, today led a hearing examining how a toxic site cleanup program overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has helped revitalize communities in New Mexico and across the country.

    Since 2002, the EPA's brownfields program has enabled communities in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and elsewhere to clean up and repurpose formerly polluted land, attracting economic development and creating hundreds of jobs. Nationwide, EPA has provided approximately $1.5 billion in grants, which have leveraged $19.2 billion in additional investment. As a result, the brownfields program has helped clean up more than 20,000 properties and created more than 86,000 jobs nationwide.

    Despite these successes, however, the EPA estimates that nationwide there are still 450,000 brownfields sites - properties affected by the presence of environmental contamination such as hazardous waste or other pollution.

    Earlier this year, Udall coauthored the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act to modernize and improve key elements of the Brownfields Program. The bill would increase the limit for clean-up grants and expand eligibility for certain publicly owned sites and nonprofit organizations.

    Udall focused his hearing on ways the program can be leveraged to help communities, citing specific examples from New Mexico.

    "They are often areas that no community, business or industry would redevelop because of environmental concerns or even just the perception of an environmental concern," Udall said at the hearing. "Without this type of assistance, many communities would be forced to rely entirely on their own public resources for cleanup, often when the previous occupant who contaminated the property is gone."

    "Redevelopment of brownfields sites ultimately spearheads community revitalization and economic development," Udall continued. "In New Mexico, we have had success in turning brownfields sites around."

    As chairman, Udall invited Bernalillo County Commission Vice Chair Debbie O'Malley to testify on how the brownfields program has been used in the Albuquerque area.

    O'Malley specifically talked about the impact of the program on Albuquerque's Sawmill neighborhood. The Sawmill Community Land Trust received $225,000 through the brownfields program to clean up a 27-acre particle-board manufacturing site and transform it into affordable housing. In total, Bernalillo County has received $400,000 to conduct environmental assessments of contaminated sites and to support training for employees in brownfields cleanup.

    O'Malley's full written testimony can be found here. Photos of Udall and O'Malley at the hearing can be found here. Video of Udall's opening statement can be found here, and full video of the hearing can be found here (O'Malley's testimony begins at the 1:02:00 mark).

    Another witness, Geoff Anderson, the President and CEO of Smart Growth America, noted the Santa Fe Railyard's success with the brownfields program. "The Santa Fe Railyard is exemplary of the potential benefits of brownfields redevelopment. Since the EPA's initial investment of $200,000, more than $125 million has been leveraged for the railyard from public and private sources," Anderson said in his written testimony.

    Udall added: "With the help of the city of Santa Fe and money from the brownfields program, the railyard has become a vibrant mixed-use development with art galleries, museums, a farmers' market, retail shops and office space. It's now an important contributor to Santa Fe's economy."

    "One more example is the iconic Route 66," Udall concluded. "This highway was an important pathway for migration to the West, particularly in the 1930s. When Route 66 was bypassed by the interstate system, many of the service stations and old motels along the route became dormant. The underground fuel tanks leaked, causing contamination. Brownfields grants have been used to clean up this contamination and a variety of mixed-use redevelopment has occurred. Route 66 revitalization can give an economic boost New Mexico's tourism economy."

    Earlier this week, the EPA announced it had awarded $350,000 to the New Mexico Environment Department for supplemental brownfields funding. The money goes to a revolving loan fund to help the state fund shovel-ready projects to redevelop contaminated sites. "I'm optimistic that we will see future success stories if we keep this program strong," Udall said.

    The following is Udall's opening statement as delivered:

    I welcome you to today's meeting the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health.

    First, I would like to thank and welcome the witnesses who came to share their stories and provide their input on EPA's successful brownfields program.

    We are pleased to have the chief EPA official overseeing the brownfields program with us today, Mr. Mathy Stanislaus.

    I would also like to extend a warm New Mexico welcome to Bernalillo County Commissioner Deborah O'Malley, who has experience in redevelopment of brownfields in both the public and the private sector.

    Congress established the brownfields program to provide financial incentives to clean up the thousands of brownfields sites throughout America.

    Since 2006, EPA has enrolled 42,000 properties, completed more than 68,800 cleanups and made over 644,000 acres ready for development. These sites are underutilized areas that have been contaminated by environmental pollutants.

    They are often areas that no community, business or industry would redevelop because of environmental concerns or even just the perception of an environmental concern. They are, therefore, wasted space.

    Without this type of assistance, many communities would be forced to rely entirely on their own public resources for cleanup, often when the previous occupant who contaminated the property is gone.

    Redevelopment of brownfields sites ultimately spearheads community revitalization and economic development.

    In New Mexico, we have had success in turning brownfields sites around.

    The historic Santa Fe Railyard was once a vibrant part of the community prior to World War II. It became a blighted area following suburban expansion and the opening of the interstate system. The area remained polluted and essentially vacant for decades.

    With the help of the City of Santa Fe and money from the brownfields program, the railyard has become a vibrant mixed-use development with art galleries, museums, a farmers' market, retail shops and office space.

    It's now an important contributor to Santa Fe's economy.

    Another example, the historic La Posada Hotel was once the tallest building in Albuquerque and the first with air conditioning in New Mexico. The hotel fell into disrepair until it was ultimately auctioned in 2005.

    After that, it went through a costly renovation. The new owners utilized brownfields loans to remove lead-based paint and asbestos. The hotel has reopened as the Hotel Andaluz and is the first LEED Gold Certified hotel in New Mexico - another great turnaround story.

    One more example is the iconic Route 66. This highway was an important pathway for migration to the West, particularly in the 1930s.

    When Route 66 was bypassed by the interstate system, many of the service stations and old motels along the route became dormant. The underground fuel tanks leaked, causing contamination.

    Brownfields grants have been used to clean up this contamination and a variety of mixed-use redevelopment has occurred.

    Route 66 revitalization can give an economic boost New Mexico's tourism economy. It's a great route to travel with families and learn history.

    Just yesterday, EPA awarded the state of New Mexico another $350,000 for supplemental brownfields funding. I'm optimistic that we will see future success stories if we keep this program strong.

    Earlier this year, Senator Crapo and I joined Senator Inhofe and the late Senator Lautenberg to introduce the BUILD Act-which stands for the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act.

    This bill would increase the limit for cleanup grants and expand eligibility for certain publicly owned sites and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the BUILD Act would reauthorize the program through FY2016.

    I'm proud to announce today that we have several new cosponsors, including Senator Merkley, and Senator Schatz. We also have Senator Whitehouse, Senator Hirono, and Senator Brown.

    Office Locations

    • Albuquerque
      219 Central Ave NW
      Suite 210
      Albuquerque, NM 87102
      (505) 346-6791

    • Carlsbad
      102 W. Hagerman Street
      Suite A
      Carlsbad, NM 88220
      (575) 234-0366

    • Eastside Office
      100 South Avenue A
      Suite 113
      Portales, NM 88130
      (575) 356-6811

    • Las Cruces
      201 N. Church Street
      Suite 201B
      Las Cruces, NM 88001 
      (575) 526-5475

    • Santa Fe
      120 South Federal Place
      Suite 302
      Santa Fe, NM 87501
      (505) 988-6511

    • Washington, DC
      110 Hart Senate Office Building
      Washington DC, 20510
      (202) 224-6621