Streams

Toxic Site Program Fails to Rehab Land That Needs It Most: Study

Monday, January 31, 2011

A state program that offers tax breaks to developers to clean and build on contaminated land has failed to remediate the sites that need it most, according to a study  by an environmental group.

The Brownfield Cleanup Program, begun in 2003, was intended to offer developers incentives to clean and build on toxic sites that otherwise might not attract investment. 

Instead, Environmental Advocates said hundreds millions of taxpayer dollars are being made by businessmen for developing sites that would likely have been rehabbed anyway — like a waterfront site in Long Island City, Queens, that became a swanky rental building.

Environmental Advocates analyzed census and demographic data for the 40 brownfields receiving taxpayer incentives in 2008 and 2009, and found none of them was located in a primarily black or Hispanic neighborhood. Only three projects were in areas with a high unemployment rate.

The group said that means that the $365 million spent on the program was largely wasted, as it failed to clean up the most unattractive properties.

But the developer of the Long Island City property says the program is valuable. Fred Harris, Senior Vice President for Development at AvalonBay Communities, said his company would never have removed a layer of coal tar from the site without an $18 million tax break from the state.

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Comments [1]

It's critically important that we evaluate brownfield and toxic waste programs to understand their true benefit. Many brownfields would be cleaned up anyway if they are in a reasonably prosperous development market and the costs aren't too steep.

Like all other economic development incentives, this one deserves a second look. Of course the flip side is that the most severely contaminated sites should be cleaned up anyway, whether or not there's any immediate prospect of redevelopment. Let's find that middle ground.

Feb. 01 2011 10:55 AM

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