Once the heart of Connecticut’s economy, heavy manufacturing fled the state in the 1980s. In its wake, it left areas blighted by decades of industrial production.
On Jan. 26, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that the state Department of Economic and Community Development is offering grants to towns and cities for developing plans to remediate these contaminated properties, known as “brownfields.” Malloy said restoring brownfields can revitalize local economies by generating jobs and increasing property tax revenue. But the money from the grants can only go toward restoration planning, not cleanup efforts.
“Connecticut continues to be a national leader in brownfield remediation, having cleaned up hundreds of sites and put them back to use for people to live, work and raise their families,” Malloy said in a press statement. “These strategic investments have brought new life to our communities and resulted in the creation of more than 3,000 permanent jobs and over 15,000 construction jobs in the state.”
In 2016, the state gave the first round of grants to six municipalities, two of which are in New Haven County — Meriden and Waterbury. Meriden Director of Economic Development Juliet Burdelski said the city used the $100,000 it received to conduct a market assessment and study of the brownfields in its downtown transit-oriented development district.
In Meriden’s analysis, the downtown area will eventually feature mixed-use development and small businesses. Central to the city’s plan is an expansion of multifamily market rate housing meant to boost retail spending.
“Most of the brownfield sites in Meriden in our downtown district resulted from silver manufacturing,” Burdelski said. “But the silver industry moved to China in the ’80s. … We want to bring real, cleaner economics back into downtown.”
The city of New Haven is not looking to apply for a remediation grant. City Economic Development Officer Helen Rosenberg explained that funding from the state’s Brownfield Area-Wide Revitalization Planning Grant program could only be used for planning purposes, not actual redevelopment. Since New Haven has been working on brownfield reclamation for years, most blighted properties already have strategies — all that remains is the cleanup.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 450,000 brownfields exist in the United States. One study in 2017 found that brownfield remediation raised the market values of surrounding properties by 5–12 percent, increasing local tax revenue by tens of millions of dollars. Brownfields usually pose a low risk to health, though, so the health benefits of reduced exposure are small.
Many of New Haven’s brownfields are located on River Street in the Fair Haven neighborhood, Rosenberg said. Though blighted lots are scattered along the street’s length, the city has already restored about 20 acres, she added.
“I think we’re doing very well, but it’s taken years,” Rosenberg said. “Over time, brownfields have been reused, some have come down. … [New Haven having fewer brownfields than other cities] is a reflection of the fact that New Haven is an attractive place to relocate.”
New Haven’s current brownfields are the result of “historic fill,” moderately contaminated material that was used to reclaim land from the water for development. Rosenberg said that the city’s specific mixture of historic fill contains pollutants such as petroleum and lead.
Erin Wilson, director of economic development in Torrington, said coal, oil, lead and asbestos were all contaminants the city had to handle when planning its brownfield restoration. Furthering Torrington’s difficulties was the wide area the brownfields covered, which included industrial sites along the Naugatuck River and Naugatuck Railroad.
Wilson emphasized that property assessment is the key hurdle to redevelopment. Since private developers are hesitant to take on a project when they are unsure of its real cost, the city’s brownfield studies allowed them to move forward with confidence.
New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 was ambivalent about the city’s chances of receiving funding from the state, but he acknowledged the city’s commitment to brownfield remediation.
Since 2012, Connecticut has invested more than $225 million in brownfield redevelopment.
Will Wang | email@example.com