Although the flight of New Haven’s manufacturers is not an anomaly for Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration is continuing to redevelop some of the state’s most dilapidated industrial centers.

In a Sept. 26 press release, Malloy announced the 12th round of state-sponsored grants for the development of brownfields — properties whose reuse, development or expansion is complicated by pollution, hazardous materials or other ecologically prevalent obstacles. This wave of grants amounts to $5 million — $4 million for remediation and $1 million for assessing the extent of pollution at selected brownfields. With the new grants, the total amount of money allocated by Malloy’s administration for the assessment and remediation of brownfields is now $223 million, which has benefited 246 factories, mills and other brownfield properties.

“We have made brownfield remediation and redevelopment an important part of our economic development agenda because of its environmental, economic, community, and fiscal benefits,” Malloy said in the press release. “Connecticut is a leader in unlocking the potential of brownfields and repurposing these properties so that they no longer drain local resources but add value and boost local economies.”

The state grants, which are awarded to successful applicants through the state’s Brownfield Area-Wide Revitalization Planning Grant program can only be used for planning projects related to remediation and assessment — not redevelopment itself. Therefore, state-sponsored grant money cannot be used for the building or renovation of new developments.

The EPA estimates that there are tens of thousands of brownfields in Connecticut, but the exact number is still unknown.

Many brownfields are the result of a dramatic decline in the use of factories and mills in the last half-century. The abandonment of such factories has left a hole in the New Haven economy. The services sector dominates New Haven employment, including over 50 percent of the city’s jobs, while manufacturing only employs 3 percent of residents. Additionally, New Haven was ranked a top-10 American city for technological startups in 2017, as reported by the News, displaying New Haven’s shift toward technological jobs.

“We’ve been left behind as an industrial legacy,” Waterbury mayor Neil O’Leary said to WTNH News 8 in September. “These factories that were once our major employers, thriving economy, mostly connected to the brass industry, and now many of them are vacant and have been sources of arson fires over the last several years.”

The state’s brownfield grant program began in 2016, when six municipalities received grants. Two of these municipalities — Waterbury and Meriden — are located in New Haven county.

Many of New Haven’s brownfields are located on River Street in the Fair Haven neighborhood, according to City Economic Development Officer Helen Rosenberg. The city has restored 20 acres of brownfield areas throughout New Haven.

According to Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner Rob Klee, brownfield properties can prove useful for developers given that the brownfields already have a developed foundation.

“Brownfield locations are also the wise choice for development and growth, as these properties and the surrounding areas have had significant infrastructure investments in water, sewer, transportation and energy,” Klee said in an interview with the EPA.

Redeveloping brownfields can provide both environmental and economic benefits throughout the entire state, according to Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner Catherine Smith.

In a statement last year, Smith said that government-sponsored programs will spur commercial activity, create new housing and address public health and safety concerns.

In addition to Connecticut’s funding to restore dilapidated sites, the Environmental Protection Agency has sponsored the Brownfields program since 1995. The grant program provides seed money to local governments to encourage the redevelopment of polluted and abandoned structures.

The EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the United States.

Nick Tabio  | nick.tabio@yale.edu