March 6, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) on the EDA Brownfield Site Redevelopment Assistance Act of 2001.
My name is Mary Lou Bentley and I am the Executive Director of the Western Nevada Development District, which is headquartered in Carson City and serves a seven-county region in Northwest Nevada. Incorporated in 1983, the organization is a designated and funded Economic Development District recognized by the US Economic Development Administration (EDA). As a locally-controlled entity, the Western Nevada Development District is governed by a policy board consisting of county and city elected officials, business leaders and citizen representatives.
The National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) provides training, information and representation for regional development organizations serving the 82 million people living in small metropolitan and rural America. Founded in 1967 as a public interest group, NADO and its members are part of the intergovernmental partnership among federal, state and local governments. Through its research foundation, NADO also provides research, education and training opportunities for community, economic and rural development practitioners and policymakers.
NADO’s general members–-known variously as councils of government, economic development districts, planning and development districts, regional planning commissions and regional councils--provide valuable professional and technical assistance to over 1,800 counties and 15,000 small cities and towns, many of which have little or no professional staff.
Members of NADO also deliver a myriad of federal and state programs on a regional basis. Depending on local need, a regional development organization may administer and deliver aging, community and economic development, emergency management, environment, housing, small business development finance, transportation and workforce development programs.
Another important function of the 325 regional development organizations who are designated by EDA as Economic Development Districts is to bring local communities together on a regional basis to develop Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS). With EDA planning grant assistance, each regional organization formulates programs and strategies to create and retain quality jobs as well as build local institutional capacity in distressed areas.
Mr. Chairman, we strongly support the goals and intent of the EDA brownfields redevelopment legislation for three main reasons.
First, Mr. Chairman, the proposed EDA brownfields redevelopment program would significantly strengthen the current portfolio of federal brownfields programs. While the Environment Protection Agency has an exceptionally effective and important brownfields program, it is targeted almost exclusively toward helping communities assess and clean up brownfields. The EDA program would establish a unique and flexible set of tools to help local governments, regional development organizations and nonprofits redevelop and transform former brownfields sites into productive facilities.
As highlighted in two recent reports by the NADO Research Foundation, there have been a number of impediments historically to successful brownfields work in small metropolitan and rural areas. These include a lack of local professional staff expertise and time, limited project implementation funds, liability concerns and property ownership issues. In addition, redevelopment activities are very costly, with a typical project costing over $5 million. [Source: Reclaiming Rural America’s Brownfields: Alternatives to Abandoned Property. NADO Research Foundation, April 2001.]
While the recently enacted EPA brownfields legislation aggressively addresses many of these impediments, such as liability concerns and funding for assessment and cleanup, there is still a significant void in funding for redevelopment activities, including planning and technical assistance. The proposed program would not only place a priority on brownfields redevelopment within EDA, but also raise awareness in local communities about the hundreds of thousands of sites scattered around the country.
More importantly, the creation of the EDA program would reinforce the concept that local organizations have options beyond cleaning up sites to preserve green space and curb sprawl. Local communities could now pursue strategies for taking previously productive industrial and commercial facilities and returning them to viable economic centers. This represents the best of both worlds: creating jobs and increasing local revenue, while also raising community pride and environmental awareness, promoting positive land use, and encouraging reinvestments in older areas. Sites that once marred the landscape could be put back into productive use for the public and private sectors.
In studying existing brownfields efforts, the NADO Research Foundation found a host of good examples and best practices around the nation. In Vermont, for example, local elected officials and community leaders within the area covered by the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission teamed together to address six brownfields sites, including a former Goodyear plant and machine shop. Today, the adaptive reuse of the site is providing quality jobs and tax revenue to the community.
Located on a narrow strip of land between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the town of Cape Charles and Northhampton County in Virginia also proved that redevelopment is possible, even in highly distressed areas. With assistance from EDA and others, the community now has the nation’s first eco-industrial park, which features manufacturing space, conference facilities, restored wetlands, a nature trail, environmental education facility and a tertiary sewage treatment system. It even uses solar panels to cut energy costs.
Second, Mr. Chairman, the proposed EDA brownfields program would help regional development organizations and local governments incorporate redevelopment efforts into their comprehensive economic development strategies.
Acknowledging the presence of brownfields in a particular area is an important first step to considering redevelopment. Many organizations that are currently involved in brownfields work initially failed to recognize they had brownfields, but instead knew they had land that was abandoned and potentially contaminated. In many cases, this awareness coincided with the stark reality that land for development was unavailable. At this point, their sights often turn to vacant, abandoned pieces of land.
Along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, for example, the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (RDC) is assisting 120 cities and towns and five counties in economic development activities including redeveloping brownfields sites. The West Michigan Shoreline RDC annually asks local governments to submit projects for its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The suggested projects are then prioritized and sorted into EDA’s main project categories.
Within the region, both the city and county of Muskegon are recognized as leaders in taking a proactive role in brownfields redevelopment. The city has established a Brownfields Redevelopment Authority to promote the revitalization of environmentally distressed properties within the city, while the county is transforming former foundries into recreational parks, industrial parks, shopping centers, restaurants and housing. The regional organization plays the key role of coordinator, making sure that the various levels of government are communicating and sharing information.
Currently, EDA provides seed funding for local communities, predominantly through the national network of 325 Economic Development Districts, to prepare comprehensive strategies that:
§ promote economic development opportunities;
§ foster effective transportation access;
§ enhance and protect the environment; and
§ balance resources through sound management of development.
While brownfields redevelopment and revitalization is consistent with the overall goal of the planning process, most small metropolitan and rural communities have been either reluctant to tackle the issue or were unaware of potential federal assistance programs. Another major problem is the decline in the true purchasing power of the EDA planning grant program, making it difficult for most regions to add another element to the process.
While still an incredibly valuable and essential program for regions, the average district planning grant is currently about $54,000, the same average as in 1966. Adjusted for inflation, the value of a 2002 grant is less than $10,800 or 20 cents on the dollar. For districts to continue building on their successful track records, they need a well-deserved funding increase to remain on the cutting edge, informed and well versed in the latest planning issues.
We believe the legislation takes the right approach by providing supplemental planning assistance and calling for more coordination of brownfields redevelopment within the context of the existing strategy development process. It is also noteworthy that legislation specifically requires the Secretary of Commerce to be involved in coordinating efforts with other federal agencies, state and local officials, Indian tribes and nonprofit organizations.
Brownfields redevelopment activities are complex, costly and time intensive, therefore, coordination is a major key to success. This includes dialogue and partnerships among the various federal agencies, as well as at the local level between local governments, nonprofits, the private sector and the public. It also involves open communications among the various levels of government.
Third, Mr. Chairman, the proposed legislation would allow EDA to continue its successful brownfields redevelopment work without depleting its resources for other equally important initiatives. Since 1997, EDA has invested more than $250 million in more than 250 brownfield redevelopment projects nationwide. However, there is little assurance currently that the agency can sustain this level of investment, especially within the existing appropriations and authorization caps.
By establishing a specific program for brownfields redevelopment, the agency would be given the stability and sustainability required to meet the growing needs. According to the US Conference of Mayors, the redevelopment of brownfields could generate more than 550,000 additional jobs and up to $2.4 billion in new tax revenue for major cities. This number is even greater when you add the hundreds of thousands of brownfield sites in small metropolitan and rural areas. A 1999 survey of regional development organizations found that millions of dollars could be generated annually through local taxes on redeveloped brownfields property.
In addition, the program is needed to help ensure that rural areas have an opportunity to obtain implementation, technical assistance and planning funds for brownfields activities. Within both the current EPA and EDA programs the limited budgets almost force the agencies to select high profile projects in major urban areas. This frustration with the lack of resources for less populated regions was constantly mentioned during the NADO Research Foundation studies.
By separating the program, the agency would also be better positioned to assist distressed communities with their other pressing needs, whether it is recovering from a natural disaster, responding to a plant closing or expanding existing businesses. While many of the nation’s urban and suburban areas have enjoyed economic prosperity in recent years, there are still hundreds of small communities struggling to enter or re-enter the economic mainstream. Often times, EDA is the only federal agency that can help these distressed rural and small metropolitan communities.
Over the past 35 years, Mr. Chairman, EDA has developed a successful track record in partnering with local communities—including regional development organizations—to revitalize, upgrade and expand former commercial sites into industrial facilities that help create quality jobs, expand the local tax base and improve the quality of life in the area. This includes making the necessary investments in infrastructure, as well as providing often overlooked planning and technical assistance.
In conclusion, we strongly believe that the expanded brownfields redevelopment program would be a valuable addition to the EDA toolbox. The legislation would significantly strengthen the current portfolio of federal brownfields programs. It would help regional development organizations and their partners incorporate brownfields redevelopment efforts into their comprehensive economic development strategies. And, it would allow EDA to continue its brownfields work without depleting resources for its other job creation programs.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on behalf of NADO and I would welcome any questions.