Teamwork can transform old, dilapidated industrial and commercial properties into economically and socially beneficial community assets. The DNR’s Remediation and Redevelopment Program is willing and able to be on your local government team. We have experience with thousands of successful revitalization projects, we have grant and loan funding available, and we can help bring other key stakeholders to your table at any stage of the process. Contact us today to set up a Green Team meeting and get things going.
Wisconsin local governments seeking to catalyze redevelopment by cleaning up local brownfields have a powerful tool in their toolkit. The state’s Local Government Unit (LGU) Negotiation and Cost Recovery law lets cities, villages, counties, and other LGUs identify parties that are responsible for contamination at LGU-owned sites and then recover cleanup costs from them. This self-contained process includes public input and encourages responsible parties to agree on sharing cleanup costs – saving time and money – with help from a DNR-appointed “umpire,” or facilitator.
LGUs can pursue this process alongside the state regulatory process for cleanup, which allows local leaders to gauge cost recovery prospects while during the remedial action planning phase. The cost recovery process, known informally as the “Umpire Process,” is available at properties owned (either entirely or partially) by the LGU.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds professional service providers around the country to help local governments and tribes affected by environmental issues at brownfield properties. These professionals are part of the Technical Assistance for Brownfields (TAB) program and serve as no-cost independent advisors and resource providers for community revitalization efforts.
Wisconsin is fortunate to have two very experienced and talented TAB service providers available to our communities. Margaret Renas, from the Chicago-based nonprofit Delta Institute, is a professional engineer with a great deal of environmental consulting and community redevelopment experience. Maggie Egbarts, from Kansas State University, is the TAB Coordinator for EPA Regions 5 and 7, and has many years of experience in environmental assessment, cleanup, regulatory compliance and revitalization activities.
In late 2013, the city of Wausau received $151,171 in Ready for Reuse grant funding through Wisconsin DNR’s 104(k) revolving loan fund grant for a cleanup at 1010 North 1st Street. The property, one in a string of parcels, was identified along the Wisconsin River as part of a comprehensive riverfront redevelopment strategy. Since then, extensive work along the river corridor has occurred with the goal of bringing business and public access to what was once underused riverfront property.
The site’s history includes lumber production, manufacturing, scrap iron, and automobile parking and storage. The 3.9-acre property is one of six contiguous former industrial riverfront properties totaling 16 acres adjacent to the Wisconsin River that are planned for commercial, residential and/or recreational mixed use redevelopment known as the Riverfront Redevelopment Area.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Remediation and Redevelopment Program – along with its seven regional planning commission partners – is the recipient of a $600,000 US EPA Brownfields Grant.
The Wisconsin Brownfields Coalition will use this money to continue the Wisconsin Assessment Monies (WAM) program which provides funding to aid local governments and other eligible applicants in assessing and investigating environmental contamination at brownfields sites throughout the state. The coalition will target closed and closing manufacturing facilities to assess potential environmental contamination that could complicate reuse of the properties.
In addition to the Wisconsin DNR’s award, several other Wisconsin communities and entities were awarded US EPA Brownfields Grants:
- Stevens Point – $300,000
- Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee – $900,000
- Racine – $300,000
- Manitowoc – $300,000
- Manitowoc Community Development Authority – $200,000
- Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission – $300,000
“Clearly there is no shortage of creativity, innovation and ingenuity when it comes to brownfields redevelopment projects in the great State of Wisconsin,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator and former Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “EPA looks forward to expanding our work with our partners to redevelop brownfields so they can once again be thriving parts of their communities – spurring local economies with jobs and new businesses as well as generating tax revenues and spending.”
A full version of the US EPA press release can be found here.
The BUILD Act (Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development) was signed into law in March 2018 and is the first major legislative change to Brownfields since passage of the original statute in 2002. Specific changes include: increased eligibility for funding, additional liability protections, and changes to grant programs, just to name a few.
Join Kansas State University Technical Assistance to Brownfields Program for a free, National TAB webinar, on Wednesday, May 9 at 1:00 pm (Central), to hear about how the BUILD Act will improve the national brownfields program and support community brownfields revitalization. The webinar will feature officials from U.S. EPA, a local community, national brownfield experts, and the coordinator of the National Brownfields Coalition. Click here to register and visit the event web page to get more information about this May 9 BUILD Act webinar.
Financing can make or break a redevelopment project; however, lenders are often wary of the environmental liabilities associated with brownfields redevelopments. In order to encourage lenders to finance these projects, Wisconsin state law exempts lenders from environmental liabilities for a range of lending activities, if they meet certain statutory conditions.
In its 2015 report, Investing in Wisconsin, the Brownfields Study Group (BSG) recognized that Wisconsin’s liability exemption for lenders had recently turned 20 years old, and noted that the lending industry had evolved significantly over those two decades. The BSG recommended that a subset of the group meet with stakeholders to examine whether the exemption remains useful and relevant in light of current lending practices and regulations.
Between May 2016 and April 2017, a group of Wisconsin DNR personnel, lenders, attorneys, and trade organizations met five times to discuss, in a public forum, the various components of the state’s lender liability exemption and analyze whether the current exemption meets the needs of lenders and the public. In April 2017, this group of professionals formed a list of recommendations for the BSG, which will consider the proposed items at an upcoming public meeting.
During this effort, the Wisconsin DNR renewed its outreach efforts and strengthened partnerships with the lending community. The Wisconsin DNR reviewed its lender factsheets and updated and republished several guidance documents. The Wisconsin Bankers Association helped the Wisconsin DNR reach the WBA members by authoring informational articles in its membership publications and by distributing Wisconsin DNR’s guidance at its compliance forums, and including information in teaching materials for its compliance courses. Wisconsin DNR staff continue to reach out to bankers and lenders at statewide conferences and via Green Team meetings.
In June 2017, the city of Oshkosh received the final Wisconsin DNR approval of the remediation of the former Mercury Marine facility on the Fox River. In 2006, the city acquired the closed facility from Mercury Marine with hopes to convert the property into a new and improved community asset. The city used EPA brownfields grants for assessment and cleanup work on the properties as well as state, city, and private funding.
This property housed industrial facilities since the mid-1800s. Past uses of the land include a lumber business, candle company, and a bulk fuel tank farm. The site was then owned by the Kiekhaefer Aeromarine Company who then sold it to Mercury Marine in the mid-1970s. A range of contamination types were identified at the site as well as several feet of waste fill across the entire property. Metals, petroleum contamination, and chlorinated compounds were identified in the soil and groundwater.
The city removed much of the contamination while using buildings and parking lots to serve as a cover over the residual contaminated soil. In addition, the cleanup included an innovative approach where they left one area of heavily contaminated soil under a newly created, city owned, small park. This park serves as a protective barrier, saves project funds and creates additional public green space. This park connects to a new public riverwalk and piers along the river. The city partnered with a private developer to build three high quality apartment buildings, two specifically for senior residents. The site went through the DNR’s Voluntary Party Liability Exemption (VPLE) program and received a Certificate of Completion in August 2017 which provides liability protections for current and future property owners.
The RR Program recently updated a fact sheet on the state’s off-site environmental liability exemptions, When Contamination Crosses a Property Line: The Off-Site Environmental Liability Exemption – Wis. Stat. §§ 292.12 and 292.13, Rights and Responsibilities of Off-site, Affected Property Owners, RR-589 Please recycle old versions of this DNR document and reference to the updated document moving forward.
The update also includes content from and replaces, a publication titled, What Homeowners, Lenders and Realtors should know about Off-site Contamination, RR-927. More information about the off-site exemption, and RR Program contacts, are available on the DNR’s web page, Off-site contamination – contamination that crosses property lines.
Applications are due April 9 for the 2018 Wisconsin RPCs and DNR Great Lakes Basin Tree Planting Grant Program. The goal of the program is to increase tree planning in Wisconsin to mitigate the effects of the emerald ash borer and to help reduce runoff in urban communities. Phytoremediation efforts may be eligible.
All communities within the Wisconsin Great Lakes Basin are eligible, but this program will particularly target projects in communities:
- Within emerald ash borer quarantines
- Within watersheds with surface water quality concerns
- On tribal lands
- Within communities that are members of a Regional Planning Commission
- Within areas of concern (AOCs) for beneficial use impairments
- In Tree City USA communities
Just over $120,000 is available to help fund projects ranging in cost from $1,000 to $20,000.