State environmental chief to celebrate brownfields milestone


A state environmental program that has created thousands of jobs and pumped $14 billion dollars into North Carolina’s economy will celebrate a milestone in Raleigh next week.

The state’s Brownfields Program recently entered into its 400th agreement with a prospective developer. The agreements create special conditions for developers to cleanup or mitigate contamination so a site can be safely redeveloped and put back into productive use.

On Dec. 14, Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, and his staff will host a short event at the Raleigh Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Raleigh, which sits next to the site of the state’s 400th brownfields project. The 10 a.m. event will showcase the former Dillon Supply warehouse, which is being converted into a mixed-use development between South West Street and South Harrington Street. 

“Without the state Brownfields Program, we would likely have 400 sites in North Carolina that would be unusable and sitting empty,” van der Vaart said. “Instead, we’ve been able to make these sites productive again, and achieve a cleaner environment and a more vibrant economy for many North Carolina communities.”

The 400th brownfields agreement will enable Kane Realty in Raleigh to clean up the former steel-fabricating facility so it can be converted into a development with retail and office space, apartments and a 1,000-space parking deck. The Dec. 14 event will start with some remarks delivered inside Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum, which is also a brownfields site.

In its 19-year history, the Brownfields Program has allowed developers to safely transform idled properties into sought-after condominiums, unique office space for tech companies, and new manufacturing facilities, said Bruce Nicholson, who leads the state’s Brownfields Program. In Raleigh, for instance, brownfields sites include Pilot Mills near William Peace University, new student housing at N.C. State University and Raleigh Union Station.

A brownfields site is an abandoned or idled property where the threat of environmental contamination has hindered its redevelopment. In a brownfields agreement, a prospective developer who did not contribute to the contamination agrees to meet all state requirements to cleanup or mitigate a property so it is safe for its proposed reuse. In exchange, the state agrees to limit the liability of the developer to the actions defined in the agreement. This allows the developer to approach a lender with a defined, instead of an open-ended, liability for environmental cleanup.

Prospective developers apply with the state for a brownfields agreement if they wish to develop a site with a history of contamination. During the application process, the program’s 14-person staff of engineers and scientists research the prospective site and review investigations and environmental testing to determine what will be needed to mitigate any contamination so the site can be safely reused. The findings of the investigations form the basis for the legal conditions the state imposes in a brownfields agreement.

This fiscal year, program staff have signed more than 50 agreements for redevelopment projects – more than in any prior year.

“This program has become more popular each year,” said Michael Scott, who directs the division that oversees the program. “We expect that popularity to grow, as more people learn about the great things we can achieve through a brownfields agreement.”                                                      

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