The Brightfields Initiative: Legislative Update

Nationwide, support for solar generation is growing, particularly as states begin to develop solar arrays on closed landfills and contaminated, abandoned properties. Brightfields – contaminated sites with potential for solar energy generation – have seen particular success on the East Coast, where states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island have implemented solar photovoltaic installations on closed landfills.

While all closed landfill sites present geo-technical feasibility challenges related to site composition and landfill contents, Minnesota faces additional state-specific legal barriers. Many of the sites enrolled in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Closed Landfill Program (CLP) are constrained by state general obligation bonds, which cover closure and continuing maintenance costs of the closed landfill sites but do not address post-closure development, such as solar installation. These bonds present a critical barrier that prevents involvement from third party developers and complicates the regulatory process for local municipalities interested in developing solar arrays on CLP sites.

The Brightfields Initiative is addressing this challenge. With a diverse set of professional backgrounds – including public and non-profit sector employees from across the country – the collective provides cost-free professional, technical, financial, and regulatory expertise and analysis for local governments across Minnesota. By assisting pilot projects, the initiative is forging a path for consistent policy, permitting, and redevelopment protocol regarding solar installation on closed landfills enrolled in the MPCA’s CLP.

The Brightfields Initiative is actively pursuing the passage of a bill for an act relating to solar energy; appropriating money for a solar generation on closed landfill properties study (SF 2471 / HF 2437). The bill would appropriate funding for the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to conduct a comprehensive study of solar photovoltaic device installation on twenty-four of the 114 sites enrolled in the MPCA’s CLP. The study would examine the legal status of CLP site constraints; assess financial barriers; evaluate potential complications posed by closed landfill site characteristics; assess the potential and logistics for solar energy generation for low-income communities, and areas where environmental justice concerns are present; establish regulatory procedure for local governments; and analyze the costs, benefits, and logistics of solar energy production on a variety of sites. In March 2019, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the bill. It was referred to the Committee on Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy, recommended for passage, and re-referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee for inclusion in the omnibus environmental finance bill.

Brightfields Initiative partners include Metropolitan Council, Great Plains Institute, MN Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA), MN Department of Commerce, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), Windustry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Renewable Energy Labs, and Minnesota Brownfields.

If you would like to learn more about the Brightfields Initiative, reach out to Liz Lucente of MnSEIA.

Emerging Contaminants: Focus on PFAS Forum Update

After a successful forum last month, we are taking a moment to reflect on the wonderful network of professionals we have the opportunity to connect with at events like our Emerging Contaminants: Focus on PFAS Forum. The day was brimming with speakers and perspectives from across the region. The range of industry experience in the room provided us all a comprehensive understanding of current PFAS regulation, remediation technology, and strategies for addressing liability concerns related to PFAS.

The day began with an introduction to the chemistry and classification of per- and polyfluoroalklyl substances from Ginny Yingling of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Ginny provided a valuable PFAS primer for the audience, outlining the structure, naming conventions, sources, and challenges associated with addressing PFAS. Next, James Kelly of MDH shared an overview of current understanding of PFAS toxicology and human health concerns. James’ presentation provided an important grounding in how our evolving understanding of PFAS toxicology is driving public concern and conservative regulatory responses at the state level across the US. Our third speaker of the day, Gary Krueger, shared an update from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) with information about the agency’s PFAS response in the East Metro and the ongoing 3M Natural Resource Damage Settlement. Ginny, James, and Gary’s presentations established a basis for understanding PFAS toxicology, human health concerns, and analytical challenges. They provided essential context for the following speakers.

PFAS are a large class of chemicals, manufactured for use in variety of applications, including food packaging, manufacturing, water and stain resistant surfaces, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams. PFAS are highly persistent, water soluble, and bioaccumulative. Two PFAS compounds (PFOA and PFOS) have gained particular public health attention, with EPA taking steps to define maximum contaminant levels (MCL), standardize groundwater cleanup regulations, and classify the two compounds as “hazardous substances.” However, these measures are pending, and the potential regulations would apply only to PFOA and PFOS, two of thousands in the PFAS class of chemicals. New PFAS sources and substances continue to be revealed, and more information is needed to determine the compounds’ toxicity and potential threat to human health.

In the face of this uncertainty, state and federal agencies have taken a conservative approach to the issue. Our fourth speaker of the day, Beverly Conerton of the MPCA, spoke to the regulatory and legal implications for remediation of PFAS contamination. We en ded the morning with a panel discussion in which Ward Swanson of Barr Engineering, Will Backe of MDH, and Nathan Eklund of Pace Analytical discussed some of the challenges associated with PFAS analysis.  The panelists provided valuable perspectives on the challenges faced by commercial labs, outlined alternative analytical approaches, and presented data quality considerations for before, during, and after sampling.

After lunch, we returned to the all-day forum to hear from Sandeep Burman of MDH. Sandeep continued Beverly’s discussion of regulatory measures, placing PFAS in national context and outlining the stakeholders and regulatory challenges associated with a broad class of chemicals with uncertain public health effects. Next, Shalene Thomas of Wood PLC and Steve Woodard of Emerging Compounds Treatment Technologies (ECT2) shared specific investigation and treatment case studies with a focus on remediation strategies. Shalene outlined the relationship between PFAS chemical composition and overland and secondary flow paths and transport methods, providing context for future remediation strategies. She cited the Pease Airport Base as a case study, where particular concern for public health spurred source area cleanup, a new groundwater system, and ongoing attention to residents’ health. Steve Woodard continued Shalene’s discussion of PFAS chemical composition, highlighting his work in Australia, where the ECT2 team utilizes a regenerable ion exchange resin system to remove PFAS from contaminated water.

Donovan Hannu of Bay West spoke next. He discussed the future of this emerging contaminant, outlining best practices in our current phase of uncertainty and highlighting the value of consistent internal policy, minimized liability chains, and the information we do have.

The day concluded with a panel discussion of what the future holds for PFAS regulation, investigation, and treatment between Jonathan Murer (Wood), Gary Krueger,  Sandeep Burman, Ward Swanson (Barr Engineering), Shalene Thomas, and Steve Woodard. Scott Tracy of Bay West provided closing remarks, reminding the group of the challenges we face in this phase of uncertainty and the necessity of varied perspectives and collaboration.

Thank you to all who attended the forum and contributed their expertise to this full and informative day. We look forward to reconvening in the future!

Learn more about current PFAS research from U.S. EPA and MPCA webpages. The Interstate Technology Regulatory Council provides important reference material regarding PFAS. View their fact sheets and find more information from ITRC here. More information about state-level engagement can be found on the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) websites.

For national context on the issue, watch the U.S. Senate hearing from September 26, 2018, a discussion of the federal role in the Toxic PFAS Chemical Crisis, and House Committee on Energy & Commerce hearing from September 6, 2018, “Perfluorinated Chemicals in the Environment: An Update on the Response to Contamination and Challenges Presented.” Read EPA’s PFAS Action Plan, announced February 14, 2019, here.



Minnesota Brownfields Goes to Washington: Recapping the National Brownfields Leadership Summit

Minnesota Brownfields Goes to Washington: Recapping the National Brownfields Leadership Summit
by Martha Faust, Minnesota Brownfields Executive Director

Last week, brownfield experts and advocates from across the country convened in Washington, D.C. for the inaugural National Brownfields Leadership Summit. Organized by the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR or “see clear”), the National Brownfields Leadership Summit (September 25-26) served as a an opportunity to learn and advocate for critical federal programs that are essential to accelerating brownfield redevelopment projects.

CCLR offers training and technical assistance to communities seeking to recycle urban land, and advocates for policy change at the federal, state, and local levels to make land reuse a priority across the country. Minnesota Brownfields serves as a member of the CCLR Advisory Board.

The National Brownfields Leadership Summit brought together public, private and nonprofit representatives for two days of intensive learning and networking. Minnesota attendees to the National Brownfields Leadership Summit included: Martha Faust (Minnesota Brownfields), Mary Finch (Hennepin County) and Heidi Timm-Bijold (City of Duluth). It was energizing to have so many brownfield types together in one location. One attendee described it as “like Burning Man for Brownfielders”.

Day one of the summit showcased the range of federal programs that support brownfield cleanup and reuse, starting with the U.S. Environmental Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields and Superfund Programs. Community revitalization success stories from around the country were presented that highlight the need and benefit of these programs. EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization Director David Lloyd was on hand to describe changes to the EPA Brownfields Program via the Program’s Congressional reauthorization earlier in 2018. The day concluded with an overview of the latest news related to the Department of Treasury’s new Opportunity Zones designation.

On day two, attendees travelled to Capitol Hill for meetings with each state’s Congressional delegation to describe the impact of EPA’s Brownfields Program on local community revitalization. Bipartisan support for the program was evident in morning remarks to the group by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY). Each lawmaker noted the good news of recent reauthorization of the Brownfields Program (via the 2018 BUILD Act). But while the program was authorized at $250 million annually, the FY19 appropriation is only $163 million. Rep. McKinley referred to $163 million as “a joke” relative to the level of need. The unfortunate reality is that unless Congress increases its appropriation to the level of $250 million, changes in EPA’s Brownfield Program may result in larger grants, but for a smaller number of communities. This isn’t good news, as already less than a third of grant proposals are funded.

Minnesota attendees to the National Brownfields Leadership Summit met with three members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation: Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04), and staff in the offices of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. Representative McCollum is in a key position of oversight of the EPA’s Budget, as the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment.

At its conclusion, the National Brownfields Leadership Summit was heralded as an inspiring and successful convening, but truly just a first step. CCLR’s Policy Director Ken Brown suggested these next steps for attendees, and the broader brownfields community as a way of creating ongoing touchpoints with policymakers:

  • Invite Congressional representatives to celebrate project milestones such as ribbon cuttings.
  • Stay in touch with Congressional offices throughout the year. For the FY2020 budgeting process, February-March are key months.

CCLR plans to reconnect its national network about outreach to members of Congress in early 2019, when they will organize a campaign to support funding for brownfield redevelopment in the FY2020 budget. CCLR’s goal is to make the National Brownfields Leadership Summit an annual event, as a complement to EPA Brownfields Conferences. Our thanks to CCLR and its partners for launching this renewed national dialog about the federal role in brownfield cleanup and reuse.

To learn more:

Visit CCLR’s website for reflections on the Summit and to access presentations and materials.
View letters sent by Minnesota Brownfields to Representative Betty McCollum, and Senators Klobuchar and Smith.
View an EPA Brownfields impact fact sheet prepared by Minnesota Brownfields.

If you have questions
about Congressional outreach, please contact Martha Faust at or Ken Brown of CCLR at

Land Reuse for Urban Agriculture

Hava Blair – Minnesota Brownfields, Program Coordinator:

My first job after college was transforming a golf course into an urban farm. I graduated with a degree in geology and a passion for food and community service, and I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the growing urban agriculture movement. Although the term “brownfield” was not in my vocabulary back then, I recognize now that our work to develop the urban farm at Riverview Gardens in Appleton, Wisconsin touched on several key considerations that apply broadly to reusing urban land to grow food.

Understand Historical Use  
As with other brownfield sites, knowledge of historical activities at your site can help identify potential contamination risks. In the case of our golf course, this meant understanding the types and locations of pesticide, fungicide, and fertilizer applications that were used during the 100+ years that the site was a private golf course. Possible soil contaminants will vary depending on the previous uses of the land.

Aerial view of the Riverview Gardens – Appleton, WI.

You can start learning more about environmental investigations and clean-ups in your community by searching the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) “What’s in My Neighborhood” (WIMN) mapping tool. This resource contains a wealth of information about potentially contaminated sites, clean-ups, environmental permits, and registrations issued by the MPCA. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has a WIMN mapping tool with information agricultural chemical spills and clean-ups throughout the state.

Identify Possible Contaminants
Some common and widespread soil contaminants in the urban environment include lead, arsenic, cadmium, and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  These contaminants can be found throughout many urban areas on residential, commercial, and industrial sites.  Depending on the previous use of a given site, other contaminants may be present. Some examples of previous uses that involve potential contaminants include: gas stations, dry cleaners, metal finishing operations, and body shops. These uses and others are red flags that require caution and further investigation before a site is used for food production.

Test the Soil
For home gardeners, the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture and University of Minnesota Extension have developed a helpful fact sheet that outlines more information about common urban soil contaminants, soil testing, and ways to minimize potential exposure if contaminants are a concern.  Eligible non-profits and local government units in Hennepin County may apply for grant assistance to test the soil in community gardens – see our Brownfield Gap Financing page for more information. For prospective urban farm businesses like the urban farm I was involved with, it may make sense to hire an environmental consultant to assess the potential risks of reusing an urban site to grow food. At Riverview Gardens, we identified the former tees and greens as areas that were at risk of heavy metal build-up from historical pesticide/fungicide use.

Consider Innovative Growing Techniques
Urban agriculture takes many forms, from small backyard gardens to intensive commercial production. Back at Riverview Gardens, we had the luxury of a large 72-acre site across the Fox River from downtown Appleton, WI to develop into vegetable gardens, orchards, and community park space. However, large open sites suitable for farming are not the norm in a fully developed urban area. Urban agriculture offers some exciting opportunities to utilize technology and existing infrastructure to grow food with a fraction of the space, water, energy, and fertilizer used in conventional farming systems.

In some cases, urban farming may involve the adaptive reuse of existing structures for indoor food production using innovative techniques such as aquaculture, hydroponics, or aeroponics. Urban Organics in St. Paul is a great example of an urban agriculture business that leverages the existing infrastructure from historic breweries on both of their sites for access to water for aquaculture systems, thus using a tiny fraction of the water used in traditional farming systems.

Recognize Gaps in Science and Policy
The land clean-up standards used today were developed to protect people from exposure to unsafe levels of contaminants during the activities associated with living or working on a site, but these do not account for specific farming activities or the risk of consuming food grown on the site. Currently, there are no definitive standards for urban soil contaminant levels that are safe for food production. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises the use of residential clean-up values as a benchmark for safe urban food production until research can provide a more definitive standard specifically for agricultural reuse on potentially contaminated sites.

Hava pictured with cabbage grown at Riverview Gardens.

Some complicating factors that impact exposure and health risk assessment for urban agriculture include many site-specific considerations: soil quality, soil chemistry, cultivation practices, plant uptake and bioavailability, and more. The U.S. EPA explains that despite these complicating factors, research has found that the predominant exposure routes of concern are direct contact with or ingestion of potentially contaminated soils. Knowing this information, it is possible to implement best management practices (BMPs) like raised beds, mulch, and building soil organic matter that can reduce risk of exposure to contaminants.

Learn More and Grow
The U.S. EPA’s “Brownfields and Urban Agriculture: Interim Guidelines for Safe Gardening Practices” provides a more detailed process for identifying and investigating potential risks at a site intended for agricultural reuse, and recommends common-sense best practices that all gardeners can use to minimize risk. Many additional resources are available about urban agriculture – a few are listed below.

Leveraging Brownfields to Drive Climate Smart Growth

Issac Evans – Research and Policy Intern:

Each April we celebrate both Earth Day and Arbor Day, two holidays focused on improving our relationship to the planet. In other words, it’s the ideal time of year to highlight the role that brownfield redevelopment can play in advancing climate friendly development here in Minnesota.

But why brownfield redevelopment over other flashier topics?

Brownfield sites have a legacy of industrial or commercial use and may contain contaminants or hazardous substances. Ironically, these sites are in a unique position to promote climate friendly development. Concentrated within the most highly developed areas of our state, brownfields are at the heart of current municipal redevelopment trends. The unique character of brownfields can and should be leveraged to mitigate current and future climate impacts into our built environment. The built environment is a primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a site where climate adaptation can occur. It influences how much energy we consume, our mode of transportation, and where we live. Like a blank canvas, a brownfield site in the heart of a city provides the potential to recreate the built environment.

Brownfield redevelopment also shares many similarities with the tenets of smart growth. Though definitions vary, smart growth means focusing on conservation strategies that help protect our health, natural environment, and make our communities more attractive and economically stronger. Due to their location in the oldest and most densely developed areas of our communities, brownfields offer strategic opportunities for municipalities to generate new sources of revenue, revitalize unproductive land, more efficiently deliver services, promote economic development, while restoring the environment.

Four broad generalized smart growth strategies connect explicitly to brownfield redevelopment: energy efficiency; renewable energy; storm water management; and sustainable remediation. The next section briefly highlights how these aspects of smart growth are not only good for the environment, but increasingly make business sense.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a least-cost strategy to meet air pollution, emissions, and other policy objectives. It is also easier to incorporate at the beginning of a development rather than through a retrofit, meaning that brownfield redevelopment is an integral part of advancing energy efficiency goals.

However, much of energy efficiency’s benefits go unrealized. There are relatively high upfront costs to build with energy efficiency in mind, but the costs produce substantial future savings on electricity and heating. What this presents in the context of brownfield redevelopment is a split incentive between developers and future owners and occupiers. Developers may think they must incur the costs of using the most energy efficient and green building techniques while forgoing the future cost savings. Owners and tenants are increasingly demanding energy efficiency and want to realize the cost savings. However, developers may actually benefit from taking steps to incorporate energy efficiency and green building practices into a project.

Reduced utilities, environmental sustainability, and better quality workspaces are often attractive to tenants, and they may pay a premium for it. In fact, an article from the Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics showed that rental market performance is reflected in significant premiums for the selling price of Energy Star-labeled and LEED-certified properties. Another study from Pivo and Fisher found “Responsible Office Properties” had net operating incomes, market values, price appreciation, and total returns higher or the same as conventional properties. In 2013, McGraw Hill Construction’s Green Retail and Hospitality Smart Market report found asset values increased 7% for retail, 11% for hotels, and 12% for restaurants, with similar increases in building return on investment. These findings were further bolstered in a collaborative study by the Institute for Market Transformation and the Appraisal institute in 2014. Locally, the St. Paul Port Authority’s Trillion BTU program helps incorporate energy efficient techniques into local redevelopment projects, producing energy expense savings for property owners while substantially reducing electric and gas consumption.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy supports transitioning our electric grid away from reliance on fossil fuels and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable options for brownfield redevelopment can include wind, solar, geothermal, and more. However, solar energy is one of the most common technologies adopted and is manifested in the brownfield context in two forms; as (1) brightfields or as (2) onsite renewable energy.

A brightfield is a brownfield, like a closed landfill, that oftentimes takes advantage of innovative techniques to install solar without penetrating the ground. Minnesota Brownfields recently wrote about the promise of capped landfills as solar sites. To summarize, solar development requires land with quality exposure to the sun, and capped landfills are often ideally suited due to their relative flatness and lack of tree cover. Brightfields are preferred in areas where no near-term form of higher or better use is planned or possible. They are one of the limited number of reuse options to bring these sites back into productive use.

Unlike a brightfield, onsite renewable generation is merged into the final design plans of a building. Though this may seem an expensive addition to a project, it can actually be a worthwhile investment for developers and benefit future owners and tenants. For tenants and owners, solar energy will offset some of their energy use. Depending on the arrangement, both larger and smaller tenants can benefit from electric bill reductions, or even generate revenue from their solar panels. In addition, larger electricity customers are attracted by the possibility of saving money on their peak demand charges. Many large companies even look to locate in places that can offer them such renewable energy and reputational benefits according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Like energy efficiency, studies have shown that developers can profit off selling or leasing their property for a premium. The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory found that the presence of solar energy increases the value of homes in California by about $6,000/kW and results in them selling 20% faster. There are similar market premiums associated with incorporating renewable energy into commercial and retail properties as highlighted in the energy efficiency section. Given the steady decline in price of solar, these benefits are likely even higher today, albeit with differences from property to property and state to state.  Overall, the trend in solar and other renewable technologies warrants continued reevaluation by developers as the economics are quickly changing. There are even options available to defray some of the upfront costs through investment tax credits, or Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE).

Low Impact Development and Storm Water

Storm water management is another component of the relationship between brownfield redevelopment and climate smart growth. There is an inherent tension between the imperative to increase infiltration on brownfield sites given the potential threat of contaminants migrating into ground or surface water.

Storm water may also threaten the integrity of previously remediated sites if they are not built with the changing climate in mind. This may create a public health issue, and/or necessitate reopening closed sites for further remediation activity. As the climate continues to warm, Minnesota’s total annual rainfall is predicted to increase, fall more heavily, and come more intermittently.

Best practices in storm water management typically call for Green Infrastructure, or Low-Impact Development, both of which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), refer to systems and practices that take advantage of or imitate natural process to “infiltrate, evapotranspirate or reuse storm water or runoff on the site where it is generated”. To accomplish this, soil and vegetation are used instead of, or in conjunction with, traditional drains, gutters, pipes and centralized treatment areas.

Just like with energy efficiency, low-impact development is easier when paired with new construction as opposed to retrofitting. Thus brownfield redevelopment’s unique position once again can lower costs of green infrastructure overall, and facilitate better storm water management practices. In fact, a 2015 report completed by CH2M Water Resources Consultants demonstrated that integrating Low-Impact Development into planned projects resulted in cost savings ranging from 30-60%.

Green and Sustainable Remediation

The remediation process offers another opportunity to promote cleaner, more environmentally friendly redevelopments. Green and sustainable remediation offers site-specific best practices, technologies, and processes to reduce the carbon and environmental footprint of a cleanup while mitigating contaminant risk. It seeks to balance community goals, economic development, and environmental impacts. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency encourages sustainable remediation best practices in its Petroleum Remediation Program.

The crux of green and sustainable remediation tracks the five core objectives of EPA’s Greener Cleanups. These include minimizing energy, water and raw material consumption, waste generation, impacts to surrounding ecosystems, and emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Achieving these goals can be as simple as implementing no idling policies onsite and reusing deconstructed materials. It can also mean more innovative approaches like solar powered pump-and-treat systems, replacing energy drawn from the grid with renewable generation, low-impact development to manage water, or even phytoremediation.

Having such a breadth of possible strategies that fall under the umbrella of green and sustainable remediation can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gives developers significant amounts of leeway to reducing carbon and environmental footprints. Developers can therefore tailor strategies in a way that works best for them. On the other hand, it makes generalization about the benefits of using green and sustainable remediation much more difficult to quantify relative to the strategies of smart growth already discussed.

Significant user benefits do exist. First, the use of these practices can improve stakeholder relations, reputation with a community, and offer a competitive advantage over other companies as green and sustainable remediation becomes the norm. A report by the Horinko Group notes that green and sustainable remediation often leads to cost and time savings for the site owner through greater efficiencies, but vary on a case-by-case basis. Like energy efficiency and renewable energy, costs often occur earlier in a project, but result in long-term net savings over the project life.

Taking Advantage of Brownfields

Brownfields have extremely high potential to become the focal point of building a cleaner, and more environmentally-friendly Minnesota. Leveraging these unique sites in such a way also does not necessarily mean incurring higher costs relative to the status quo. In fact, using energy efficiency, renewable energy, low-impact development, and green and sustainable remediation can lead to higher property values, higher rents, quicker sell times, competitive advantage, and project savings relative to the economics traditional sprawl development.

Granted, successful brownfield redevelopment inherently involves regulatory, funding, and technological challenges. However, the technologies in the sectors described above are evolving rapidly, and what once made no economic sense can rapidly become feasible. Staying current and adapting to changing incentives, regulations and market dynamics pose a challenge to would-be developers. Minnesota Brownfields strives to bridge the academic, public, and private sectors to keep the redevelopment community current with the latest policies and innovations, and to eliminate barriers to efficient redevelopment.

Interested in continuing this conversation? Minnesota Brownfields is developing educational programming on the intersection of smart growth and brownfield redevelopment in early 2019. Contact to learn more.



Funding a Brownfield Project – Putting the Puzzle Together

Properties and infill sites that are contaminated or environmentally damaged may be the most puzzling for developers. These sites, referred to as “brownfields”, exhibit added redevelopment complexities. Minnesota is fortunate to have an abundance of public resources available that help to make these redevelopments possible. Here is a rundown of the programs offered in Minnesota.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has two grant programs that can assist in financing for redevelopment projects. The programs are the Contamination Cleanup and Investigation Grants Program and the Redevelopment Grant Program.

The Contamination Cleanup and Investigation Grants Program assists communities in paying for the assessment and cleanup of contaminated sites. The grants fund a maximum of 75 percent of assessment and cleanup costs, and are available twice a year in May and November. In 2017, DEED awarded 25 grants; 8 to Greater Minnesota communities. Since the program’s inception in 1995, it has created or retained over 47,000 jobs, generated roughly $114 million in increased tax base revenue, and leveraged $6.6 billion in private investment.

DEED’s Redevelopment Grant Program has significantly benefited local communities. Redevelopment Grant Program funds can pay up to half of the redevelopment costs, with a 50 percent local match. The grant covers unique costs related to redevelopment, including: land acquisition, demolition, asbestos abatement, infrastructure improvements, and more. Fifty percent of funds are directed to Greater Minnesota communities outside of the seven county Twin Cities metro area. Since the program’s inception in 1998, there have been over 26,000 jobs created or retained and there has been an increase tax base revenue of over $37 million. In addition, the program has leveraged over $2.1 billion in private investment.

Unfortunately, the Redevelopment Grant Program was not funded by the 2017 Minnesota Legislature, and has a zero balance. Minnesota Brownfields supports funding for this critical economic development tool.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) assists in the assessment of brownfield properties through the Minnesota Targeted Brownfields Assessment Program (MNTBAP), which is administered by the MPCA Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup Program, with funds from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 Office.

Phase I and Phase II Environmental Assessments and Response Action Plans are eligible for MNTBAP funding. Applications for sites throughout Minnesota are accepted on a rolling basis and funds are awarded based on eligibility and application strength. Environmental consultants under contract with MPCA complete the MNTBAP activities for communities.

Metropolitan Council
The Metropolitan Council doles out $5 million annually through the Tax Base Revitalization Account (TBRA) to assist in the investigation and cleanup phases of brownfields projects. The goals of the TBRA include: increasing tax base, adding and maintaining jobs, expanding affordable housing, producing efficient development that encourages walking, best management practices for stormwater, and helping projects that are ready for redevelopment. Grant rounds for the TBRA are in May and November.

From 1996 to 2016, TBRA has accounted for a $118 million increase in tax base revenue and has created and retained more than 42,000 jobs. These are the results of 433 pollution cleanup grants to 46 cities and towns in the Twin Cities metro area.

Hennepin County
The Hennepin County Environmental Response Fund (ERF) awards grants to assist with the assessment and cleanup of contaminated sites for redevelopment purposes. Grants are typically offered in May and November (although the program was reduced to one grant round in 2016 and 2017 to enable special funding activities related to the Southwest Light Rail Line).  There will be two grant rounds again in 2018.

Since the ERF was created in 2001: 361 projects have received funding, 9,500 jobs have been created or retained, and there has been a $437 million increase in tax base revenue. In addition, $1.7 billion in private funds have been leveraged through ERF funded projects.

In addition, Minnesota Brownfields partners with Hennepin County to administer the Brownfield Gap Financing Program, which provides grants to non-profits for environmental assessment in Hennepin County on a rolling basis.

Ramsey County
Ramsey County also operates an Environmental Response Fund (ERF) to assist in the cleanup process of brownfield redevelopment. The program equally targets St. Paul and suburban cities in the County. Applications for funding are due in May and November.

Since the program began in 2006, there have been nearly 5,000 jobs created and more than 230 acres of land have been cleaned. For every $1 of ERF funding, there is $145 generated in new development.

United States Environmental Protection Agency
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary Federal agency for brownfield redevelopment funding opportunities. The grants and programs offered by the EPA cover all phases of the brownfield redevelopment process from the planning stages to cleanup, and environmental job training.

EPA’s Brownfields funding opportunities are: Brownfields Assessment Grants, Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Grants, Brownfields Cleanups Grants, Brownfields Area Wide Planning Grants, and Brownfields Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Grants.

The EPA awarded a Brownfield Assessment Grant to the MPCA in 2017. Grant funds are available for environmental assessment of sites in census tracts designated as Environmental Justice areas of concern. Check it out here.

The End Result
When used together, these various funding programs can make even the most difficult brownfield redevelopments feasible. Savvy developers in Minnesota have learned how to use these programs together to revitalize communities throughout our state and they continue to have a positive impact with every redevelopment effort.

Want to learn more about these programs? Visit Minnesota Brownfields Interactive Funding Finder to learn about your project’s eligibility for these programs. And take a look at recent ReScape Award winners and finalists to view successful projects, many of which leveraged a combination of these various brownfield grant programs.

Upcoming events on brownfield funding opportunities:

  • Minnesota State Funding Resources Webinar – View recording here
  • May 23: Minnesota Real Estate Journal Brownfields Summit



Dig It: Rethinking how we Manage Soil at Redevelopment Sites

Martha Faust and Sarah Sieloff (Center for Creative Land Recycling):

When is soil just “dirt”, when is it a waste, and when is it a resource? The answer may be in the eye of the beholder. Given the length of time it takes to create 1 cm3 of topsoil (estimated at 200-400 years), the current approach to managing excess soil at redevelopment sites in the United State (U.S.) merits further analysis.

Following passage of the 1980 Federal Superfund law, states, localities, and the real estate sector began considering the redevelopment potential of sites with environmental histories that were below the Superfund threshold. In 1988, the Minnesota Legislature amended the state Superfund law, creating the country’s first voluntary investigation and cleanup program, initially called the Property Transfer Program. The Property Transfer Program’s purpose was to review and approve investigation reports and response actions plans prepared by voluntary parties, and provide assurance letters to help facilitate real estate transactions. In those early days, response actions focused on excavating and disposing of contaminated fill soils. Applying cost-benefit analysis to “dig and dump” practice was not a key consideration. Success was determined by helping otherwise unmarketable properties move forward.

Fast forward to today, and we are truly living in different times. Around the world and across the country, governments have recognized the need for next-generation thinking about how we manage excess soils. New considerations include cost savings, efficiency, the advent of risk-based site cleanups, what constitutes a solid waste, as well as sustainability, resilience and climate adaptation. Factor in scarce public resources to fund redevelopment, and the need to take a fresh look at current practices is obvious.

The Center for Creative Land Recycling and Minnesota Brownfields recently teamed up to present two webinars showcasing the latest innovations in managing excess soil.  The first session covered the United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) approach to excess soils management. Sustainability considerations, as well as diminishing landfill space and sharp increases in tipping fees, led to governmental rule changes and the creation of CL:aire, a national clearinghouse in England and Wales for the exchange of both regulated and unregulated materials. CL:aire oversees a system for matching receiving and importing sites, following a Definition of Waste Code of Practice (DoW CoP). The DoW CoP enables the reuse of excavated materials on-site or their movement between sites. Since launching in 2008, the DoW CoP has resulted in nearly 3300 “declarations” or projects, and has diverted 56,106,448m3 from landfills— enough to fill over 22,000 Olympic swimming pools. Following the U.K. government’s lead, the redevelopment industry was crucial to informing and developing the DoW CoP. As a non-governmental organization, CL:aire is responsible for logistics, tracking, and quality control of professionals, providing a comprehensive system that is well beyond the capacity of most governments. It is true that liability is a far less prevalent concern in the U.K. than in the U.S. Nonetheless, U.S. governments seeking new approaches to excess soil management will find they can learn much from the CL:aire system.

The second webinar examined newer models around the U.S. for excess soil management. In 2017, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation implemented Part 360 rule changes, ending the classification of fill soils as a solid waste subject to four conditions, and providing non-landfill options for reuse of fill soils. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is currently exploring modifying state statute to enable liability protection for exporters and importers of regulated fill soils. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has teamed up with the U.S. EPA’s Cleveland office to implement beneficial reuse of dredged material at eight federally operated ports, using a process to repurpose the dredged materials for agricultural uses. And in New York City, the Office of Environmental Remediation’s Clean Soil Bank is a municipal soil exchange connecting clean fill to a variety of end uses and users, including parks and climate resilience waterfront projects. In so doing, the Clean Soil Bank has produced significant project cost savings and environmental benefits. Did you miss either or both of these webinars? Not to worry: the Center for Creative Land Recycling has you covered with slideshows and recordings.

Together, these webinars show how governments are adapting soil management rules and policy to respond to changing conditions. Cities and states are facing new challenges:  deteriorating infrastructure and diminishing landfill space; environmental justice concerns; cost efficiency; public health considerations; truck emissions; climate resilience and sustainability are all influencing the current debate. So again, we ask: when is soil just “dirt”, when is it a waste, and when is it a resource? In answering this question, one thing is certain: the rules and policies of 30 years ago are no longer sufficient to respond to current redevelopment needs.

2017 U.S. EPA National Brownfields Training Conference Recap

The 2017 EPA National Brownfields Training Conference is officially in the books. From December 4 through December 7, Minnesota Brownfields staff were in Pittsburgh at the EPA’s flagship conference for brownfields professionals. The bi-annual get together served as a tremendous opportunity to share best practices and new ideas.

A major theme that resonated throughout the conference was that there is a determined spirit shared across the country to continue pushing forward for brownfield redevelopment. There were plenty of opportunities to celebrate the amazing work that has already been done, but there was also an understanding that there is still much work to do.

Keynote speakers for the conference, Dan French of Brownfield Listings and John Paul Farmer of Microsoft, both detailed how the brownfields community is interconnected to the greater economy and society. Brownfield redevelopments are projects that impact everyone and are symbols of progress and rebuilding. As a piece of the bigger picture, brownfields serve as a spark for innovation, collaboration, and new opportunities.

Here are some major highlights of the conference from Minnesota Brownfields:

  • The biggest thrill of the week was that Minnesota Brownfields hosted a panel presentation titled “Dig It: Global Approaches to Contaminated Soil Reuse” with Nick Willenbrock of CL:AIRE, a United Kingdom NGO that operates a soil reuse system. Approximately 120 attendees came to the presentation to learn how CL:AIRE’s model for soil reuse was developed and implemented. A separate affiliate meeting followed the presentation where multiple states came to learn more. Minnesota Brownfields has worked closely with CL:AIRE over the last few years to advance the discussion of soil reuse in Minnesota. To be able to share this collaborative research with a national community was a prominent point in Minnesota Brownfields’ push to make soil reuse a reality in Minnesota.
  • Minnesota Brownfields also participated in multiple national affiliate meetings on the subject of public health and brownfields. The meetings, which were organized by the U.S. EPA, allowed Minnesota Brownfields to share the Brownfields Health Indicator Tool that was created in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health. The tool was used in a pilot project in the City of Duluth. This was a tremendous opportunity to share the tool with a national audience.
  • Minnesota Brownfields made many connections with many other state and regional organizations that operate in a similar fashion. The list includes, the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast, Center for Creative Land Recycling, Florida Brownfields Association, Georgia Brownfield Association, and the New York City Brownfield Partnership. There was also a meeting with representatives from the State of Kentucky that are interested in starting an organization similar to Minnesota Brownfields. We are excited for these relationships to grow.
  • A fun-filled evening was had at Minnesota Brownfields’ happy hour as well. Friends and colleagues, old and new alike, were able to connect and enjoy each other’s company while at the conference.

Now fully energized and motivated from the conference, Minnesota Brownfields is determined to continue our mission of promoting the sustainable reuse of contaminated land. Stay tuned as the new year approaches. We expect 2018 to be full of innovation and progress. Please consider joining us.

The Future is Bright for Solar Energy on Capped Landfills

Solar energy production has taken off in Minnesota over the past few years, and especially in the last handful of months. In 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the solar energy capacity has tripled in the state during the first quarter of the year. Currently, the energy capacity for solar in Minnesota is twelve times what it was in 2015. Community solar projects have been the main catalyst for Minnesota’s solar surge. The practice where multiple parties buy into an energy supply is attractive to many because it is a more manageable method of obtaining solar energy.

Landfills just may be another piece to the puzzle that helps Minnesota further increase solar energy production. Within the past year, landfills in Lake Elmo and St. Michael installed solar panels to assist in powering equipment that prevents the pollution of toxic gasses from the landfills. This is a practice used on capped landfills and the excess energy produced is then converted to the grid. In 2015, the city of Hutchinson unveiled the largest landfill solar project in Minnesota when 400 kw of ballasted racking mounted solar photovoltaic panels (PV) were installed on a capped landfill.

What solar energy projects need is suitable land that provides quality solar exposure. Capped landfills have the capability to provide land serviceable for (PV). A covered landfill is often not viable for commercial or industrial construction, but renewable energy is a useful alternative. Given that capped landfills tend to be flat and are mostly unhindered by surrounding trees or buildings, they provide optimal solar exposure. More often than not, landfills are located in areas with easy access for utilities and construction crews. Around the country, municipalities, utilities, and landfill owners have found that solar can be the ideal fit for capped landfills. The limited uses in repurposing can provide new economic generation for the site.

There are certain characteristics that need to be in place for a closed landfill to be suitable for a solar energy system to be installed. A south facing landfill is the optimal direction in order to obtain the most solar throughout the course of the year, and having the landfill be tilted at the corresponding latitude. Also, the waste that is underneath the landfill cap will decompose and shift over time, which alters the landfill cap. Ballasted racking systems are the traditional solar installation needed for capped landfills so that the cap is not penetrated. Concrete blocks are positioned on the ground to allow for a structure to be built that holds the solar panels while not having to install anything below the surface of the ground.

Some new technologies are emerging that negate the use of ballasted racking systems for capped landfills. Hickory Ridge Landfill in Conley, GA is on the leading edge of landfill geomembrane solar cap technology. The landfill’s 45 acre geomembrane cap is covered with 7,000 PV rolls that covers 10 acres of the landfill cap. Overall this landfill produces 1 MW of energy that is sold back to a local utility. The benefits of the solar geomembrane cap are that the panels lie flat on the surface and it allows for shifts in the land composition below the cap itself. In addition, installation is easier than a ballasted racking system. Check out a video of the science behind the Hickory Ridge Landfill.

With there being limited options available for repurposing an old landfill, solar energy has emerged as an attractive option. Solar PV installation offers a new economic incentive and with developing solar technologies, such as the PV rolls used at the Hickory Ridge Landfill, landfill solar energy can become a feasible alternative for capped landfills in Minnesota and across the country.

Visit the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Closed Landfill Program for information on alternatives for closed landfills in Minnesota.


– EPA Best Practices for Sitting Solar Photovoltaics on Municipal Solid Waste Landfills

Brownfield Health Indicator Tool Gives Blighted Sites Across the State a Healthy Second Chance

A new tool brings hope to some of Minnesota’s more than 10,000 former industrial or commercial sites that are underused or abandoned due to concerns about hazardous contaminants. Revitalizing these sites – called brownfields – can bring people and jobs back to areas, improve neighborhoods, help the environment and promote public health.

The City of Duluth is using the new Brownfield Health Indicator Tool to address the common challenges of transforming brownfields into productive community assets, including the complicated process of identifying and prioritizing redevelopment strategies that will best meet the long-term needs of the environment and community. The tool, developed in partnership with Minnesota Brownfields and the Minnesota Department of Health, aims to streamline project decision-making by focusing on health.

“From social cohesion to healthy housing to community service access, brownfield redevelopment provides an amazing opportunity to shape a wide range of factors that influence public health,” said James Kelly, environmental surveillance and assessment manager for the Minnesota Department of Health. “This tool was developed to help city planners, developers, institutions and communities across Minnesota understand these opportunities and uncover project strategies that are grounded in health equity. When you shape your process through the lens of health equity, benefits for the environment and economy will follow.”

Designed as a self-guided tool by those who influence and work on brownfield projects, the Brownfield Health Indicator Tool’s framework supports existing project decision-making processes. The tool can also help identify potential community health risks, assess the project’s proposed benefits, engage with project stakeholders and prioritize redevelopment strategies that provide multiple benefits.

Idle brownfield sites are often found in economically distressed areas, typically concentrated in urban locations, but they are also found in prime downtown and waterfront locations in nearly every community throughout the state. As abandoned sites, they disrupt ecological, economic and community connections. Revitalizing brownfield sites can offer an opportunity to bring people and jobs back to areas, resolve neighborhood blight, increase community connectivity, restore ecological balance and promote public health.

“Communities across Minnesota are looking for brownfield redevelopment best practices that balance the demands of economic growth with environmental and public health protection,” said Martha Faust, executive director of Minnesota Brownfields. “There are so many things to consider when redeveloping a brownfield site, which makes it difficult to organize and prioritize needs. Our partnerships at state and city levels have demonstrated that we can remove one of the process barriers in brownfield redevelopment by using this tool’s framework and by working on this together, we can better support the revitalization of Minnesota communities.”

The current City of Duluth Irving-Fairmount Brownfields Revitalization Plan draft draws guidance from the Brownfield Health Indicator Tool, specifically in the areas of social cohesion (integrating a neighborhood gathering space), connectivity (new pedestrian trail and improved truck circulation) and economic stability (land redevelopment for both economic development and housing). Health equity and well-being are also core principles, tied to the Imagine Duluth 2035 comprehensive planning process.

“Brownfield redevelopment is all about a do-over,” said Heidi Timm-Bijold, business resources manager for the City of Duluth. “This tool has been a critical asset in making the most of our second chance in the Irving and Fairmount neighborhoods by helping us all better understand, prioritize and elevate what health means for this community and what opportunities this redevelopment offers. By engaging the community and our research team with this tool, we were able to articulate core values for the project that we might have missed otherwise.”

Integrating the tool into their brownfield redevelopment process represents one step in the journey of leveraging brownfields as catalysts for healthy change in the City of Duluth. The city plans to take learnings from this pilot project and use them as a springboard for shaping future redevelopment efforts as it maps out land use for the Imagine Duluth 2035 comprehensive plan.

To access the Brownfield Health Indicator Tool, visit Brownfield Health Indicator Tool or Brownfields and Public Health.

For more information about the City of Duluth’s work, visit Irving-Fairmount Brownfields Revitalization Plan. The City of Duluth project is funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Area-Wide Planning Grant, which provides funding to communities to research, plan and develop implementation strategies for cleaning up and revitalizing a specific area affected by one or more brownfield sites.

Media Inquiries:

Hava Blair                                  Anne Hendrickson                                Heidi Timm-Bijold
Minnesota Brownfields           Minnesota Department of Health     City of Duluth
(612) 513-4301                          (651) 201-4171                                       (218) 730-5324



Can You Dig it? Minnesota Looks at Potential for Greater Reuse of Regulated Fill Soils

States around the U.S. have different regulations governing how regulated (contaminated) fill soils at redevelopment sites are managed, and whether they can be reused. The most common practice is what’s called “dig and dump”, or excavating soils with contaminant concentrations in exceedance of permitted levels, then hauling those soils to an area landfill to use as daily cover. Problem solved, right? Turns out, not exactly.

Hauling regulated soil to landfills is expensive. For many Minnesota metro-area redevelopment projects receiving brownfield grant funds, up to 100% of grant funding is sometimes used just for dig and dump. Given that most brownfield grant programs are oversubscribed, this is concerning. Furthermore, trucks transporting the fill soils to often remote landfills result in additional vehicle miles traveled. Elsewhere around the world, countries like Great Britain are at or nearing landfill capacity and have had to find other solutions to this problem. Meanwhile, in Minnesota there are redevelopment projects occurring in close proximity where Site A has excess soils, and Site B requires additional soils. Depending on the characteristics of the fill soils, there is the hypothetical possibility to transfer regulated soils between the sites. There could be tremendous cost savings and reduced truck traffic realized in such a scenario.

Minnesota Brownfields has studied current redevelopment practices to measure the economic and environmental cost of dig and dump. Since 2015, Minnesota Brownfields has been meeting regularly with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to consider policy revisions to allow regulated fill reuse at redevelopment sites, if certain conditions are met to ensure protection of human health and the environment. Those who work in redevelopment know that MPCA already has a policy in place to enable regulated fill reuse. Without liability protection, the policy — though well-intended — just hasn’t been used. So the current discussion is focused on providing liability protection for both the exporting and importing site. While we aren’t there yet, a change to MN Statutes is being considered to address this issue.

Want to learn more? Read more about our soil reuse study here. Or join us on Tuesday, July 18 at the State of Brownfields Update in Minneapolis, where Amy Hadiaris of MPCA and attorney Sara Peterson will present potential policy and changes. To learn more about how soil reuse works elsewhere in the world, attend the EPA Brownfields Conference December 5-7 in Pittsburgh, where Sara Peterson will moderate a panel discussion with representatives from the United Kingdom and Province of Ontario.

2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Brownfields Training Conference Preview

About 60 redevelopment professionals gathered in Washington, DC last week to review abstracts for the 2015 EPA Brownfields Conference.  I joined a small group in the Creating More Sustainable Communities track. Our group was impressed by excellent proposals from around the country spanning topics ranging from climate change, to green infrastructure, renewable energy, public benefit reuse, urban agriculture, and smart growth. It made our work more challenging, but in the end I think we came up with a strong list of offerings. And it was a great networking opportunity for Minnesota Brownfields.

The EPA will soon announce selected sessions within the next month. If your organization is considering purchasing an exhibit booth, please do so soon. Given the smaller conference venue, exhibit space and hotel rooms are expected to fill up quickly. Natalie Brown and I are now registered to attend the conference.  Are you?