Brownfields Basics

Brownfield sites are defined by the EPA as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” A key characteristic is that they have the potential to be reused after cleanup.

While traditionally seen as an urban issue, brownfields exist in suburban and rural areas as well. Consider the former gas station, an old rail yard or abandoned junk yard. Soil, water and air contamination can be caused by many different land use activities.

A site is classified as a brownfield by having an environmental assessment done on the property. The environmental assessment determines the extent of real or perceived contamination. Sites listed on the National Priorities List (i.e. Superfund sites) are not considered to be brownfields.

Brownfield properties are commonly redeveloped for housing, commercial or office space, recreation, “greenspace,” or governmental uses. Depending on the contaminants found at the site, the property may be subject to institutional controls such as activity and use restrictions (AURs) or groundwater management permits (GMPs). For more information on institutional controls, see the NH Department of Environmental Services Brownfields Program website.

There are a number of benefits to property owners including, but not limited to:

  • Avoiding potential environmental enforcement actions;
  • Tax benefits for cleaning up and reusing the property;
  • Reducing the likelihood that contamination will migrate off site or into groundwater and eliminating additional cleanup costs;
  • Creating good will within the community;
  • Making the property more valuable and marketable; and
  • Legacy factor-not passing a burden on to heirs.

Depending on the site, potential benefits to the community include:

  • Removing health and environmental concerns or perceptions;
  • Promoting use of existing infrastructure & reducing sprawl (reuse of existing available properties vs. new land);
  • Reducing vehicle miles traveled (due to higher location efficiency);
  • Promoting economic growth (increasing tax base and creating jobs);
  • Removing blighted property;
  • Increasing property values of nearby properties;
  • Building ties among residents, businesses, and all parties involved;
  • Building community awareness and empowering communities to address a problem that directly affects them;
  • Assistance with implementing the town Master Plan; and
  • Reducing crime in revitalized areas.

Activity and Use Restriction (AUR): controls imposed at a site to achieve or maintain a condition that is protective of human health and the environment, which is recorded in the registry of deeds for the county in which the site is located. See also Institutional Controls.

All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI): The assessment or evaluation of a property to identify potential environmental contamination and assess potential liability for any contamination present at the property. See also Phase I ESA.

Brownfields Assessment Grants (EPA): EPA’s Brownfields Assessment Grants provide funding for a grant recipient to inventory, characterize, assess, and conduct planning and community involvement related to brownfields sites.

CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act): commonly known as Superfund, this law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment.

Greenspace: this term has several different meanings, including protected areas of undeveloped landscape, open spaces for parks, and the natural environment. In urban areas it often refers to parks and greenways, while in rural areas it often applies to conservation land and the natural environment as well.

Groundwater Management Permit (GMP): a permit issued pursuant to NH RSA 485-C:4, VIII and Env-Or 607 to a site owner or responsible party to establish a groundwater management zone, manage the use of contaminated groundwater, and monitor remedial progress.

Hazardous Substance: any material the EPA has designated for special consideration under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These substances possess at least one of four characteristics (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) or appear on special EPA lists.

Infill development: new construction on previously developed land in cities or developed suburbs. The term often refers to redevelopment of small residential, commercial, or industrial properties. An important aspect of many infill development projects is the enhancement of the built environment with open space and parks.

Institutional Controls: administrative or legal measures that limit human exposure by restricting activity, use, and access to properties with residual contamination. There are two types of institutional controls one can use for a contaminated site in New Hampshire, a groundwater management permit (GMP) and an activity and use restriction (AUR).

Phase I ESA: conducted to evaluate existing environmental problems from past operations and potential environmental problems from current or proposed operations at a site. See also All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI).

Phase II ESA: conducted to confirm the presence of contamination and to further evaluate other environmental conditions identified in the Phase I ESA or transaction due diligence screening process.

REC—Recognized Environmental Concern: the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on a property under conditions that indicate an existing release, a past release, or a material threat of a release of any hazardous substances or petroleum products into structures on the property or into the ground, groundwater, or surface water of the property.

Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (Brownfields Law): 2002 law which modified EPA’s brownfields grants and technical assistance program by increasing funding authority up to $200 million per year; providing grants for assessments, revolving loan funds, direct cleanups, and job training; expanding the entities, properties, and activities eligible for brownfields grants; expanding the Brownfields Program’s applicability to sites with petroleum contamination; providing authority for Brownfields training, research, and technical assistance; and clarified Superfund liability for prospective purchasers, innocent landowners, and contiguous property owners. The law also extended liability protection for certain small-volume waste contributors and municipal solid waste contributors.

Underground Storage Tank (UST): a tank and any underground piping connected to a tank that is used to contain gasoline or other petroleum products or chemical solutions where at least 10 percent of its combined volume is underground.

Zoning: the exercise of the civil authority of a municipality to regulate and control the character and use of property.

Resources & Helpful Links

Contact Information

J. B. Mack
Assistant Director