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May 15, 2014

NALGEP Spotlight: Cuyahoga County and the Northcoast Brownfield Coalition

Category: General
Posted by: rita

Many people know of Cuyahoga County as the home of Cleveland Ohio, and the place where the Cuyahoga River’s pollution caught fire in 1952. Local environmental professionals, however, know it as the home of a program that has funneled millions of dollars into environmental assessment and cleanup to the County’s 59 municipalities over the last five years. The County has brought together U.S. EPA Brownfields Assessment Coalition Grants and a Revolving Loan Fund Grant, and leveraged those with nearly $1.5 billion in local, state and federal funding to assess or clean up 243 sites over nearly 5,000 acres. This work has created over 8,000 jobs and retained nearly 13,000 jobs.

All of this brownfields assessment and reinvestment in the County’s municipalities has had a significant positive impact on efforts to revitalize a region that suffered terribly in the 1980s and 1990s from loss of employment and population outmigration. In 1991, Cuyahoga County initiated a study that revealed that a major hindrance to the redevelopment and reuse of existing infrastructure was the unknown contamination and environmental issues associated with site cleanup. By 1997, Cleveland Mayor Michael White identified site contamination as the #1 obstacle to the city’s urban redevelopment.

Fortunately, Cuyahoga County spearheaded the development of the Northcoast Brownfield Coalition in 2005. The basis for the formation of the coalition has ensured its continued success today: bringing the key agencies and stakeholders throughout the County together to advocate for brownfields funding and ensure that the funding goes to the highest priority projects. In 2009, the Northcoast Brownfield Coalition received a U.S. EPA Brownfields Assessment Coalition Grant for $1 million. The Coalition spent that funding within three years, and received non-EPA supplemental funding in 2012 and 2013 to assist with Phase I and Phase II Environmental Assessments and asbestos surveys on over 30 sites.

The Northcoast Brownfield Coalition has been extremely successful in obtaining and channeling funding to communities all over the County, with as many as 60 assessments at one time. When the County won a U.S. EPA Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grant in 2008, the grant allowed the County to provide subgrants to non-profits and municipalities for cleanup.  According to Laura Clark, the County’s RLF Program Manager, “The RLF subgrants have enabled us to make critical funds available to our communities that were hardest hit by brownfields.”

Although known or perceived environmental contamination has been a huge hurdle for Cuyahoga County, and assessment and cleanup programs have been effective, redevelopment of properties is an essential component of community revitalization. Fortunately, the County’s Economic Development office is a major player in the Northcoast Brownfield Coalition and has integrated its programs with the assessment and cleanup efforts, to catalyze specific projects. Its Western Reserve Fund has a commercial property reutilization vertical that has the following programs:  Redevelopment Ready, Redevelopment and Modernization, Site Expansion, and Large Scale Attraction. All of these programs are specifically designed for brownfield and grayfield sites.

A good example of successful remediation and redevelopment is the Flats East Bank project. Located on the eastern side of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, this project has the first Class A office building to be built in the County in the last 20 years. The project would not have happened, however, without assessment and cleanup funding from the U.S. EPA and the County. The Brownfields RLF Grant played a particularly important role, because during assessment, significant contamination was discovered that had been completely unanticipated. With over 1,000 jobs on the line for such an iconic and catalytic project, the Coalition decided to use Brownfields RLF funding for this “surprise” contamination, and the office building has been successfully developed.  Flats East Bank and other projects are good examples of exactly what the Northcoast Brownfield Coalition has achieved and hopes to continue in the future: ensuring that multiple funding sources come together through the County and quickly go back out to the communities poised for economic redevelopment.

For more information about Cuyahoga County, visit www.brownfields.cuyahogacounty.us.