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Aug 9, 2014

NALGEP Spotlight: How New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation Achieves Environmental, Social, and Economic Goals



Category: General
Posted by: rita

New York City has as many as 8,000 brownfield properties, where development may be impeded by environmental pollution because prospective developers fear the risk of government environmental liability and enforcement, construction delays and cost overruns. Most of these properties cluster in low income areas and cause disproportionate impacts. To combat this problem, NYC created the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (OER), and the office has now established over 30 technical and social equity programs. The centerpiece is the nation’s first municipal brownfield cleanup program, the NYC Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP), which was launched in 2011 to unlock vacant land for cleanup and redevelopment by minimizing development risk and, under a landmark agreement with New York State, provides both city and state environmental liability protection.

To focus efforts in low-income neighborhoods, OER’s programs emphasize engagement of citizens in grass-roots community planning for vacant land revitalization. Selected programs include grants and technical support for community-led planning in 34 low-income neighborhoods; grants for community peer-advisory assistance and cleanup on affordable housing projects; environmental education such as a video explaining the site investigation process; pro bono community services by the environmental industry; mentoring and job training placement for the disadvantaged on brownfield cleanup projects; and IT applications that achieve unparalleled transparency.

In its first three years of operation, the VCP has engendered a prolific period of brownfield redevelopment with cleanup of over 450 tax lots now completed or in process that will produce over 23,000,000 square feet of new building space, 4,000 new units of affordable housing, hundreds of small businesses and over 5,200 permanent new jobs on properties that are mostly in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The program has powerful fiscal sustainability. With initial city investment of less than $10 million, OER is facilitating over $6.9 billion in new private investment and will result in new, long- term tax revenue of over $1 billion each for NYC and New York State on properties that have been vacant an average of 12 years.

Municipal control of cleanup oversight has created many unique opportunities and spurred launch of new programs, many of which are first-of-their-kind in the nation. These include the NYC Green Property Certification Program, which has now certified the safety of over 85 properties; NYC Brownfield Incentive Grant (BIG) program, a municipal program that has issued over 100 grants and disbursed over $4,000,000 in funds, including $311,000 for community planning; and SPEED, a unique web-based environmental research engine and government database. The newest program is the NYC Clean Soil Bank, an exchange designed to transfer clean native soil removed from development projects-free of charge-to other properties that need soil for cleanup or development, including city projects that lower government costs. The program enabled free transfer of over 60,000 tons of soil in its first year and will be an important resource to improve the city’s climate change resilience and improve soil quality in open spaces.

A recently completed brownfield redevelopment project in Harlem perfectly exemplifies OER’s effectiveness in delivering economic, social, and environmental benefits to communities. In the Sugar Hill neighborhood in Harlem, a parking lot adjacent to a gas station had been vacant for two years before enrollment in the VCP in early 2012. OER approved the site cleanup plan, and subsequent remediation was so thorough that it achieved unrestricted use cleanup objectives. Now, the site features a 13-story mixed use building with 124 units of permanent, rent-stabilized affordable housing, offices for non- profit organizations, and a children's museum. The redevelopment employed 91 construction workers and will create 26 permanent jobs. The project will receive the New York City Green Property Certification, which demonstrates that it is among the safest places in New York City to live and work.

With projects like these, it is no wonder that Dr. Daniel Walsh, the founding director of OER, received a Brownfields Leadership Award from NALGEP in 2013. Since then, OER, under Dr. Walsh’s leadership, has continued implementing and creating unique programs that serve as a model for other cities. With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s emphasis on social equity, OER is poised to continue playing a central role in reaching social and economic goals for the city.

For more information, see www.nyc.gov/oer.

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