New brownfield law could help clean up former industrial sites | Free

Proponents of a brownfield remediation and redevelopment bill approved by lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey say it could lead to new uses for old and potentially polluted industrial sites in Alabama.

“It’s going to allow individuals to sell their industrial sites,” Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollingers Island, told Alabama Daily News about House Bill 378. “It allows buyers to come in and not assume liability — that’s always been the issue on these big, old industrial sites.”

A brownfield, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is property “which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

Under the new law, owners of brownfields can voluntarily work with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to have the property assessed for pollutants. The department will create a Brownfield Remediation Reserve Fund and assess a $500 per acre fee on properties.

The fund would be used for remediation costs, capped at $4 million per property.

Once the property is assessed, new buyers only have responsibility for any damage to the property from the time they take ownership.

“Right now, no one is buying those sites because they don’t want liability,” Brown said.

Brown said the new program will help the environment, communities near the vacant and blighted sites and the state’s industrial recruitment efforts.

“We’ve got a lot of vacant (brownfield) properties around our state and we actually have a shortage of industrial sites,” he said. “This will allow old sites to become productive again and create jobs.”

The law does not change previous owners’ liability or recourse options for anyone harmed by a contaminated area, Brown said.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management supported the legislation as a way to clean-up existing vacant sites and increase communities’ tax bases.

Bradley Byrne, a former congressman and current president of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the law’s impact could be seen soon.

“We have a shortage of developable industrial sites in Alabama,” Byrne said. “… Anything we can do to make it easier, more attractive for somebody to remediate a brownfield and make it usable again, that’s a good thing.”

He said it’s unclear how many total brownfields are in Mobile County, but the known ones total at least 500 acres.

“This law will be an enticement for people to remediate the brownfields so that we can turn around and market them and develop them,” he said. Meanwhile, contaminated properties will get cleaned up.

“This is a win for everyone,” he said.

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