Building On a Brownfield Site?

When selecting a site for a construction project, the owner must choose from utilizing a new site (greenfield site) or a brownfield site. The Environmental Protection Agency defines a brownfield site 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”. Choosing to use a brownfield site for a construction project creates some unique opportunities and challenges.

Building on a brownfield site has its advantages such as the reduced purchase price of the property, existing utility infrastructure, or ideal access and location to major highways or existing operations. However, there are also some significant risks involved with brownfield development that need to be thoroughly investigated prior to committing to the location. The first piece of recommended due diligence is to complete a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). This Phase I assessment should involve the following:

  • a review of historical property uses
  • government environmental records
  • visual inspection of the site or buildings for the presence of underground tanks, stained soils, etc.

To perform this study you should engage a reputable Environmental Consultant (EC). If an unexperienced EC performs the Phase I ESA important risks or contaminants could be overlooked causing major unexpected costs in the future.

If the results of the Phase I ESA show the presence of contamination it doesn’t mean the site is not viable. At this point your EC will likely recommend a Phase II ESA. The Phase II assessment generally includes analysis of the following:

  • sub-surface soil
  • ground water sampling
  • monitoring wells
  • air sampling
  • mold
  • asbestos
  • lead sampling

Based upon the Phase I assessment, the Phase II assessment may include several additional items. While the cost of the Phase II assessment is significantly more, it is necessary to fully understand the levels of contamination and risk related to the site.

Once the Phase II ESA is complete, a more diligent budgeting process can take place to better understand the cost impact to remediate or mitigate the hazards. Many brownfield sites qualify as a Superfund Site or, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), can provide government funding to cover the costs of remediation. While the application and approval process can be extensive and time consuming it could end up covering major development costs for the brownfield site.

After the completion of the assessments, if the owner decides to move forward on the brownfield site, the EC will provide a Due Care Plan for the project. This plan will outline the processes to mitigate or remove hazards from the site and to keep anyone working at or around the site safe. The EC should also be responsible to ensure the Due Care plan is followed and everyone on site is adhering to proper safety standards. Throughout the project, additional testing should continue as demolition takes place and earthwork and underground excavations occur. Finally, depending on what hazards exist, many Due Care Plans require some or all workers on site have additional safety training such as Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER).

Greenfield sites are certainly less complicated and offer the most flexibility when it comes to design and operation of a new facility. However, with more than 450,000 brownfield sites across the U.S., the possibility of developing on one of those should be researched and given careful consideration. There could be a brownfield site which meets your needs for much less initial capital than a greenfield site. When thinking of building your next facility contact us via email or call (260) 490-3000 so we can help you evaluate your options.