2020 Roundtable

New York City Brownfields

The recapture for new uses of urban brownfields, generally abandoned sites of heavy manufacturing contaminated with the toxic byproducts of the past, is a long sought goal that for many years was blocked by a complex of engineering, environmental, legal, financial and community problems. Finally, in September 2003, many of these obstacles were overcome with the passage of comprehensive New York State brownfields legislation.

To take advantage of this legislation, the Office of Environmental Coordination of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection contracted with the Newman Institute to prepare a current report on New York City brownfields and provide planners and developers with needed information on them. The Newman Institute Report produced the following information and came to the following conclusions:

GIS maps were produced with the assistance of Hunter College, using vacant industrially zoned parcels as a marker for potential brownfields. In addition to basic site information, the analysis included the amount, location and percentage of waterfront sites that were likely brownfields. A key finding was the concentration of brownfields near Newtown Creek, and the resulting potential they created for an area redevelopment plan.

The standards for groundwater protection, a key concern in creating remediation standards for brownfields, should be reviewed in light of issues and opportunities unique to New York. In particular, scientific analysis, using Long Island City as a model, identified many brownfield areas where groundwater is tidally influenced and has significant salinity, suggesting that New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s groundwater policy and regulations may need to be fine-tuned for such areas.

A series of case studies of a wide variety of projects were undertaken to illustrate various community and financial issues that influence brownfields redevelopment and what alternative approaches are available to resolve them, including potential use of the new New York State Brownfields Tax Credit program.

The OEC and DEP are expected to use this information to support efforts to fine-tune brownfields policy and accelerate brownfields development.