Municipal Cleanup Grants are a Winning Bet for Economic Development Dollars

Municipalities are looking for ways to clean up their neighborhoods, and local governments, especially those located in the former manufacturing cities of upstate New York, are finding a laundry list of vacant industrial sites within their borders that require remediation and revitalization.

Unfortunately, money available to turn around these former economic drivers is in short supply compared to the task at hand. This year, New York State allocated $12 million in grants to municipalities for the cleanup of publicly owned brownfield sites through the Environmental Restoration Program (ERP). However, this new influx of capital was quickly absorbed by municipal projects that had applied for state support years ago.

Broome County, home to the City of Binghamton, took this funding shortfall into its own hands by increasing the county’s hotel-motel occupancy tax by 2%, devoting half of the additional revenue, $250,000, for cleanups. But many of New York’s counties would be hard pressed to garner the necessary support to levy additional taxes to fund such cleanup efforts and Broome County has acknowledged that the $250,000 it has managed to raise is only a drop in the bucket compared to the multimillion dollar projects it has prioritized for remediation.

The state recognized the value in funding municipal brownfield cleanups in 1996 when Governor Pataki, with strong support from the legislature, included $200 million for the ERP in a $1.75 billion voter-approved Bond Act. This money has long since been expended on remediation projects across New York leaving many communities that have applied for funds waiting in the queue. And the backlog is such that the Department of Environmental Conservation stopped accepting new applications in 2008.

But just how much potential is out there for transforming derelict industrial sites into productive community assets?

Municipalities and non-profit organizations -supporting the inclusion of ERP funding in a proposed 2009 bond act- estimated that $100 million would be necessary to accommodate sites already awaiting ERP awards with an additional $400 million needed to cover new sites entering the program over the next 3-5 years.

The ERP needs a continuous source of funding and multiple options are available.

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney and state Senator Mark Grisanti have introduced a new $5 billion environmental bond act that includes $1 billion for community environmental health and restoration projects including the ERP.

Alternatively, the state superfund program has fully allocated its initial bond authorization to finance state cleanups of contaminated sites that pose a public threat.  Annual funding for the ERP could be included in the reauthorization of this program, which was funded in 2003 at $1.2 billion over 10 years.

Should neither of these proposals go forward, a new one-year allocation of capital funding would be quickly utilized by communities across the state.  In this case, New York would do well to commit more than the current year’s $12 million to the ERP, thus providing a powerful tool for the state’s distressed cities to rebuild from the inside-out. 

Author: Andrew Postiglione