Attracting Infill Development in Distressed Communities

Many communities across the country have been revitalizing their older neighborhoods, traditional downtowns, and central business districts. However, economically distressed communities have been less able to attract this kind of infill development and attain the accompanying economic, environmental, health, and quality of life benefits.

EPA’s new report, Attracting Infill Development in Distressed Communities: 30 Strategies, can help these communities determine their readiness to pursue infill development and identify strategies to better position themselves to attract infill development.

  • It presents strategies and case studies to establish priorities, policies, and partnerships and change public perceptions, which can help make infill development more feasible.
  • It discusses innovative strategies to help finance infill development and replace aging infrastructure.
  • It includes comprehensive self-assessment questions communities can answer to determine if they are ready to pursue infill development and if particular strategies are appropriate for their context.

Many of the strategies in this publication stem from work in Fresno, California, that was part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative, which provides intensive technical assistance and capacity building to economically distressed cities. EPA and the state of California partnered with the city to convene a task force of experts in development finance, law, public policy, planning, and business to identify strategies to promote infill that were feasible in Fresno’s challenging economic and fiscal environment. EPA developed this publication based in part on the task force’s work.

Video: Microbes at 53-year-old coal mine fire could fight pollution

Via Great Lakes Echo.

Editor’s note: This video was produced as part of a workshop to help scientists better explain their research. The workshop was put on by the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism – Echo’s publisher  – and by MSU Global. Anyone (you needn’t be a scientist) can enroll in the next free four-week workshop starting June 15.

Scientists are investigating if microbes at a Pennsylvania coal mine burning underground since 1962 can be harnessed to clean up polluted sites.

The fire below the town of Centralia encompasses more than 150 acres. Heat, steam and combustion products change the soils in ways favorable to certain bacteria that can co-exist with harsh chemicals and even make them less toxic, according to researchers at Michigan State University.

Taylor Dunivin, a doctoral student in MSU’s department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, produced this video to explain her research into bioaugmentation, a process enlisting bacteria to help make chemicals less harmful to the environment.

EPA Announces $54.3 Million to Assess and Clean Up Contaminated Sites, Revitalize Communities, Leverage Jobs and Promote Economic Redevelopment Nationwide

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the selection of 243 new grant investments totaling $54.3 million to 147 communities across the U.S. This investment will provide communities with funding necessary to assess, clean up and redevelop contaminated properties, boost local economies and leverage jobs while protecting public health and the environment. Recipients will each receive approximately $200,000 – $600,000 in funding toward EPA cooperative agreements.

EPA’s Brownfields grants provide resources early which is critical for the success of communities’ ability to leverage additional partnerships and resources. The community leaders – represented by local governments, states, tribes, quasi-governmental organizations, and non-profit entities have demonstrated strong partnerships and plan to leverage the EPA grants with other public-private investments. They use an inclusive process to help spur the redevelopment of vacant, former manufacturing and commercial sites for broader revitalization in their downtowns. This results in a transformed economy and environment while addressing poverty and economic distress.

“Brownfield sites – because of their locations and associated infrastructure advantages – are community assets and a key component of the Obama Administration’s efforts to provide tools to sustainably revitalize communities and foster economic development,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “These communities have demonstrated a plan to leverage their grants and partnerships to achieve economic and environmental revitalization to meet their needs for jobs. These critical EPA resources are going into communities with populations ranging from 89 to 1.4 million, and more than half under 100,000. The grants will help transform brownfield sites, such as former manufacturing and mill sites, into productive end uses which directly benefit community residents and create opportunities including increased housing options, recreational spaces, and jobs.”

Among the communities selected for funding, more than thirty percent have been affected by plant closures, forty percent by significant economic disruptions, and forty-two percent by adverse natural disasters. The small City of Palatka, Florida for example, was declared an emergency area following the devastation of two tropical storms, and has also suffered economically from the closing of Georgia-Pacific paper towel manufacturing line and the lay-off of 130 employees from the regional water management company. Being selected for a $400,000 assessment grant will allow this town of just over 10,000 residents to support their downtown and riverfront redevelopment plans and help restore the local economy.

This latest funding advances EPA’s broader commitment to making a visible difference in communities that focuses on better coordinating federal investments to help environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities address local priorities. Communities selected this year demonstrate a high level of preparedness to undertake specific projects as they have firm commitments of leveraged funds to move projects forward. An impressive forty-five percent of the recipients have secured public and private resources which directly align and further the efforts of proposed projects.

San Antonio, Texas, selected for a $400,000 assessment grant, will focus on three priority areas to restore urban waterways, attract commercial development, construct new multifamily housing, and sustainably reuse existing buildings. By creatively combining available resources, the city secured more than $470 million to advance community goals which will help ensure success of revitalizing the priority areas.

EPA continues to help new communities to address Brownfields sites plaguing their neighborhoods. First-time recipient Columbus, Indiana plans to use a $400,000 assessment grant award to perform assessments that align with and promote the city’s strategic plan to expand residential and educational opportunities for its residents, enhance greenspace and boost the economy with new retail stores and services.

EPA’s grant awards support both urban and rural communities in their efforts to address their brownfields concerns. More than fifty-five percent of the communities selected are cities and towns with populations of 100,000 or less, of which forty-four percent are very small rural communities with populations of 10,000 or less. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, population 1,664, will use its $200,000 cleanup grant to remove contamination from the Former Housing Authority Building located in the middle of town and directly adjacent to an elementary school. Addressing contamination of the deteriorating building will enhance the environmental and public welfare of the resident and provide other direct community benefits by allowing the tribe to relocate their local Boys & Girls Club.

Approximately $17 million of the assessment and cleanup funding will go to applicants who are also Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grant recipients and HUD-DOT-EPA partnership communities. This funding will help communities clean up and reuse brownfield sites to produce community assets such as housing, recreation and open space, health facilities, create employment, education, social services, transportation options, infrastructure and commerce opportunities. For example, the Camden Redevelopment Agency in New Jersey will receive three $200,000 cleanup grant awards, and a $200,000 assess grant which will lead to the redevelopment of a 3.6-acre mercury and lead contaminated Camden Laboratories site into mixed residential and commercial use. Clark County in Nevada will receive a $500,000 assessment coalition grant award to address the Maryland Parkway High Capacity Corridor in the heart of the Las Vegas’ urban core. As the region’s first multi-modal corridor, over the next 20 years, the development will generate much needed jobs and will spur additional development and investments in the area.

Since the inception of the EPA’s Brownfields Program in 1995, cumulative brownfield program investments have leveraged more than $22 billion from a variety of public and private sources for cleanup and redevelopment activities. This equates to an average of $17.79 leveraged per EPA brownfield dollar expended. These investments have resulted in approximately 105,942 jobs nationwide. EPA’s Brownfields Program empowers states, communities, and other stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields sites.

Using Microbial Communities to Assess Environmental Contamination

Read the full story from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

First there were canaries in coal mines, now there are microbes at nuclear waste sites, oil spills and other contaminated environments. A multi-institutional team of more than 30 scientists has found that statistical analysis of DNA from natural microbial communities can be used to accurately identify environmental contaminants and serve as quantitative geochemical biosensors. This study was sponsored by ENIGMA, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science “Scientific Focus Area Program” based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)…

Hazen, who holds joint appointments with DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is the corresponding author of a paper detailing the results of this ENIGMA study in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The paper is titled “Natural Bacterial Communities Serve as Quantitative Geochemical Biosensors.” For a complete list of authors go here.

Detroit River cleanup brightens gateway to Michigan

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

Cleaning up Detroit and its river could be a key in revitalizing and re-creating Michigan as a state, state officials say.

People describe Detroit as the front-door city of the state, said Ron Olson, the chief of parks and recreation for the state Department of Natural Resources. “The better Detroit does, the better the state does.”

The industrial complexes that were built up along the Detroit River and other rivers throughout the state years ago were an abusive use of land, Olson said. Now, the challenge is to dismantle these complexes and restore the waterfronts to the way they once were.

Biochar in Co-Contaminated Soil Manipulates Arsenic Solubility and Microbiological Community Structure, and Promotes Organochlorine Degradation

Samuel J. Gregory, Christopher W. N. Anderson , Marta Camps-Arbestain, Patrick J. Biggs, Austen R. D. Ganley, Justin M. O’Sullivan, Michael T. McManus (2015). “Biochar in Co-Contaminated Soil Manipulates Arsenic Solubility and Microbiological Community Structure, and Promotes Organochlorine Degradation.” PLOSOne, April 29, 2015.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125393

Abstract: We examined the effect of biochar on the water-soluble arsenic (As) concentration and the extent of organochlorine degradation in a co-contaminated historic sheep-dip soil during a 180-d glasshouse incubation experiment. Soil microbial activity, bacterial community and structure diversity were also investigated. Biochar made from willow feedstock (Salix sp) was pyrolysed at 350 or 550°C and added to soil at rates of 10 g kg-1 and 20 g kg-1 (representing 30 t ha-1 and 60 t ha-1). The isomers of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) alpha-HCH and gamma-HCH (lindane), underwent 10-fold and 4-fold reductions in concentration as a function of biochar treatment. Biochar also resulted in a significant reduction in soil DDT levels (P < 0.01), and increased the DDE:DDT ratio. Soil microbial activity was significantly increased (P < 0.01) under all biochar treatments after 60 days of treatment compared to the control. 16S amplicon sequencing revealed that biochar-amended soil contained more members of the Chryseobacterium, Flavobacterium, Dyadobacter and Pseudomonadaceae which are known bioremediators of hydrocarbons. We hypothesise that a recorded short-term reduction in the soluble As concentration due to biochar amendment allowed native soil microbial communities to overcome As-related stress. We propose that increased microbiological activity (dehydrogenase activity) due to biochar amendment was responsible for enhanced degradation of organochlorines in the soil. Biochar therefore partially overcame the co-contaminant effect of As, allowing for enhanced natural attenuation of organochlorines in soil.

Switchgrass and Bacteria Work Together to Remove PCBs from Soil

Read the full story from the University of Iowa.

Researchers at the University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (Iowa SRP) Center have found that switchgrass, a plant native to central North America, can effectively remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from contaminated soil. When PCB-degrading bacteria is added, removal of PCBs from the soil can increase further. This phytoremediation method may be an efficient and sustainable strategy to removing PCBs from hazardous waste sites.