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From Sustainable Long Island: August 6, 2010

Don’t Let Brownfields Become Beauty Busters

Growing up on Long Island, residents often feel a sense of pride in what their region is known for. Long Island is known for many things including its attractive scenery, gorgeous beaches, and historic locations. From notable museums to popular vineyards to beautiful forests and meadows, Long Island has always been the place to see.

However, Long Island’s celebrated landscape has been constantly threatened by an ugly problem known as brownfields. We often hear public figures, elected officials, and numerous organizations preach about brownfields and how they need to be removed and redeveloped from our area. Even with all this attention paid toward the issue many still wonder, what exactly is a brownfield? The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a brownfield 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”.

The overlying thought is that brownfields are limited to abandoned industrial sites, but the truth is, many are typical commercial properties that an average Long Island passes by every day.

That abandoned dry cleaner up the block? Brownfield.

That vacant gas station on the corner? Brownfield.

That empty warehouse downtown? Brownfield.

Former service stations, marinas, railroad tracks, even schools? Yep you guessed it, Brownfield.

We can all see these blighted properties, but don’t realize that the ground contamination that is often left behind by theses once standing businesses is cause for great concern to our personal and environmental health.

So how did a once prosperous business turn into a toxic eye sore? Owners, who move their business and leave specific sites, often realize that sometimes the cost to clean up what they’ve left behind surpasses the value of the property itself. They may feel fine with leaving their properties in their current condition and in some cases, the level of contamination might be so small, the owners cannot justify a reason to take any kind of action.

However, the need for redevelopment of these areas is vital. The potential benefits include revitalizing communities, increasing property values and reducing environmental concerns. Every acre of brownfields cleanup saves our open spaces and breathes new life into Long Island. Redevelopment could create thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue and billions of dollars in business revenue region-wide. Recently federal, state and local governments have provided new motivation for brownfields redevelopment. They entice communities and property owners with offers of tax incentives, grants and low interest loans, and liability protection.

As you can see, brownfields redevelopment is a serious issue on Long Island today. These properties pollute, dirty and ruin many aspects of everyday life including our air, our land and our water. So don’t let brownfields take over and destroy Long Island’s image; instead let’s keep it the way it should be – as the place to see and the place to be.