Unanticipated cleanup costs substantially increased the costs of several recent park projects in the Bronx. Specifically, during the construction of Mill Pond Park (former site of part of the Bronx Terminal Market) removing buried oil barrels and other toxic waste at the brownfield site raised the budget. Similar conditions can be expected at other locations along the Harlem River. These high costs limit capital investment by both public and private entities. However, recent policy changes may offer opportunities for redevelopment that will help offset the high costs associated with remediation. Policy related to brownfield and hazardous waste clean up in New York City occurs at various governmental levels. Below, a description of various programs and recent developments:
New York State programs
1. Brownfield Cleanup Program – enhances private-sector cleanups of brownfields, reducing development pressure on “greenfields”. A taxpayer who has entered into a Brownfield Cleanup Agreement (BCA) with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) may be eligible for tax credits relating to the cleanup and redevelopment of a brownfield site. In 2008, the legislation was reformed to restructure tax credits that (1) potentially more than doubles the current tax incentives for site preparation (including cleanup) and on-site groundwater cleanup and (2) increases the tangible property credits by 2% for sites in a designated BOA where redevelopment conforms with the goals and priorities of the BOA.
2. Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA) Program – assistance for municipalities and community based organizations to complete area-wide approaches to brownfields redevelopment planning. Program administered by the Department of State (DOS). There are three on-going BOA projects on the Bronx waterfront:
• Bronx, Harlem River (BCEQ, Harlem River) – Step 1, $98,890: In 2005, the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality was awarded a $98,890 grant to conduct a Pre-Nomination Study (a preliminary description and analysis of the area) for the Harlem River BOA, which was submitted in February 2007. The area is the 7 mile, 162- acre strip along the Bronx side of the Harlem River north of the Macombs Dam Bridge to the Hudson River, abutting 4 different neighborhoods.
• Bronx, Port Morris (SoBRO, Harlem River)- Step 1, $208,250
• Bronx, South Waterfront (Hunts Point, Bronx and East Rivers) – Step 2, $349,360
3. Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Program (Superfund): program for identifying, investigating and cleaning up sites where consequential amounts of hazardous waste may exist. These sites go through a process of investigation, evaluation, cleanup and monitoring that has several distinct stages.
• Within our study area, there are no Hazardous Waste Remediation Sites. However, there is a Class 2 site located on the west side of the Harlem River in Manhattan at 5th Avenue and 141st Street.
4. Environmental Restoration Program – spurs cleanup and redevelopment of underutilized contaminated properties through financial assistance to municipalities and liability releases. Program administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The $200 million Environmental Restoration Fund provides grants to municipalities to reimburse up to 90 percent of on-site eligible costs and 100% of off-site eligible costs for site investigation and remediation activities.
• Applications have not been approved since 2008 and new applications are not being accepted due to lack of funding.
New York City
In the past few years, the Bloomberg Administration has devoted significant attention to the issue of brownfield and environmental restoration and remediation. PlaNYC outlined 11 initiatives that addressed underutilized or contaminated sites. Two of these included (1) the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation, which occurred in June 2008 and (2) development of a City-operated Brownfield Cleanup Program. Legislatively, the city council passed the New York City Brownfield and Community Revitalization Act (Brownfield bill) authorizing these actions. The Brownfield Cleanup Program is the first municipally-run brownfield cleanup program in the nation. In addition, OER has started:
• The NYC Brownfield Incentive Grant (BIG) program, which provides over $9 million in City investment in brownfield investigation and cleanup, including grants to Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) groups and to projects that are consistent with BOA plans.
• The Searchable Property Environmental Electronic Database (SPEED), which is a GIS-based web application designed to facilitate property research and identification of brownfield sites. (https://gis.nyc.gov/moer/speed/)
• The New York City’s Green Property Certification Program in 2010, which provides a city certification for properties that have been the subject of a comprehensive Remedial Investigation under government supervision and if necessary has received remedial actions sufficient to satisfy regulatory cleanup standards.
• Technical assistance, public outreach and capacity building, and job training.
Taking matters into their own hands, urban designer Kaja Kühl and her colleagues wrote up A Field Guide to Phytoremediation, a handbook on how to remove contaminants from land using plants. Piggybacking on the City’s green certification program, she presents an 8-step DIY scheme for how small, underutilized plots of land can be remediation, tested and certified. Could this be a model for community-based clean up along the Harlem River?