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Connecticut's Brownfield Blues

May 6, 2007
Editorial By Courant

Last fall, Gov. M. Jodi Rell went to the Windsor train station to announce an executive order creating a state office to fight sprawl and promote more sensible and sustainable growth.

The governor followed this with a legislative agenda that articulated her anti-sprawl program and put money behind it. With the support of key legislators and advocates, much of Mrs. Rell's program is still moving forward in the legislature - with one key exception. Most of the funds to implement a new brownfields remediation program have been stripped from the budget.

The money must be restored. The essence of smart growth is development in already built areas, such as town centers or transit corridors, to take the pressure off dwindling green space in the countryside. Many town centers once were the sites of mills or factories. Smart redevelopment can't happen until these sites are cleaned up so they can be used again.

Losing the brownfield money is unfortunate with so many other smart growth measures moving ahead. These include bills that:

Create incentives for meaningful regional planning and cooperation. Under the bill, state spending would be aligned with smart growth criteria, so the state would stop subsidizing sprawl. Money would be made available for regional asset districts, which would allow the development of regional parks, museums or other amenities. There would be a study of regional revenue-sharing.

Begin to remake the state's transportation infrastructure, including more commuter rail, the Hartford-New Britain busway and more bike paths.

Broaden the historic tax credit program to help owners rehabilitate certified historic homes.

Encourage the creation of more affordable housing in designated districts.

These are all positive steps toward sensible development of the state, but it will be more difficult to execute them if the state's estimated 1,000 brownfields are not cleaned up.

Mrs. Rell created a central agency last year, called the Office of Brownfield Remediation, to coordinate the state's various programs. She convened a task force to study brownfield issues. The group reported in February that the state's existing brownfield programs were "excessively cumbersome" and "limited in scope, applicability and geography." For example, current programs don't support remediation for residential development (such as for the former Spencer Arms factory adjacent to the Windsor train station).

The task force called for a comprehensive, well-coordinated approach, backed by an outlay of $200 million, as was done in Wisconsin. A bill was put forward with $75 million plus $5 million a year for the next five years. It would have been a strong start, had it not been largely gutted.

This is more than a good investment. The sites must be cleaned; some contain dangerous chemicals. Once they are cleaned, they are available for the kinds of development that revitalize urban areas. We have numerous examples of successful brownfield programs across the state, from Pfizer in New London to the Norwalk Aquarium, from Brass Mill Center in Waterbury to the Learning Corridor and Adriaen's Landing in Hartford.

Cleaning brownfields is one of the best ways that government can aid the revival of cities. With other elements of a smart growth plan moving forward, it would be a shame not to have a nationally recognized brownfield program in Connecticut.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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