Monday, January 22, 2018

Cleaning up old Brownfields should not just be a developer’s opportunity

In Rochester, NY’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), the importance of cleaning up old Brownfields* as we go further into Climate Change is discussed. One of the four ongoing Brownfields--South Genesee River Corridor BOA (former Vacuum Oil site) Project—needing clean-up is mentioned in the CAP as a Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA).

New York State Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA). This Program is administered and managed through the New Yoneighborhood revitalization and brownfield redevelopment. The BOA program recognizes that brownfields, underutilized properties, and vacant sites can all have negative impacts on neighborhood vitality, property values and quality of life. The program provides a funding source to facilitate community and neighborhood-based planning, while creating strategies to improve overall conditions and opportunities for reinvestment and revitalization. (Page 10, CAP)
rk State Department of State (DOS). The program provides financial and technical assistance to complete area-wide strategies for

Incentivizing Brownfield cleanings is usually viewed as an opportunity, a chance to bring in developers with deep pockets and transform a region with a bleak future to one with a bright future. And, I suppose if you end up losing your legs because of a bad car accident, it can be viewed as an ‘opportunity’ for finally being able to take the time to write that great American novel you continually say you’ll get to. Of course, the use of ‘opportunity’ in this sense is so stretched as to sound absurd and craven.

But I get it: We create Brownfields with almost no effort, it’s finding the public will to get them cleaned up in our present economic system makes their disappearance extremely difficult.
Those neighborhoods who have long endured Brownfields might be forgiven if they find the word ‘opportunity’ unsettling as developers and governments try to find a way to pitch cleaning up a Brownfield in a positive light. Cleaning up a Brownfield smack dab in the center of Rochester near a major university, the Genesee River, and the Genesee Park can make developers almost giddy with the prospects.  

However, Brownfields should be cleaned up because they are contaminated land that is not good for nearby residents, the vitality of the neighborhood, the natural environment, and is not the way we should be thinking about land use under Climate Change. The PLEX neighborhood would like the abandoned Vacuum Oil site cleaned up for the health of it, not necessarily as an economic opportunity for others. They’ve been living with doubt and confusion about the repercussions for their children of growing up and living in the oldest Brownfield in Rochester. They don’t want their plight compounded by the lowest level of cleanup that would continue to leave them vulnerable or the highest level of cleanup that comes with strings so strongly attached to self-serving schemes that might quite likely drive current residents out of their homes.  

PLEX knows what they want. The highest level cleanup along with Safety, Neighborhood Stabilization, Corporate Accountability, Neighborhood Maintenance Teams, a P.L.E.X. Park, a Hardware store, a Supermarket, History of Place, Ongoing Community Engagement with all parties involved in the cleanup, a Nature Preserve, and a Raised Retaining Wall (which is protecting the area’s hundred-year flood plain [see Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement]). As you know, a hundred-year-old flood plain in a time of increasing floods in our region due to Climate Change ain’t what it used to be.

In an action email by Mother’s Out Front, the urgency to make public comment in support of PLEX is neatly encapsulated:

“Vacuum Oil Refinery, which operated in Rochester in the Plymouth-Exchange area (PLEX) from 1866-1935, left a toxic mess that has lingered in Rochester for decades. The clean-up proposals are on the table, and there is a comment period going on until January 30th. It is imperative that the city hear from as many residents as possible to ensure that this clean-up is done fully, safely, and responsibly, and that the PLEX community who has contended with this area for decades be able to benefit from the improvements to come.”

Find out more about this issue at PLEX’s website here that has lots of visuals and links to important background information. Then, when you are ready to make public comment, go here, where you can find a short list of “The most important community goals” and an easy-to-fill-out-comment form that will go to the City.

Most of all, let’s get this Brownfield cleaned up to the highest standards, just as you would want if your neighborhood contained an industrial waste land.

Time passes.

* Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts.

More local articles on this issue:


My previous essays on Brownfields and Climate Change

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