REDEVELOPING UNDER-UTILIZED BROWNFIELD SITES
The USEPA’s definition of a brownfield is a property where redevelopment and reuse may be complicated by the presence, or potential presence, of some form of contamination. In most instances, the contamination was caused by a previous use of the property before the impact of the environmental hazards were known. This often leads to the abandonment of the property or marginal uses, like storage, with owners and potential buyers unwilling to make improvements due to the potential cleanup costs.
Recognizing its own brownfield challenges as well as the opportunities for redevelopment, the City of Freeport began a comprehensive Brownfield Redevelopment Initiative in 1999 and has been actively engaged with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The City’s brownfields program has led to several successes including reuse of Burgess Battery as Tutty’s Crossing, ongoing redevelopment of the Rawleigh Complex, and cleanup underway of Album Street sites on the East Side.
The City of Freeport is continuing this successful program and is planning for next steps through a USEPA Area-wide Planning Grant. This planning process was kicked off on February 4, 2015. Check back here for updates as the process moves forward.
Current areas of focus in the City’s brownfields program include the Rawleigh Corridor, the East Side, and the Galena Avenue Corridor.
East Side Neighborhood
The City undertook a comprehensive inventory of brownfield sites on the East Side in 2004, identifying 35 sites with varying potentials and extents of contamination. This laid the foundation for the 2007 East Side Revitalization Strategy that prioritized brownfield sites for cleanup. The highest priority site is the site of former plating operations on Album Street. In 2013 the City was awarded $600,000 from U.S. EPA to clean up this site, which is now underway.
The City also worked with East Side neighborhood stakeholders with support from U.S. EPA from 2012 – 2014. This partnership will continue through USEPA Area-wide planning grant funding, engaging citizens on the East Side and throughout Third Ward neighborhoods to identify priorities for the next phase of the City’s brownfields program.
Rawleigh Complex and Corridor
Another key focus area in the City’s brownfields program is the four-building, 460,000 square foot Rawleigh Complex and the surrounding 11-block “Rawleigh Corridor.” Within this area, 36 parcels were identified as brownfield sites through an area-wide assessment in 2007.
The Rawleigh Complex itself has been the beneficiary of multiple federal and state assistance programs starting with an emergency action in 1999 after two children entered the Complex and contaminated themselves and their homes with mercury found at the site.
After many years of work focused on gaining control of the site and securing funding to clean it up, the City received a final “No Further Remediation Letter” in 2013 that affirms that sub-surface contamination has been cleaned up. This letter represented a milestone for the project, clearing the way to sell one of the buildings to a private developer in 2014 and advancing plans the remainder of the site, including a multi-modal station. Visit www.rawleighrenew.com for more detailed history and plans.
Galena Avenue Corridor
The Galena Avenue Corridor is a 1.7 mile stretch of U.S. Highway 20 running through the City of Freeport and through the City’s Third Ward. A number of properties with historic and current filling stations and automotive repair operations line this corridor. As a major thoroughfare in the City, elimination of blight and stimulation of economic development o=in this corridor are important goals of the Brownfields Initiative. A USEPA Assessment grant awarded in 2013 included a focus on assessing two priority former gas stations in this Corridor to position them for cleanup and reuse.
Tying It All Together – Building a City-wide Brownfields Database
With its fifteen year history, the City has a wealth of information on brownfield sites throughout the riverfront area. In all, 514 parcels have undergone Phase I environmental assessment, identifying 121 parcels with Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs), totaling approximately 171 acres.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Urban and Regional Planning workshop in fall 2013 supported the City in its goal of better synthesizing information about brownfield sites within the City. The UW team created the first phase of a brownfield database within a geographic information system (GIS). This team demonstrated the capabilities of a brownfield GIS system and identified strategies for maintenance and public access.