In April 2007, the Mayor's Office released PlaNYC, a sustainability blueprint to promote the greening of NYC, and began a process that would redefine the role that cities can play on their blighted brownfield properties. Since then, we have launched of over two dozen new programs and resources to help communities and land owners cleanup and redevelop brownfields. Collectively, these programs have made NYC the most progressive city in the country on brownfield cleanup. In late January 2011, we launched the NYC Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP), the nation’s first municipally-run cleanup program. In its first 30 months of operation, 150 projects have enrolled in this program. These VCP projects will pave the way for over $4.5 billion in new investment in over 13 million square feet of new development, 40% of which is job-producing retail, commercial and office space and over 2,200 new affordable housing units.
Of particular interest in our difficult economic times, these new projects will result in more than 4,400 new permanent jobs, 13,400 construction jobs and will provide a combined $1.5 billion to the city and state in sales, income and property tax revenue above current revenue levels over the next 30 years. Seventy percent of these properties are in historically disadvantaged communities and overall, these sites have been vacant for an average of 18 years. In summation, we have established a voluntary cleanup program takes idle and blighted contaminated land in some of our poorest neighborhoods, cleans them up and makes them safer, and brings new development, new jobs, affordable housing and other amenities where they are needed most.
To promote investigation and cleanup of brownfields, we introduced NYC Brownfield Inventive Grants (BIG) in 2010 and are now investing almost $9 million in projects in the VCP. This program focuses most of these resources in underserved communities where brownfield impacts are greatest. The results have been dramatic, with an overwhelming majority of VCP projects located in target neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx, north and central Brooklyn, and the north shore of Staten Island.
In Spring 2013, OER established the NYC Clean Soil Bank, the nation’s only clean soil exchange, which allows excess clean soil excavated from brownfield development sites to be delivered, free of charge, to city construction sites and other brownfield properties that need clean soil. This recycling program has solved several key problems including elimination of expensive soil disposal costs; shortening soil transport distances, reducing truck emissions and traffic congestion, and lowering transport costs; and minimizing nuisances at private solid waste facilities that would otherwise be used to process this soil. Substantial cost savings enabled by this program—developers would otherwise pay tens of thousands of dollars in soil disposal costs—now provide an important financial incentive for enrollment in the VCP, with no expense to the City. In fact, in just the first six months of operation, the City received over 60,000 tons of soil and saved over $2 million dollars in soil purchase costs.
In 2013, OER also launched NYC Brownfield Climate Change Resilience Reviews to help development projects in the VCP become more resilient the future effects of climate change. Developers enrolled in the VCP can now have an independent review of their development plan—free of charge and with no obligation—and receive suggestions for simple steps they can take to increase resilience and sustainability of their new building.
All properties cleaned up in the VCP are awarded a NYC Green Property Certificate, a special certification by City government that recognizes that the property, and the new buildings built on it, are among the safest places in New York City to live and work. This program provides valuable marketing opportunities for developers to attract new tenants and prospective purchasers, by demonstrating that the property has achieved the highest level of safety and environmental stewardship. We also provide an attractive building foundation plaque to all recipients to illustrate the positive environmental role that the developer’s voluntary efforts are playing in their community.
We are committed to making the VCP the most transparent cleanup program in the nation. In 2012, OER introduced TurboTraining, an advanced training program that aims to help seasoned environmental professionals learn more about how to effectively navigate OER’s cleanup programs. Thus far, 177 environmental professionals have been certified by this training program. To help communities learn more about our programs, we produced four new video’s in our Cleaning Up NYC Video Series. These videos, which are now available on our website, provide basic education on brownfield investigation, describe programs the city offers to assist cleanup, and explain why brownfield cleanup is so important in our disadvantaged communities. We have established an online repository for all project documents and we include a Community Protection Statement in each cleanup plan, and now translate that statement into six of the most common languages spoken in NYC communities. We also entered an agreement with the New York City Public Library to make our videos and all our brownfield information more accessible to New Yorkers in their communities.
The environmental industry also represents an enormous resource for communities. In 2008, we established the NYC Brownfield Partnership, an association of environmental businesses and community based organizations dedicated to community service. This organization now operates a series of valuable programs, including the CUNY Brownfield Scholarship Program, which has delivered over 30 scholarships to CUNY students in environmental majors; the NYC Brownfield Internship Program, which has provided placement for over 30 interns in environmental businesses; and the annual Big Apple Brownfield Award Program, which recently celebrated its fifth event at NYU promoting brownfield cleanup and the best examples of cleanup projects throughout NYC.
Finally, OER has played many other important roles to improve the environment for New Yorkers. Following Hurricane Sandy, over 200,000 cubic yards of sand was washed ashore and into beachfront communities along the Atlantic coast in NYC. FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers faced enormous costs for planned transport and disposal of sand in Pennsylvania landfills. Within several weeks of the storm, working with New York State DEC and US EPA, OER established the first beneficial reuse program for sand recycling ever instituted by FEMA and the Army Corps after a coastal storm. This program, which was later emulated on Long Island and in New Jersey, reused sand to build a one-mile long flood protection berm at the head of Rockaway Beach in Queens. Reuse of this sand saved the federal government over $60 million in disposal costs and the berm it created now provides a new, front-line defense against future storm surges for NYC communities.
At OER, we are proud to serve the citizens of New York City and to work with you to clean up contaminated land and make our city a safer place to live, work and play. If you have any questions, feel free to call me at 212-676-0386 or e-mail the office at email@example.com.
Daniel Walsh, Ph.D.