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Environmental Group Calls NYBrownfields Program ‘Broken’


Environmentalists are out with a new report critical of New York State's Brownfields Cleanup Program.

Brownfields are thousands of sites statewide - they exist in virtually every community - that range from the local dry cleaner that closed up shop years ago to shuttered gas stations to bigger, more polluted contaminated sites that contain dangerous toxins.

Many times these dangerous parcels are off the tax rolls, classified as "abandoned properties."

The Brownfields Clean-Up Program, enacted in 2003, provides tax credits to developers as an incentive for cleaning up and redeveloping former industrial properties. 

The analysis titled, "Ripe for Reform," reveals that the current program pays out the vast majority of funds as “redevelopment” credits, rather than for environmental cleanup, and that some of the state’s neediest communities receive little or no benefits.

As New York's legislative leaders negotiate a new budget, activists would like to see the program become an integral part of the state's environmental and economic development initiatives.

Peter Iwanowicz is executive director of the Environmental Advocates of New York.   "The governor has proposed significant reforms. The Senate has proposed some language in their one-house bill that would reform the program and the Assembly has taken the position of 'the governor needs to lead the discussion in this one,' and they have not proposed any reforms in their one-house budget."

The state has paid out more than $1.4 billion to clean up just 170 sites, an average of $8.2 million per site. Iwanowicz warns the cost of these sites is expected to increase even more as the current program enables developers to collect on a single site for up to 10 years.    "Far too many sites that are in more desirable areas of the state are where the tax credits are going. So essentially lands that re in all likelihood gonna get redeveloped anyway because they're not too dirty or they're in desirable real estate markets get cleaned up and they get generous tax credits. What we don't see with the program, and what the governor has proposed fixing in this year's reform legislation that he submitted, is a redirection of the tax credits to go to those areas most in need, and also sort of curtail the generous amount of the tax credits that go for redevelopment."

Environmental Advocates Communications Director Travis Proulx says many regions of the state most in need are being left out in the cold.    "The North Country for instance, has not had a single project collect a brownfield credit since 2008. In the Capital Region, Northern Catskills area, Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties have had one project apiece which have actually collected credits to date. While Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Montgomery and Schoharie do not have a single project that has collected credit since at least 2008."

Downstate Democratic Senator Liz Kruger supports Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed reforms.  "Some of the most unjustifiable credits were paid out on my own island of Manhattan – $187 million in costs to the State since 2010, for just six projects. And unlike many desperate areas throughout NYC and the State, nearly every inch of Manhattan Island is coveted for high yield development, regardless of the need to mitigate brownfields."

Emily DeSantis, Cuomo's Deputy Director of Communications for the Environment, said in an email "The reforms laid out in the Executive Budget are vital to protecting taxpayers and promoting brownfield redevelopment and we’re working with our partners in government to get them done."

Iwanowicz sums up the Environmental Advocates report:   "Brownfields cleanup is crucial, particularly in a state with so many polluted sites holding back our communities. The current brownfield program is brokena nd needs to be fixed. It's out of control. It costs taxpayers too much and cleans up too little."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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