Property owners shouldn't equate found brownfields with lost greenbacks. On the contrary, the current push in Pasco County to identify contaminated land is intended to help prepare sites for what could be lucrative redevelopment opportunities.
The city of New Port Richey gets it. Last week, its City Council indicated a preference to declare its entire city as a brownfield, making it eligible for further financial help to clean up land that may be tainted by leaking gas tanks, dry cleaning chemicals or other contamination.
The city of Zephyrhills isn't so sure. At least not yet. Some land owners near the municipal border are resistant because of the stigma they think a brownfield designation carries. The area proposed as the brownfield is made up largely of the city airport, its commerce park and the U.S. 301 corridor, but planners agreed to present alternatives, including removing all residential parcels from the targeted area.
The public concerns are driven by fears of reduced property values, but a more legitimate fear should be ignorance of underground contamination. A brownfield site that can be cleaned up with government assistance and redeveloped with tax incentives is much more marketable than a piece of property that presents a potential liability issue if hazardous material is uncovered later.
Nationally, the federal Environmental Protection Agency's brownfields program has leveraged more than $16 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funding and accounted for nearly 70,000 jobs in economically disadvantaged areas most in need of environmental cleanup and employment opportunities.
That alone should encourage Zephyrhills residents. Otherwise, they can follow the lead of New Port Richey which figured out a way around any potential public stigma. It simply designated all of the city as an "economic incentive area.'' It is the same strategy New Port Richey used a decade ago when it declared the entire city as blighted in order to broaden its redevelopment potential.
The question is being posed because Pasco County is asking its larger cities to consider brownfield status as part of a $1 million federal grant to identify contaminated sites on the county's north-south corridors including U.S. 19, 41, and 301. There certainly is plenty for which to search. The state says a quarter of the 2,100 underground fuel storage tanks in the county are leaking and the county also has more than 50 cattle dipping vats, and assorted scrap metal salvage yards, dry cleaners, and boat and auto repair shops.
Outside the cities, Pasco County designated other areas for potential clean up, including the old Cummer Cypress Co. sawmill land in Lacoocheee, part of far-reaching redevelopment strategy in that east Pasco hamlet. In Dade City, the city and county jointly designated a 305-acrea area in and around the Dade City Business Center (the former Lykes Pasco juice plant) as a brownfield.
Surrounding areas show that the status can mean new high-end retail or simply better housing. The most visible example of a redeveloped brownfield site in the region is the Ikea furniture store in Tampa's Ybor City that replaced a former cannery. In Pinellas, a $600,000 brownfield grant allowed that county to clean up illegal landfills in the Dansville neighborhood outside of Largo with the property turned into home lots for affordable housing.
The brownfields program translates to a cleaner environment and renewed business investment to areas that need help. The city of Zephyrhills shouldn't stay away from participating.