On Jan. 26, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management announced over $2.5 million in grants to support the remediation and redevelopment of brownfields.
Brownfields are “underdeveloped property that has real or perceived issues with contamination from past or historical land uses,” Scott Frickel, professor of environment and society and sociology, explained.
According to RIDEM’s press release, “10 projects across five cities and towns will receive funding, made possible by the voter-approved 2022 Green Bond.” RIDEM expects the projects to provide $522 million in additional investments due to the enhanced property value of the land following remediation, in addition to creating “2,446 construction jobs and 475 permanent jobs.”
“The community cleanups and investments made possible by brownfields grants underscore the power of the green bonds that finance them,” RIDEM Director Terry Gray told The Herald. “Green bonds help restore our environment, support economic development and strengthen Rhode Island’s resiliency in the face of climate change.”
The redevelopment of these sites is part of a larger effort from RIDEM and Gov. Dan McKee to restore plots of land that have been made harmful to public health and the environment due to intense industrial contamination. Including the most recent awards, RIDEM’s Brownfields Remediation Economic Development Fund has invested in 71 projects across the state.
These efforts have included building new schools, creating affordable housing, expanding recreational space and supporting green energy projects, according to the press release.
Four of the new projects are located in Providence. Local nonprofit Crossroads Rhode Island received a grant of $350,000 — one of the largest awards — for a new redevelopment project on Summer Street, an Environmental Justice area. The grant will assist Crossroads RI in providing 176 new apartments to unhoused “and extremely low-income adults.”
Director of Planning for the City of Pawtucket Bianca Policastro emphasized that, while gas stations or former factory sites are obvious locations for potential contamination, farms, orchards and homes are also at equal risk
Pawtucket received a total of $775,000 from this new round of brownfield grants for three separate redevelopment projects.
“We want to provide clean and safe living, working (and) playing environments to the city,” Policastro said. Through the awards, “we are able to remediate and build to higher standards,” she added.
Policastro also noted that climate change was a major factor when deciding how to pursue remediation points. “We recognize we don’t freeze anymore; we flood,” she said. “So we’re always looking at ways to reduce waste and to build a more sustainable environment.”
According to Frickel, the goal of these grants is ultimately simple. “It's about developing properties to make them (safer and) to make properties more effective at bringing in revenue for cities and property owners,” he said. “It's been a real boom to cities that have been able to capitalize on those grants.”