If you’re looking to build a new structure in an urban environment like Portland, chances are you’ll be building on top of a site that was previously used for commercial or industrial purposes. With this comes an inherent risk that the land may be contaminated with pollutants or hazardous substances that can complicate your project. It can also leave you liable as the landowner even if you weren’t the one who contaminated the land.
These previously developed sites that are now abandoned are known as brownfields. Brownfield sites could be contaminated from previous businesses such as former gas stations, dry cleaners or manufacturing plants that regularly emit pollutants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S.
Luckily, brownfields can be redeveloped to make them safe for other uses. Aside from lowering liability risks and construction complications for landowners, brownfield redevelopment also comes with a range of community benefits that include:
- Elimination of potential health risks from exposure to environmental hazards
- Job creation
- Improvement and protection of the environment
- Increased property values
- Turning abandoned land into community assets such as parks, housing or centralized plazas
The EPA and Portland have been remediating brownfields since 1998, when Portland was selected as a Brownfields Showcase Community for its commitment to brownfield redevelopment. This made Portland a national model of the benefits of brownfields that are redeveloped in collaboration with local, state and federal partners.
So, what are some examples of these model-worthy redeveloped brownfield sites? Here are a few success stories.
Former Brownfield Sites Near Portland, OR
The following Portland businesses and organizations are located on former brownfield sites that have been properly remediated and redeveloped into useful land.
Colibri Flowers & Plants (formerly known as Prescott Gallery)
Now a flower studio and plant shop, Colibri Flowers & Plants (previously known as Prescott Gallery) in Sabin used to be a vacant auto body repair shop. The building’s history was uncovered through a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), which is an evaluation to determine the historical uses of a property and any associated environmental risks.
Former auto repair properties are considered to have a high potential for contamination, as they are prone to various chemical contaminants. Environmental hazards are also common with the presence of hydraulic lifts that raise vehicles off the ground for repair and maintenance. Many older auto shops have in-ground hydraulic lifts, which can leak hydraulic oil below the site’s surface.
These potential environmental hazards can be remediated with hydraulic lift removal, which removes the lift as well as its associated piping and any contaminated soil.
June Key Delta Community Center
Convenient, centralized locations of former gas stations can be tempting brownfield sites for redevelopment, but they bring a high level of inherent environmental risk. Over time, gas may have ended up in the surrounding soil through:
- Leaks from underground gasoline tanks that may have corrosion
- Spills from overfilling tanks
- Drips from the nozzle when people were filling their cars
- Gas station pollution violations
- The presence of toxic chemicals in the air
A Phase 2 ESA can detect the presence of these contaminants to determine if gas station operations have negatively impacted the property. If contaminants are detected, the brownfield site will need to be redeveloped to make it safe for another use.
June Key Delta Community Center in north Portland is an example of a redeveloped gas station site that now serves a new, community-benefitting purpose. Aside from meeting the needs of the multicultural neighborhood it serves, the site acts as a “living building” by using geothermal heating and cooling, creating solar power to generate its own energy and treating its own wastewater. It also diverts stormwater runoff into bioswales, which filter and carry stormwater to nearby waterways. The site was recognized with both an Oregon Brownfields Award and a national Phoenix Award for Region 10 in 2012.
Thomas Cully Park
Now a 25-acre community staple in Northeast Portland, Thomas Cully Park is located on the site of the former Killingsworth Fast Disposal landfill, which closed in 1990. The orphaned lot was purchased in 2002 and redeveloped by Portland Parks & Recreation, thanks to a unique partnership between the city of Portland and the community.
The park opened in 2018 after nearly two decades of redevelopment work and was recognized with an Oregon Brownfields Redevelopment award the same year. It currently serves as a community garden in Portland’s most diverse and park-deprived neighborhood.
Oregon Food Bank
If you’re looking for an example of a redeveloped brownfield that is bursting with community benefits, look no further than Oregon Food Bank. Formerly the site of a horse barn and orchard, the lot now houses a nonprofit that distributes emergency food to families in need through a statewide network of partner agencies. The previous brownfield site also includes a community farm, where fresh produce is grown to be used in the organization’s cooking programs or distributed to families.
When Oregon Food Bank purchased the site in 2014, the purchasers learned that lead paint was used on the prior horse barn. The organization received financial help from the Portland Brownfield Program to conduct a Phase 1 and Phase 2 ESA to ensure the soil was safe for growing food.
The site of a new affordable housing development by Portland nonprofit REACH Community Development lived several past lives as a wood production site, a construction staging site and a mechanical site. Thanks to brownfield redevelopment, local families in need will be able to call the property “home.”
Russell Street Retail Space
Now a retail space with upstairs apartments, this property in Eliot served as a dry cleaning business for 43 years, from 1952 to its close in 1995. This type of property is notorious for containing chemicals called solvents that are used in the process of cleaning clothes and other fabrics.
Solvents can contaminate a site’s water and soil supply due to spills or leaks, often around the above- or below-ground containers where they are stored. If these liquids were improperly poured down drains during the dry cleaner’s operations, they can seep deep into the ground from septic tank systems or leaking sewage pipes.
After uncovering dry cleaning chemicals in the soil underneath the building, the property’s owner worked with the Portland Brownfield Program and the Department of Environmental Quality to clean up the property for its current uses.
Brownfield Remediation in Portland
Although harmful chemicals occasionally make their way into the soil of formerly developed properties, the brownfield redevelopment process can give them a new life and purpose. Luckily there are professionals in Portland who can properly remediate brownfield sites.
The team at Alpha Environmental has redeveloped brownfields for decades and knows how to properly prepare a site to be repurposed. This includes:
- Financing assistance and applications
- Checking for grant eligibility
- Conducting Phase 1 and Phase 2 ESAs
- Regulatory approvals
- Construction permits
- Brownfield redevelopment plans and implementation
- Land development and survey services