REPORT ON BILLS FAVORABLY REPORTED BY COMMITTEE

COMMITTEE:

Commerce Committee

File No.:

Bill No.:

HB-5685

PH Date:

3/7/2006

Action/Date:

3/16/06

Reference Change:

JFS TO FLOOR

TITLE OF BILL:

AN ACT CONCERNING BROWNFIELDS.

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Commerce Committee

 

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill will streamline access to resources and information for potential property owners and property owners to facilitate compliance with state and federal cleanup requirements and qualification for state funds. A brownfield is an economically underutilized parcel of land that sits unused due to complications with contamination, blight, or other environmental issues.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Mayor John Fabrizi, City of Bridgeport, Connecticut testified that brownfields that are not redeveloped are a contributing factor in many of the major problems that face CT today: immense pockets of poverty in our urban centers, highway congestion, the accelerating pace of natural habitat destruction in our suburbs and rural areas, and the escalation of property tax burdens in big cities and small towns alike. If we do not deepen our commitment to “recycling” brownfields, Connecticut will never enjoy all of the economies and benefits of smart growth. Please know that for Bridgeport specifically, brownfields are the single greatest impediment to meaningful and sustainable improvement of our local economy. It would be a positive step to reestablish an office at the state level with a responsibility for creating pro-active state goes and programs to deal with Connecticut's brownfields problems. The city concurs with the notion that this pro-active approach cannot be housed in DEP, which should be a cooperative participant in any meaningful initiative, but must always be true to its regulatory mission. A legal structure already exists at the Connecticut Brownfields Redevelopment Authority that might be built upon for this initiative. A determination should be made regarding CBRA's future vis-a-vis a new office or agency; there probably should not be two State entities with such similar missions. The programmatic and implementation activities of the new office must be preempted by a short period of State funded “think-tank” activities undertaken by professionals.

Mayor Michael Jarjura, City of Waterbury, Connecticut testified with hundreds of brownfield sites in existence in the City of Waterbury, it is critical that we encourage development by making brownfield assessment grants available to reimburse developers for Phase I and Phase II site assessments and investigations. In order to encourage business growth and development we need to minimize the uncertainties of contamination often associated with brownfields. A critical barrier to business growth in Waterbury is the lack of space available for business expansion. The bulk of industrially zoned land that is free of topographic constraints is either known to be or suspected of harboring contamination. Fear of environmental liabilities has deterred investors from purchasing and remedying available land. Brownfields limit the redevelopment of much of Waterbury's industrial land. We need to continue efforts to redevelop these otherwise valuable sites, concentrating on those with the most development potential.

James F. Abromaitis, Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) testified HB 5685 proposes to establish a one-stop shop for property owners and potential property owners to facilitate compliance with state and federal clean up requirements and qualification for state funds. In addition, HB 5685 would provide the department with yet another tool to promote brownfield cleanup activities and also give the department greater ability to obtain data necessary to evaluate the resources available for potential projects. While DECD is supportive of the intent of this bill, the Governor's budget does not provide funding for the brownfield pilot initiative in section 3 of this bill. Should this proposal move forward the department would respectfully request that the annual report required under section 1(b) (7) be incorporated into the department's annual report which was recently enacted under PA 05-151 (CGS 32-1m) last session to reduce the redundancy of reporting and for consistency with reporting of the department's overall mission.

Marie C. O'Brien, President of Connecticut Development Authority (CDA) testified in support of HB 5685 and has the makings for a solid partnership and is committed to working with CBRA on this bill. DECD will prove effective in coordinating remediation and redevelopment projects. As Connecticut's economy catalyst and business partner, the CDA is prepared to augment DECD's policy and planning with our financial expertise. CDA and CBRA are highly capable in leveraging private capital with public and Tax Incremental Financing (TIF). TIF is a unique financing tool that provides incentives to developers. TIF provides cash incentives equal to the net present value of a portion of the future incremental municipal tax revenues generated by the project.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Kachina Walsh-Weaver, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) testified in support of the bill and urges the committee to include a “build-out” analysis in the items the new office is charged with and favorably the bill. The creation of the Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development, along with the funding to support it, would be a very wise investment that could help the state and communities to reap rewards for years to come. Brownfield remediation is an important part of Connecticut's efforts to 1) spur development in places where the infrastructure to support it already exists, 2) improve blighted areas, 3) limit sprawl and preserve open space in outlying areas, and 4) clean up our environment.

Stephen R. Sasala, II, President and CEO, Waterbury Regional Chamber testified that Waterbury, East Hartford and many other municipalities are being constrained in their attempts to develop their tax bases in part because of their inability to remediate brownfields within their jurisdiction. In part the problem lies with liability issues and in part the problem lies with cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, lack of marketing and understanding on behalf of the public, and lack of interagency cooperation. Frankly, if we are going to get serious about brownfield remediation so far that our municipalities can reclaim and redevelop key development sites, the state's brownfields program needs a massive facelift and it will require the support of the Governor's office, DECD, DEP and the Connecticut Brownfields Redevelopment Authority.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

None stated.

 

Sherri L. Vogt

3-23-06

 

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