Brownfields Assessments Project

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Project Overview

The City of Vancouver Brownfields Assessment Project is funded through a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Coalition Assessment Grant, which supports environmental investigation of properties that are suspected of being contaminated by hazardous materials or petroleum. The City of Vancouver, in partnership with Clark County Public Health and the Vancouver Housing Authority, plan to utilize this grant to further local subarea revitalization, economic development, environmental protection, and housing goals.

This project will primarily focus on assessments in the Fourth Plain focus area in central Vancouver but could also include other potential sites in other areas of the city and throughout Clark County. The Fourth Plain focus area includes an area around a five mile stretch of Fourth Plain Boulevard between I-5 and I-205.

Project map highlighting the five mile focus area surrounding Fourth Plain Boulevard between I-5 and I-205

This grant allows the City to work with property owners who think that the historic use of their property may have led to contamination and provide them with the resources to conduct environmental assessments of their property. This is a three-year grant expected to end September 30, 2023. The City is recruiting interested property owners to partner with. If you are interested in learning more about this process, please contact:

Shannon Williams
Associate Long Range Planner
360-487-7898
shannon.williams@cityofvancouver.us

The project team will work with interested property owners at key sites to determine their specific environmental constraints and facilitate clean-up activities if needed, as well as engage the community and area stakeholders in site reuse and design for future redevelopment. Participation is entirely voluntary. The project is funded by a $600,000 Brownfields Coalition Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete the following work over three years:

  • Update and expand the City's brownfields site inventory to include the expanded Clark County geography (the original site inventory was completed with a 2013 EPA Brownfields Community-Wide Assessment Grant and only addresses City of Vancouver Brownfields sites).
  • Conduct up to 15 Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), evenly divided between petroleum and hazardous substance sites (10 ESAs to be included in the Fourth Plain target area).
  • Conduct up to 12 Phase II ESAs, evenly divided between petroleum and hazardous substance sites (8 ESAs to be included in the target area)
  • Prepare Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives (ABCAs) at one hazardous substance site and one petroleum site.
  • Develop an Area-Wide Plan (AWP) and a Final Cleanup Plan for up to two brownfield impacted areas, potentially including real estate market analysis, infrastructure assessment, conceptual reuse planning and design, and targeted community outreach and engagement.

A Brownfields Advisory Committee (BAC) will provide guidance and oversight to the project team throughout the term of the grant. The BAC will meet several times a year over the course of the project term and includes strong representation from the Fourth Plain target area. BAC members represent the following stakeholders:

  • City of Vancouver Economic Prosperity and Housing Department
  • City of Vancouver Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services Department
  • Fourth Plain Forward nonprofit
  • Fourth Plain residents
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • Vancouver Housing Authority
  • Vietnamese Community Association

Get Involved

There will be opportunities for community involvement and public input at key milestones over the course of the project. To receive updates about the Brownfields Assessments project and opportunities for public input, you can:

Frequently Asked Questions

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a brownfield is defined as a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, contaminants, controlled substances, petroleum or petroleum products, or is mine-scarred land.

The impacts of brownfields can extend beyond the boundaries of the property to affect the surrounding community and environment. Left in their current state, these properties can:

  • Harm human health and the environment
  • Become eyesores and contribute to blight
  • Limit economic growth and development
  • Reduce employment opportunities and tax revenue
  • Reduce surrounding property values
  • Contribute to neighborhood crime

People often think of contaminated properties as large factories in big cities, but most sites are small properties such as former gas stations, repair shops, and dry cleaners. In smaller communities the impact of these sites can be disproportionately large.

There are two main categories of contamination: hazardous substances and petroleum:

  • Hazardous substances tend to include heavy metals (such as lead), chemicals used by the historic owner (such as those used for dry cleaning, wood treating, mechanical repair, etc.), and asbestos in old structures.
  • Petroleum is often found around old automotive shops and gas stations that have or had underground storage tanks, fueling operations, and used petroleum products for operations.

There are essentially three ways to clean up a property:

  1. Dig & Haul: Dig out contaminated soil and haul it away
  2. Treat in Place: Use technologies, such as injection of chemicals to break down the contamination, that can treat the soil or groundwater in the ground
  3. Engineering Controls: Measures that bound contamination so that it is contained in place. An example of engineered controls include placing a layer of clean material over contaminated soils to limit contact with contamination.

These options vary in price and the extent to which the contamination is fully removed. It is rare that every inch of contaminated soil must be removed from a property. What cleanup really does is break the pathways of exposure. This means figuring out how humans and the environment could be exposed to contamination (i.e. through breathing in vapors, coming into contact with soil, or drinking the water) and putting in barriers to keep that from happening, such as vapor barriers, soil caps, and water treatment.

The extent to which contaminated soil or groundwater needs to be removed depends on how the affected property will be used. If the site is going to be used for new offices, the office building and parking lot can act as a cap that prevents contact with the subsurface contamination. Whereas, if the site is going to become a park where people frequently come into contact with the soil or groundwater, some amount of dig and haul may be required to eliminate exposure.

The legal framework around a contaminated property is built so that the current property owner is responsible even if he/she did not cause the pollution - unless they have been granted liability protection from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology). City staff can help explain these programs if you are concerned or interested.

The grant funds can provide funding for environmental investigations to help you find out if your property is contaminated or get documentation asserting that there is no reason to suspect contamination. If some contamination is found, the grant has funding available for up to two properties to create a plan to clean up the property and a market study to provide information about what types of development might suit the property. Remember that the extent (and thus cost) of cleanup depends on the future property use.

Simplified Assessment and Cleanup Process. EPA Brownfields Grant Program Support: Assess Environmental Concerns and Plan Site Reuse. Mitigate Risk & Cleanup. Site Reuse.

While it is certainly a bit scary to suspect that your property might have some contamination, selling without an environmental investigation is hard to do. To get a loan to buy a property, most banks require a Phase I environmental site assessment (like the ones funded by the grant) before issuing the loan. By going through this process, the City can use these funds to help make the property more marketable if you wish to sell it.

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) uses existing information to understand the property conditions by examining current and historical uses of the site and potential threats to human health or the environment. The Phase I ESA includes reviewing historical land uses; conducting environmental records review, site visits, interviews with property owners and operators; and preparing a comprehensive report that contains all of that information.

  1. What is the purpose of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
    The purpose of conducting a Phase I environmental site assessment (ESA) is to obtain innocent landowner protections through an environmental due diligence process. A Phase I ESA gives property owners a liability defense and satisfies all appropriate inquiries. It is often required by lenders prior to developing land and can support decision making when deciding how the land should be developed.
  2. What are the outcomes of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
    Once a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is completed the environmental conditions are documented and formalized. A recognized environmental condition is the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products in, on, or at a property that could pose a threat to the environment and/or human health. The Phase I ESA also must be completed prior to a Phase II ESA.

Process of Phase I: Review of Regulatory and Historical Trends. Site Reconnaissance. Interviews with Property Owners and Occupants. Report Preparation.

A Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is conducted after a Phase I ESA and builds on the information gathered. The Phase II ESA includes sampling of soil, air, groundwater, and/or building materials and data analysis to evaluate the recognized environmental conditions identified in the Phase I ESA. The Phase II ESA determines sources of contamination and also assesses exposure pathways and cleanup scenarios.

The Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives (ABCA) is a feasibility study that develops and evaluates cleanup action alternatives for a site. An ABCA typically includes sections describing the background and current conditions of the site (maps, previous uses, assessment findings, reuse goals), applicable regulations and cleanup standards, an evaluation of cleanup alternatives and a recommended remedial action. The evaluation of cleanup alternatives is based on the effectiveness, ease of implementation and cost of each remedial action.

The Area-Wide Plan and Final Cleanup Plan will provide direction for future brownfields cleanup, reuse and redevelopment for a particular site. The community will be engaged to ensure the plans reflect community priorities related to brownfields cleanup and near- and long-term revitalization of the property. The resulting plans will evaluate existing environmental conditions, local market potential and needed infrastructure improvements, develop strategies for site cleanup and reuse, and identify resources and strategies to help implement the plans. The grant anticipates having funding available for planning at two sites.

Map highlighting Fourth Plain focus area

Previous Brownfield Accomplishments

2013 EPA Brownfields Grant Projects

In 2013, the City of Vancouver was awarded an EPA Brownfields Community Wide Planning Grant, which was used to establish a citywide brownfields site inventory and conduct environmental assessments on key individual sites. 14 Phase I and/or II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and two remediation plans were completed, and the City was able to prepare several brownfields sites for future redevelopment. Key accomplishments include:

Block 10, informally known as Heritage Square, was an undeveloped city block located in the heart of downtown Vancouver between Columbia and Washington streets and 8th and 9th streets. It was one of the last remaining undeveloped blocks in the downtown area.

The City of Vancouver purchased the block in 1993 for future redevelopment, and utilized the 2013 EPA Brownfields grant to perform a Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) on the property to support future redevelopment.

In May 2020, the City of Vancouver sold Block 10 to Holland Partner Group for redevelopment. The project includes:

  • Two distinct four-story towers above a two-story shared parking garage and first floor retail space
  • One tower will offer 79,000 square feet of office space
  • The other tower will have 110 apartment units - 20% of the units will be more affordable, “workforce” housing
  • A 114 space parking garage
  • Ground-floor retail space (10,000 square feet)

The City of Vancouver utilized the 2013 EPA Brownfields grant to work with businesses and property owners to identify and prioritize infrastructure improvements and environmental clean-up needs to address poor street conditions, localized flooding, and other concerns in the Lower Grand Employment Area (LGEA) that had hindered development.

Grant activities resulted in the development of multiple properties within the LGEA. It was expected to result in an investment of $60 million to yield 300,000-400,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space supporting 1,500-3,000 direct jobs having an estimated economic impact of $144-288 million in annual payroll and sales tax revenues of $3.4-6.3 million.

Project Overview

The City of Vancouver Brownfields Assessment Project is funded through a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Coalition Assessment Grant, which supports environmental investigation of properties that are suspected of being contaminated by hazardous materials or petroleum. The City of Vancouver, in partnership with Clark County Public Health and the Vancouver Housing Authority, plan to utilize this grant to further local subarea revitalization, economic development, environmental protection, and housing goals.

This project will primarily focus on assessments in the Fourth Plain focus area in central Vancouver but could also include other potential sites in other areas of the city and throughout Clark County. The Fourth Plain focus area includes an area around a five mile stretch of Fourth Plain Boulevard between I-5 and I-205.

Project map highlighting the five mile focus area surrounding Fourth Plain Boulevard between I-5 and I-205

This grant allows the City to work with property owners who think that the historic use of their property may have led to contamination and provide them with the resources to conduct environmental assessments of their property. This is a three-year grant expected to end September 30, 2023. The City is recruiting interested property owners to partner with. If you are interested in learning more about this process, please contact:

Shannon Williams
Associate Long Range Planner
360-487-7898
shannon.williams@cityofvancouver.us

The project team will work with interested property owners at key sites to determine their specific environmental constraints and facilitate clean-up activities if needed, as well as engage the community and area stakeholders in site reuse and design for future redevelopment. Participation is entirely voluntary. The project is funded by a $600,000 Brownfields Coalition Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete the following work over three years:

  • Update and expand the City's brownfields site inventory to include the expanded Clark County geography (the original site inventory was completed with a 2013 EPA Brownfields Community-Wide Assessment Grant and only addresses City of Vancouver Brownfields sites).
  • Conduct up to 15 Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), evenly divided between petroleum and hazardous substance sites (10 ESAs to be included in the Fourth Plain target area).
  • Conduct up to 12 Phase II ESAs, evenly divided between petroleum and hazardous substance sites (8 ESAs to be included in the target area)
  • Prepare Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives (ABCAs) at one hazardous substance site and one petroleum site.
  • Develop an Area-Wide Plan (AWP) and a Final Cleanup Plan for up to two brownfield impacted areas, potentially including real estate market analysis, infrastructure assessment, conceptual reuse planning and design, and targeted community outreach and engagement.

A Brownfields Advisory Committee (BAC) will provide guidance and oversight to the project team throughout the term of the grant. The BAC will meet several times a year over the course of the project term and includes strong representation from the Fourth Plain target area. BAC members represent the following stakeholders:

  • City of Vancouver Economic Prosperity and Housing Department
  • City of Vancouver Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services Department
  • Fourth Plain Forward nonprofit
  • Fourth Plain residents
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • Vancouver Housing Authority
  • Vietnamese Community Association

Get Involved

There will be opportunities for community involvement and public input at key milestones over the course of the project. To receive updates about the Brownfields Assessments project and opportunities for public input, you can:

Frequently Asked Questions

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a brownfield is defined as a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, contaminants, controlled substances, petroleum or petroleum products, or is mine-scarred land.

The impacts of brownfields can extend beyond the boundaries of the property to affect the surrounding community and environment. Left in their current state, these properties can:

  • Harm human health and the environment
  • Become eyesores and contribute to blight
  • Limit economic growth and development
  • Reduce employment opportunities and tax revenue
  • Reduce surrounding property values
  • Contribute to neighborhood crime

People often think of contaminated properties as large factories in big cities, but most sites are small properties such as former gas stations, repair shops, and dry cleaners. In smaller communities the impact of these sites can be disproportionately large.

There are two main categories of contamination: hazardous substances and petroleum:

  • Hazardous substances tend to include heavy metals (such as lead), chemicals used by the historic owner (such as those used for dry cleaning, wood treating, mechanical repair, etc.), and asbestos in old structures.
  • Petroleum is often found around old automotive shops and gas stations that have or had underground storage tanks, fueling operations, and used petroleum products for operations.

There are essentially three ways to clean up a property:

  1. Dig & Haul: Dig out contaminated soil and haul it away
  2. Treat in Place: Use technologies, such as injection of chemicals to break down the contamination, that can treat the soil or groundwater in the ground
  3. Engineering Controls: Measures that bound contamination so that it is contained in place. An example of engineered controls include placing a layer of clean material over contaminated soils to limit contact with contamination.

These options vary in price and the extent to which the contamination is fully removed. It is rare that every inch of contaminated soil must be removed from a property. What cleanup really does is break the pathways of exposure. This means figuring out how humans and the environment could be exposed to contamination (i.e. through breathing in vapors, coming into contact with soil, or drinking the water) and putting in barriers to keep that from happening, such as vapor barriers, soil caps, and water treatment.

The extent to which contaminated soil or groundwater needs to be removed depends on how the affected property will be used. If the site is going to be used for new offices, the office building and parking lot can act as a cap that prevents contact with the subsurface contamination. Whereas, if the site is going to become a park where people frequently come into contact with the soil or groundwater, some amount of dig and haul may be required to eliminate exposure.

The legal framework around a contaminated property is built so that the current property owner is responsible even if he/she did not cause the pollution - unless they have been granted liability protection from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology). City staff can help explain these programs if you are concerned or interested.

The grant funds can provide funding for environmental investigations to help you find out if your property is contaminated or get documentation asserting that there is no reason to suspect contamination. If some contamination is found, the grant has funding available for up to two properties to create a plan to clean up the property and a market study to provide information about what types of development might suit the property. Remember that the extent (and thus cost) of cleanup depends on the future property use.

Simplified Assessment and Cleanup Process. EPA Brownfields Grant Program Support: Assess Environmental Concerns and Plan Site Reuse. Mitigate Risk & Cleanup. Site Reuse.

While it is certainly a bit scary to suspect that your property might have some contamination, selling without an environmental investigation is hard to do. To get a loan to buy a property, most banks require a Phase I environmental site assessment (like the ones funded by the grant) before issuing the loan. By going through this process, the City can use these funds to help make the property more marketable if you wish to sell it.

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) uses existing information to understand the property conditions by examining current and historical uses of the site and potential threats to human health or the environment. The Phase I ESA includes reviewing historical land uses; conducting environmental records review, site visits, interviews with property owners and operators; and preparing a comprehensive report that contains all of that information.

  1. What is the purpose of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
    The purpose of conducting a Phase I environmental site assessment (ESA) is to obtain innocent landowner protections through an environmental due diligence process. A Phase I ESA gives property owners a liability defense and satisfies all appropriate inquiries. It is often required by lenders prior to developing land and can support decision making when deciding how the land should be developed.
  2. What are the outcomes of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment?
    Once a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is completed the environmental conditions are documented and formalized. A recognized environmental condition is the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products in, on, or at a property that could pose a threat to the environment and/or human health. The Phase I ESA also must be completed prior to a Phase II ESA.

Process of Phase I: Review of Regulatory and Historical Trends. Site Reconnaissance. Interviews with Property Owners and Occupants. Report Preparation.

A Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is conducted after a Phase I ESA and builds on the information gathered. The Phase II ESA includes sampling of soil, air, groundwater, and/or building materials and data analysis to evaluate the recognized environmental conditions identified in the Phase I ESA. The Phase II ESA determines sources of contamination and also assesses exposure pathways and cleanup scenarios.

The Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives (ABCA) is a feasibility study that develops and evaluates cleanup action alternatives for a site. An ABCA typically includes sections describing the background and current conditions of the site (maps, previous uses, assessment findings, reuse goals), applicable regulations and cleanup standards, an evaluation of cleanup alternatives and a recommended remedial action. The evaluation of cleanup alternatives is based on the effectiveness, ease of implementation and cost of each remedial action.

The Area-Wide Plan and Final Cleanup Plan will provide direction for future brownfields cleanup, reuse and redevelopment for a particular site. The community will be engaged to ensure the plans reflect community priorities related to brownfields cleanup and near- and long-term revitalization of the property. The resulting plans will evaluate existing environmental conditions, local market potential and needed infrastructure improvements, develop strategies for site cleanup and reuse, and identify resources and strategies to help implement the plans. The grant anticipates having funding available for planning at two sites.

Map highlighting Fourth Plain focus area

Previous Brownfield Accomplishments

2013 EPA Brownfields Grant Projects

In 2013, the City of Vancouver was awarded an EPA Brownfields Community Wide Planning Grant, which was used to establish a citywide brownfields site inventory and conduct environmental assessments on key individual sites. 14 Phase I and/or II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and two remediation plans were completed, and the City was able to prepare several brownfields sites for future redevelopment. Key accomplishments include:

Block 10, informally known as Heritage Square, was an undeveloped city block located in the heart of downtown Vancouver between Columbia and Washington streets and 8th and 9th streets. It was one of the last remaining undeveloped blocks in the downtown area.

The City of Vancouver purchased the block in 1993 for future redevelopment, and utilized the 2013 EPA Brownfields grant to perform a Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) on the property to support future redevelopment.

In May 2020, the City of Vancouver sold Block 10 to Holland Partner Group for redevelopment. The project includes:

  • Two distinct four-story towers above a two-story shared parking garage and first floor retail space
  • One tower will offer 79,000 square feet of office space
  • The other tower will have 110 apartment units - 20% of the units will be more affordable, “workforce” housing
  • A 114 space parking garage
  • Ground-floor retail space (10,000 square feet)

The City of Vancouver utilized the 2013 EPA Brownfields grant to work with businesses and property owners to identify and prioritize infrastructure improvements and environmental clean-up needs to address poor street conditions, localized flooding, and other concerns in the Lower Grand Employment Area (LGEA) that had hindered development.

Grant activities resulted in the development of multiple properties within the LGEA. It was expected to result in an investment of $60 million to yield 300,000-400,000 square feet of commercial office and retail space supporting 1,500-3,000 direct jobs having an estimated economic impact of $144-288 million in annual payroll and sales tax revenues of $3.4-6.3 million.

Ask A Question

Do you have a question about the Brownfields Assessments Project? Ask it here!

Project staff will respond to your questions as soon as possible. 

In most cases, your question and our answer will be visible to all users after we respond to it. Should we need to ask a clarifying, follow-up question, we may respond to you privately instead.

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    How can I join efforts to clean up trash on the freeways?

    Jamie Cotton asked 4 months ago

    Thank you for your interest joining the City of Vancouver to pick up litter on select WSDOT on and off-ramps in Vancouver. You can learn more about our Litter Stewards program here: Litter Removal | City of Vancouver, Washington, USA. To sign up to volunteer, fill out the application form here: Ongoing Litter Steward Volunteer Application (volgistics.com). This is the first step to begin and get you trained and equipped as a Litter Steward Volunteer to be able to join our team in litter cleanups throughout the city as well as participate in supervised cleanup events to remove litter along WSDOT on and off-ramps. WSDOT litter cleanup activities happen two Saturdays per month in 2022 thru June 2023 and training and registration are required prior to participating.

     

    To sign up to volunteer to remove litter from state highways and freeways please check out WSDOT’s Adopt A Highway program here: Adopt-a-Highway volunteers | WSDOT. This is a program managed by the state. Note, due to COVID-19 impacts the program may have changed or be temporarily paused, so it is best to reach out directly to WSDOT to learn more about highway cleanup volunteering opportunities.

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    Do the number of sites with low level contamination correspond with order of priority? For example do Fourth Plain assessments outnumber other areas with contamination?

    KLQ323 asked 9 months ago

    Thanks so much for your question. The City of Vancouver received a grant in 2013 to create a brownfields inventory, which established a database of potential brownfields sites throughout the city. This analysis showed that the Fourth Plain area was one of the areas in the city with higher concentrations of potential brownfields sites than the citywide average. Site assessments are needed to determine the level, if any, of contamination that actually exists on these sites. The current project will not only update and expand the previous brownfields inventory, but it provides some funding to conduct site assessments on potential brownfields sites - the next step in getting contaminated areas cleaned up and improving the environmental and community health in our communities.

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    Who owns the properties that will be improved? If a private party owns it, will the city get repaid by the land owner?

    Kpett asked over 1 year ago

    The Brownfields project is focused on providing funding to inventory and assess potential brownfield sites throughout Vancouver and Clark County. Inventorying and assessing potential brownfield sites are the first necessary steps before these sites can be improved for reuse and redevelopment, however funds are not directly used to improve properties. The City of Vancouver, in partnership with Clark County Public Health and the Vancouver Housing Authority, was awarded an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant that will be utilized to fund activities undertaken as part of this project, including those on private property. Because the EPA grant will fund all activities of the Brownfields project, there is no reimbursement needed by property owners.

Page last updated: 01 Mar 2022, 05:23 PM