Brownfield sites are locations where remnants of toxic chemicals and industrial waste prevent the area from being used. There are an estimated 450,000 brownfields in the United States, with hundreds scattered across Connecticut. Federal and state assistance is available to help clean up brownfields, but the expertise and resources able to secure these funds is lacking for the most part, especially in smaller towns. This can impede economic development, as reinvesting in these properties can facilitate job growth and strengthen tax bases.
In order to provide a workforce and lend assistance for these efforts, the Connecticut Brownfields Initiative is developing a program for education on redeveloping brownfields and to provide networking opportunities to facilitate the process. At UConn, this translates into a class that will be offered to students (starting in the fall of 2018) focusing on grant proposal writing, regulatory and liability issues, site investigation and remediation and a host of other brownfield-related topics. After taking this class, students will have the opportunity to work with cities and towns on brownfield projects, giving these municipalities a much needed resource to engage in these efforts and the students’ valuable experience.
This is a beneficial initiative in several respects. It is first and foremost an opportunity for students at UConn who seek to pursue careers related to brownfield redevelopment and other environmental work. A two-part course where students initially learn skills and then the next semester are able to apply them is an idealized education process that is not an option for many students unless they are able to perform undergraduate research or secure internships.
The initiative is also a great boon to the environment and to the state. Protecting the environment is one of our most important responsibilities, and letting sites with toxic waste sit around and impact local areas is a dereliction of duty. This initiative can help clean up the environment all around the state which in and of itself is a reward. If that isn’t sufficient justification, there is also the fact that these areas will now be able to host useful development. This could entail new schools, new businesses, or any number of things that could benefit local communities. Developing on sites such as these that have already been worked on takes pressure off of open lands, further safeguarding the environment. The Connecticut Brownfields Initiative is a strong step towards addressing the problem of brownfields in our state.