By Bill Rees
If you’ve ever taken the Blue Line, commuted on FrontRunner, or hopped aboard the California Zephyr, you’ve benefitted from a brownfield cleanup. How? Well, Salt Lake’s bustling Intermodal Hub site sits atop what was once a contaminated, 18-acre railyard. The city remediated and repurposed this land through DEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). This VCP project not only cleaned up contaminated land, it also provided transit options that have resulted in better air quality and spurred the development of a dynamic commercial and residential community.
Gateway to progress
In the mid-1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the Gateway District in downtown Salt Lake City as a Brownfields Showcase Community. This designation helped Salt Lake City leverage support for the assessment and redevelopment of brownfields and blighted properties located within the Gateway District. Communities around the country redevelop brownfields to protect public health and the environment, raise property values, spur economic development, and leverage investments in infrastructure.
Remediation of the site through the VCP was an important part of the city’s effort to revitalize the 650-acre Gateway District. Redevelopment activities in the Gateway District included the relocation and consolidation of existing rail lines, a light rail system, a redesign of Interstate 15, and the creation of a vibrant, mixed-use community on land that had previously sparked little interest from businesses or developers.
From blight to beneficial use
The land underneath the Intermodal Hub once housed a number of facilities that supported historical railroad operations. Contaminants at the site included petroleum products and metals such as lead and arsenic.
Because the project was slated to use $40 million in federal transportation funds for construction, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) was concerned about the city’s potential liability for environmental contamination at the site. Before the FTA would fund the project, it stipulated that the site be assessed and cleaned up. The city turned to the VCP program to ensure that the cleanup mitigated human health risks and met all required environmental standards. The project was overseen by DEQ’s Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR).
DERR phased the assessment and cleanup so Salt Lake City could move forward with development of the transportation hub and the relocation of the existing Amtrak station. As part of the VCP, the city removed contaminated soil and managed other impacted areas in concert with the design of the Intermodal Hub. The Intermodal Hub cleanup was completed in 2007, and DERR issued a Certificate of Completion to Salt Lake City stating that the cleanup met the terms and conditions of the VCP agreement. DERR continues to work with stakeholders to manage this property.
Brownfields cleanups can provide environmental benefits beyond the mitigation of onsite contamination. The Intermodal Hub has improved Salt Lake’s air quality by providing residents with transportation options that reduce vehicle emissions. In addition to TRAX, FrontRunner, and Amtrak, the transit center hosts a Greyhound bus terminal, local Utah Transportation Authority (UTA) bus lines, the Bicycle Transit Center, and the Greenbike bikeshare program.
Transportation centers also serve as a catalyst for transit-oriented development. The Gateway District has seen a sharp increase in the construction of residential units as well as the commercial amenities needed to serve this residential growth. Alta Gateway, a current VCP project in the district, is remediating land for a large apartment complex, and Centro Civico Mexicano is in the early planning stages for additional housing on an existing brownfield in the area.
The VCP provides an important tool for businesses and communities to assess, clean up, and safely reuse contaminated land. As the business and residential growth in the Gateway District demonstrates, the return of formerly contaminated land to beneficial use protects public health and the environment, increases the local tax base, boosts job growth, invigorates blighted areas, and in this case, improves air quality and facilitates transit use.
Want to learn more about the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP)? Check out our Winter 2016 Brownfields Connection Newsletter or previous editions of our newsletter for more success stories.
I am a Program Manager for the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation and have been working on Brownfields and voluntary cleanup sites for over 17 years with the DEQ. I enjoy working with stakeholders to find solutions to challenging issues and to see blighted/impacted property cleaned up and returned to productive use. Away from work, I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking, running and playing various sports such as volleyball.