Expanded Brownfields Program Supports Redevelopment in Alaska

This article also appears in the Summer 2018 print edition.

Keku Cannery, Kake
Keku Cannery, Kake. Photo from Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Summer is construction season in Alaska, but before redevelopment projects move forward, site assessments must be done to determine whether there are hazardous substances or contaminants that could interfere with plans. If the site previously housed a business, such as a gas station or dry cleaners, there may be residual con-taminants. The types of contaminants, remediation process, and costs need to be as-sessed. Once these are known, the developer can decide how best to move forward.

Over the past few years, Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) has received funds from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields Program to assist with site assessments in Anchorage’s Spenard, Fairview, and Mountain View neigh-borhoods. Brownfields Program funds, along with other funds, assisted with the in-vestigation and cleanup of property previously occupied by Olson’s Tesoro Service Sta-tion, clearing the way for development of CIHA’s retail/residential property in Spenard.

Redevelopment projects

There are Brownfields projects — projects involving the reuse or redevelopment of land that may be hindered by contaminants — throughout Alaska. These include an assessment of the Keku Cannery in Kake which operated from the early 1900s to 1977. The Organized Village of Kake plans to turn the old cannery into a cultural center with a museum, restaurant, and market place. Funds are also going to clean up contaminants found on a school site in Ruby and an old library site in Talkeetna that res-idents would like to turn into a skate park (DEC, 2018b).

Increased grant limits

This year, Congress authorized increased grant limits in the Brownfields Program and removed barriers to Alaska Native villages and Alaska Native corporations receiving grants under the program. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2018 is part of the FY18 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

The Brownfields Program, like the Superfund Program, is under the EPA. While Su-perfund sites automatically receive federal funds, not all Brownfields sites receive federal funds. The EPA provides each region funds for Brownfields site assessment and cleanup and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) administers funds for Alaska projects under a 128(a) grant from the EPA. Although Congress increased the limits on the amount each project may receive, funds are still limited. Priority is given to projects that have “solid reuse or redevelopment plans,” projects that are working to secure funds from multiple sources, and projects that have strong community support (DEC, 2018a).

There are multiple types of Brownfields funding available in Alaska including: 128(a)grants, Competitive Assessment grants, Competitive Cleanup grants, Targeted Brownfields Assessments, or funds from DEC’s Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup program (DBAC). Higher amounts for assessment are awarded for large community or area-wide contamination.

Kodiak, Anchorage and Mat-Su grants

Brownfields around Lake Hood and Spenard neighborhood, Municipality of Anchorage. This map marks the locations of real property sites in this area of Anchorage whose expansion, redevelopmennt, or resuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of environmental contamination. Image from Contaminated Sites Database searchable ArcGIS map, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
Brownfields around Lake Hood and Spenard neighborhood, Municipality of Anchorage

Currently, Kodiak, Anchorage, and Mat-Su Borough have received area-wide grants for assessment of contaminated sites. The Municipality of Anchorage received a $300,000 Brownfield assessment grant, Kodiak Island Borough received a $600,000 grant, and Mat-Su Borough received a $550,000 Brownfield grant (Municipality of Anchorage, 2017; Kodiak Island Borough, 2017; Matanuska-Susitna Borough, 2018).

The maximum amount for site remediation grants has increased from $200,000 to $500,000 this year. The limit may be waived by the administrator up to, but not to exceed $650,000, according to Lisa Griswold, DEC Environmental Specialist. However, Griswold added, these funds have not been appropriated. No extra money has been given to the federal Brownfields Program. This rule change simply increased the amount for which each site is eligible.

Eligibility expanded

Public entities, such as Native corporations, nonprofits, and local governments may apply for these grants or services. The EPA has allowed Alaska Native corporations and local governments to partner with tribal entities and others who may not be eligible for these grants on their own.

In addition, this year Congress cleared a path for Alaska Native villages and Alaska Native corporations or their successors that received a contaminated facility from the U.S. government under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) to be eligible for Brownfields grants. Prior to this year, Alaska Native villages and corporations had been considered “owner or operator” of the lands and liable for contamination and ineligible for Brownfields grants.

Griswold continued to put the increased limits in perspective. While the limits are high, the actual funding pool is “quite small.” The largest project in any given year for DBACs is no more than $100,000, she said, adding that communities could fill out multiple applications through the years to reach the uppermost limit.

Priority is given to sites that most endanger human health and the environment. DEC considers the overall cost of assessment or remediation in determining which sites will receive funding. “The funding can be thought of like a pie. It is theoretically possible to do one really large project, but that would mean no other projects could be done. Lower cost projects allow for more projects to be completed (thus extending DEC’s ability to assist communities),” Griswold said.

If you have questions about Brownfields in Alaska, Lisa Griswold can be reached at lisa.griswold@alaska.gov or (907) 269-2021.


Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). (2018a). “DEC Brownfields Assessments and Cleanup Service” (website). Alaska Department of Environ-mental Conservation, Division of Spill Prevention and Response.

—————. (2018b). “DEC Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup Projects” (website). Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Spill Prevention and Response.

Kodiak Island Borough. (2018). “Brownfield Assessment Project 2017–2020” (website). Kodiak, AK: Kodiak Island Borough.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough. (2018). “Brownfields Program: Site Resuse & Revitalization” (website). Palmer, AK: Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Municipality of Anchorage. (2018). “Municipality of Anchorage Selected for $300,000 in Brownfields Assessment Grants” (website). Anchorage, AK: Municipality of Anchorage.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2018). “Overview of the Brownfields Program” (website). Updated 29 Mar 2018. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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