Rural communities themselves are not exempt from the effects of environmental contamination. Thousands of "brownfields", abandoned industries and businesses, such as mills, factories and closed gasoline stations are actual or perceived sources of environmental contamination. In a rural community, the impact can be even more devastating if the failed business is the sole large employer. A central blighted property also increases pressure to develop surrounding farmland or "greenfields." USDA helps support rural redevelopment through programs in the Rural Development and Natural Resources and Environment Mission areas. USDA R&R serves as the primary contact point for communities needing USDA assistance with a brownfields project. We also have a special interest on brownfields associated with mine scarred lands and communities from a cleanup and redevelopment perspective.
Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous materials. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties lessens development pressures on undeveloped, open land and both improves and protects the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manages a national Brownfield program under the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. USDA is a key federal partner in the national Brownfields program.
Resources Available for Community Redevelopment
USDA is organized into seven different mission areas. Two of these areas are uniquely tailored to provide redevelopment assistance to Brownfields communities - although USDA does not have a specific program targeted for Brownfields redevelopment. Improving the quality of life in rural America is one of our key strategic goals. USDA is also structured to help individual communities directly in the field and not through regional offices. Typically, USDA programs are conducted on a state by state basis and further subdivided into districts within each state. Finding your local contact for information regarding financial assistance or technical assistance is best accomplished by contacting the USDA Brownfields coordinator or by finding the state office for the program you are interested in.
Rural Development (RD) Mission Area:
The most helpful programs for redevelopment are found in the Rural Development mission area. State maps with state and district office contact information are found on the "Contact us" link on the Rural Development webpage. USDA Rural Development funds have been used as a part of redevelopment at Brownfields sites for projects as basic as low income housing and sewer and water improvements to libraries, town halls and health clinics. Eligibility requirements vary by program but generally are available for communities under 25,000.
Rural Development programs include:
Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Mission Area:
There are two programs within the NRE mission area that typically support Brownfields redevelopment. The Forest Service provides technical assistance and grant money to states to foster urban reforestation and other projects that will help "green" Brownfields.
The other significant program is managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Over 90% of the United States is included in the Resource Conservation and Development program. The RC&D is often confused with the RCD's or the Resource Conservation Districts. While the RCDs have provided technical assistance on erosion control, soil characteristics and other support, the RC&D are local 501(c) councils comprised of local businessmen, financiers, environmentalists, and developers with an NRCS employee serving as the administrative support. The purpose of the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program is to accelerate the conservation, development and utilization of natural resources, improve the general level of economic activity, and to enhance the environment and standard of living in designated RC&D areas. It improves the capability of State, tribal and local units of government and local nonprofit organizations in rural areas to plan, develop and carry out programs for resource conservation and development.
The program also establishes or improves coordination systems in rural areas. Current program objectives focus on improvement of quality of life achieved through natural resources conservation and community development, which leads to sustainable communities, prudent use (development), and the management and conservation of natural resources. RC&D areas are locally sponsored areas designated by the Secretary of Agriculture for RC&D technical and financial assistance program funds. Information and location concerning your local RC&D can be found at their website. (See http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/)
Other USDA Mission Areas:
There are many other agencies and programs within USDA that can provide assistance to local communities as part of a Brownfields redevelopment project. The universities in your area more than likely have USDA programs associated with the Cooperative Extension Service or are located within your county. The 4-H programs or Food and Nutrition Service programs have also participated in projects such as vegetable gardens and healthy foods projects. The Agricultural Research Service provides technical assistance to communities that are developing innovative agricultural projects. The Agricultural Marketing Service has also supported the development of bio-based products and other innovative uses of agricultural products. There are 19 USDA agencies with programs designed to help support your redevelopment project.