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Statewide View: Brownfield redevelopment vital to economic resiliency in northern Minnesota

Martha FaustNorthern Minnesota prides itself on its industrial history. From mining to paper mills, agriculture to shipping, the people of the Arrowhead region are hardworking and determined, and they treasure their self-reliance.

When industries vacate, their absences can be felt for years as communities try to recover from lost jobs. Vacant buildings, blighted properties and potential contamination can delay redevelopment. These environmentally impaired properties — called brownfields — would remain undeveloped if it weren't for support from state and local leaders, including U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

Minnesota Brownfields, a nonprofit organization that promotes the cleanup and reuse of contaminated land throughout the state, estimates there are more than 10,000 contaminated sites in Minnesota.

Nolan has vocally supported several initiatives that promote the cleanup and reuse of these sites. In a 2015 hearing on funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Program, Nolan cited Canal Park Brewing and Clyde Iron Works as exemplary projects that transformed formerly contaminated sites. Both projects received funding from various brownfield-focused grant sources that aid in the assessment and cleanup of potential hazardous contamination, including the EPA.

These sites, once eyesores and threats to public health, are now community assets, providing jobs, an increase to the tax base and cherished gathering spaces. Each dollar invested in the EPA Brownfields Program leverages more than $16 in private investment.

Nolan also has been a vocal supporter of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This federal program restores natural shorelines, combats invasive species, and cleans up toxics and areas of concern along Lake Superior's shoreline.

The initiative and the Brownfields Program have been instrumental in assisting local communities address environmental degradation and create new jobs and businesses.

We're in an uncertain time: Funding for the Brownfields Program is threatened with elimination. The Arrowhead region simply cannot afford to lose this environmental protection and economic development. We with Minnesota Brownfields appreciate Nolan for his past support and are grateful for his continued leadership to continue funding these vital programs.

Martha Faust of St. Paul is executive director of Minnesota Brownfields (mnbrownfields.org).

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