The main thoroughfare in Madison, Wisconsin, leading to the state capitol, is going through a major renaissance. Once an idle brownfield, and before that an active industrial-commercial area, the entire block has now been converted to residential, commercial, and office spaces, as well as a youth art center. After extensive due diligence to assess, then successfully remediate significant adverse environmental conditions from past uses, the property’s new mixed-use buildings are open for occupancy. The community art center opens in 2021.
The block formerly housed a dairy operation, gas station, auto maintenance shops, a print shop, and a dry cleaner. These past uses and the historic fill placed on the property resulted in chlorinated solvents, petroleum, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metal contamination.
Remediating and mitigating environmental contamination and redeveloping brownfields like this one into vibrant, revenue-generating community assets takes pooled expertise from multiple disciplines, including hydrogeology and environmental engineering.
While these projects can provide high value for communities long into the future, they are complex and require large investments up front, explains Ray Tierney, an SCS vice president. Having a team that gets a full picture of the property’s environmental condition, knows regulators’ expectations, and can identify technically sound, cost-effective remediation and mitigation approaches can translate to substantial money savings.
In this case, a solid knowledge base and vetting key details resulted in seven-digit figure savings and facilitated prized redevelopments.
“We identified the amount of soil and groundwater contamination, evaluated strategies to best address the issues, and came up with a cost estimate for remediation. Based on the estimate, along with documentation validating the scientific rationale for our recommendations, the seller reduced their price to account for the legacy environmental liabilities which the purchaser agreed to accept and address as part of the property’s redevelopment.”
SCS Engineers assessed for contamination; oversaw the management of contaminated soil and groundwater during construction according to the materials management plan; supported the client in securing grants, permits and documented compliance with the approved planning documents.
For this project, as is often true in historic urban areas, the greatest expense was dealing with widespread contamination found in the historic fill soils and with groundwater issues.
“Our client is obligated to handle contaminated materials properly. We plan and permit the proper procedures, work with contractors to facilitate the work, documenting that procedures and plans are followed while making sure they only invest what is necessary to be judicious in protecting the environment and public health,” says the SCS Project Manager and Geologist Dr. Betty Socha.
During construction, Socha’s team was onsite to assist contractors in complying with environmental plans and permits, documenting that activities were completed safely and in compliance with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) expectations. The team oversaw soil removal and management during site demolition and construction of the foundation, including piles and a structural slab. This support system reduces the geotechnical requirement of the underlying soils to reuse more onsite soil safely. But knowing what soil is acceptable and orchestrating the separation of contaminated and non-contaminated materials takes specialized expertise and skill.
“During construction, we evaluate soil conditions, so contaminated soil is safely disposed of at a landfill. But landfilling large volumes of soil is a considerable expense, so it’s important to determine what is safe to be segregated as clean soils for reuse elsewhere. Knowing how to do this efficiently will minimize disposal costs and maximize the use of valued resources,” Socha says.
Getting a handle on groundwater conditions and identifying the best management strategy requires equal attention.
“This property sits on a strip of land (an Isthmus) between two large and prized lakes, with a shallow water table. We thoroughly assessed the groundwater (aka, hydrogeologic) site conditions and managed groundwater generated during construction and dewatering activities,” says Tierney.
“We documented the extent of contamination, and the WDNR confirmed our evaluation that no additional remedial groundwater treatment systems were needed. We could show the contamination was contained enough to pose no risk to municipal wells, private wells, surface water, or other sensitive environments. However, the client still needed a permit to dispose of the contaminated groundwater generated during dewatering for construction of the building foundation and underground utilities,” says Tierney.
Major brownfield redevelopment projects are involved with multistep processes. They begin with a Phase I Environmental Assessment entailing an inspection of the property and a historical review.
That’s where SCS initially identifies potential or existing environmental liabilities from contamination. Then the team confirms the presence of multiple soil and groundwater contaminants through a Phase II Assessment, involving collecting and analyzing soil and groundwater samples.
Next comes a site investigation, a robust testing program to see exactly what is going on. This is where the team further defines contamination, locations, how far it spread, and concentrations. That information lays the groundwork for developing the remedial action plan to file with the WDNR. The team then works with the redevelopment contractors to seamlessly and concurrently manage both the property’s remediation and the buildings’ construction.
In Madison, Socha, Tierney, and their team also helped the developer apply for and win a $500,000 brownfield grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a practice that is as much an art as a science. Additional public support for the project was also received through tax incremental financing (TIF) and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) tax credits for low‐income housing.
“We merge our technical backgrounds to show the land has the potential to be turned into a strong asset that addresses the legacy environmental contamination, promotes public health, and delivers a high-value property that pays taxes and supports important city services,” says Tierney.
It takes technical horsepower to show regulators just how you are addressing contamination. You need to show the economic development group awarding the grant that the project will create well-paid jobs and tax revenue. Equally important, it must be shown that the redevelopment helps address a community need for affordable workforce housing and additional market-based housing,” Tierney says.
Tenants have already moved into the two 11-story mixed-use buildings. In addition, The Madison Youth Arts Center (MYAC) is slated to open in early summer, with a grand opening ceremony this fall. The MYAC includes classrooms, offices, rehearsal spaces, and a 300-seat auditorium.
The final project showcases the heartbeat of this popular downtown space situated between two large lakes, with features such as a rooftop terrace, plazas with seating and green space, and soon to come are 3D urban art installations and murals that tell the story of this long-lived community.
“The redevelopment of brownfields and the creation of projects like the Lyric and the Arden align with the City of Madison’s Performance Excellence Framework Vision of Our Madison – Inclusive, Innovate, and Thriving. These types of redevelopment projects help the City act as a responsible steward of our natural, economic, and fiscal resources. While making efficient use of land and cleaning up brownfields, the City is able to provide workforce housing, job opportunities, and cultural venues, all while enhancing the City’s tax base,” says Dan Rolfs, the Community Development Project Manager for the City of Madison’s Office of Real Estate Services – Economic Development Division.
It takes a village, or in this case – a City, to revitalize an urban brownfield!
Brownfields Resources to Organize, Educate, and Implement Plans in Your Community
Even the simplest impoundment closures come with design challenges. It is a challenge to navigate project constraints, whether technical, regulatory, or financial, to design and implement an effective closure strategy. Cost often helps to determine the “balance” between project constraints when the future end use of a closed CCR surface impoundment or the property it occupies is undefined. When a post-closure end use is defined, finding balance among project constraints to best serve that future use provides rewarding challenges.
SCS Engineers has navigated this balancing act on impoundment closure projects during generating facility decommissioning. Through a presentation of case studies, you can learn how this team has approached ash pond closure planning and execution where the future use of the impoundment site ranged from undefined to the home of a new solar photovoltaic installation. Examples also include potential future industrial use or property sale.
Case studies will highlight how geotechnical, hydrological, regulatory, or simple physical constraints have influenced the design and implementation of CCR surface impoundment closures.
EUEC 2019 in San Diego, February 25-27, 2019. Conference details here.
by Ali Khatami, Ph.D., P.E., SCS Engineers
In south Florida, rising prices of vacant land and unavailability of large parcels of virgin land for development have forced land developers to look into developing old and newly filled lakes. The land price for these lakes is significantly lower than the virgin land and deals are arranged to incorporate the cost of improving the lakefill land into a developable land in the purchase price. Aside from environmental issues that are handled by environmental engineers in relation to obtaining development permits, the ground itself must be improved to sustain the stability needed to bear the proposed development load. Deep Dynamic Compaction (DDC) is proven to be the most economical option for low rise and lightweight developments, such as commercial or industrial warehouses.
The model developed for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report entitled “Dynamic Compaction, Geotechnical Engineering Circular No. 1”, by Robert G. Lukas, dated March 1995, is the primary basis of most DDC programs. Experience of the engineer with the type of the material below the surface is important because the type of material plays an important role in selecting the DDC design parameters used in the model. The design methodology considers four categories of materials in pervious grained soil, semi-pervious soil, partially saturated impermeable deposits, and landfills. The fourth category, landfills, covers waste materials in old landfills but also the material used to fill lakes to create land for new development at a later date.
The material going into a lake may vary depending on the age of the fill placed in the lake. Older lakes filled with debris may include materials that today would never be allowed; while newer lakes are in accordance with state or local regulatory agency environmental permits, which follow a monitoring protocol during filling. The debris in newer lakes may consist of concrete debris, soils, tiles, and any other types of materials classified as clean debris in accordance with the material definitions in the rules.
There are three primary parties involved in this type of brownfields work including the developer, the banker, and the future buyer. Each party has a learning curve to understand and protect their interests.
Developers are cautious because they, very rightfully, have reservations regarding the effectiveness of DDC on the planned investment. Engineers will need several one-on-one and one-on-group teaching sessions with the developer’s primary engineer in charge of the project, and gradually meeting with the engineer’s boss, project director, and eventually the executives of the developing firm. Past successful experience with similar projects play a very important role in justifying the DDC methodology; engineers need to have accurate data and unit costs in tabulated form as part of their arsenal for convincing those in the learning curve.
The process becomes even more complicated when the engineer has designed the DDC program, prepared plans and specification for implementation of the program and the project goes to bid by DDC contractors. To win the work, it is typical for each DDC contractor in the bidding process to return to the client with their version of a DDC program and sometimes less expensive one to put themselves ahead of others. The alternative plans will propose using different equipment, usually the specific equipment that the bidding party already owns, or modeled under a different set of design parameters than the ones prepared by the engineer. Expect communications to become intense, and even with a now more educated developer, they will question every detail of the original planned design. It can be a frustrating and confusing period for all parties.
The engineer must plan to routinely justify his/her design based on design methodologies in literature, justify the design parameters used in the development of the DDC program, and rely heavily on the past performed projects going back a couple of decades. The engineer should even be prepared to obtain permission from past project owners to show the integrity of the building slabs after being in service for many years.
The DDC designer may also need to obtain design parameters from the DDC contractor who has come up with an alternative design to analyze their design and determine any shortcomings in it. If found, further discussions ensue to reexamine the design at hand as the most reliable and the most effective for the developer. Innovation is wonderful, but an expert engineer will not risk the developer’s investment and reputation using unproven technologies; proven technologies are already part of a reputable engineer’s DDC design.
The best way for inexperienced developers to go through the design and implementation phases of such projects is to find an experienced firm with a significant number of similar projects in its experience and trust the outcome of the work by that design firm. Otherwise, the developer will have a very difficult time sorting out the complexities and questions that alternative designs bring forward. The claims of less expensive scenarios without long-term performance justification as to how the foundation will behave over the long term are too risky. The combination of dealing with a new concept for which the developer has no experience and justifying the financial aspects of a properly designed DDC program can make a project even more difficult for an inexperienced developer.
A developer’s project manager should plan to spend significant time with the DDC designer to become familiar with the DDC concept, construction nuances, and the financial aspects of the project. The project manager will need to visit past projects performed by the designer’s firm to confirm claims by the design engineer. Only at that point, the developer’s project manager should proceed with convincing his/her superiors of the validity of the DDC program while asking for assistance from the DDC designer.
Ali Khatami, Ph.D., P.E., is a Vice President with SCS Engineers. He may be reached at
Additional resources are available on these pages: Brownfields and Voluntary Remediation and Environmental Due Diligence and All Appropriate Inquiries.
As the real estate market improves, interest in these brownfields properties is too.
Redeveloping landfill sites can be challenging but has been successfully done in the past. Start your project by engaging the relevant agencies to negotiate the path forward for development. Specific conditions of approval should be negotiated based on prudent engineering practice and real, rather than perceived, public health and safety hazards. With the proper diligence and planning, redeveloped landfill properties can become a valuable community asset.
Read the article and case studies from around the country here.
It is challenging to restore properties with a past, but you can do it on time and on budget if you plan ahead to address contaminated historic fill. Follow these tips and use the brownfield redevelopment checklist to keep your next redevelopment on track.
Consider how contaminated historic fill impacts the following:
Site feature locations – You can reduce or even eliminate landfill disposal costs by carefully selecting locations for your building, underground parking, parking lot, utility, and green space.
Storm water infiltration – Do you know that storm water infiltration devices must be located in areas free of contaminated historic fill? Infiltration devices cannot be located where contaminants of concern (as defined in s. NR 720.03(2)) are present in the soil through which the infiltration will occur.
Subslab vapor mitigation system – Already know you have contaminated historic fill on site? Consider adding a subslab vapor mitigation system to the design of your new building. It is usually much cheaper to install this system in a new building than to retrofit one into an existing building. It can also mitigate radon gas.
Planning & Design
Determine if contamination requires the following plans to manage the construction phase:
Material management plan – It establishes how you will separate excavated contaminated material from material that is not contaminated. It also outlines how you will handle contaminated material, either by disposing of it off site in a landfill or reusing it on site in an approved area such as a paved parking lot. This plan also covers screening, sampling, and testing contaminated materials, if required.
Dewatering plan – If the development requires excavation through contaminated historic fill to depths below groundwater, you will need a dewatering plan to properly manage discharge of the water. You may be able to discharge the water to the storm sewer or the sanitary sewer depending on the type and concentration of contaminants. You must determine local and state permit requirements before implementing your dewatering plan.
Demolition plan – The demolition plan for removing existing structures during redevelopment should include handling, removal, and disposal of potential contaminants such as lead and asbestos. The demolition plan should also address recycling and reuse of existing on site materials like concrete. You may be able to save money by crushing and reusing concrete on site as fill material, or by hauling and crushing it off site to reuse it as fill at another property. This approach can save you considerable money compared to landfill disposal.
Ready to start saving time and money addressing contaminated historic fill at your next redevelopment? Contact Ray Tierney for help evaluating your options in the Upper Midwest, or using the SCS Brownfield Redevelopment Checklist .
Learn more about these services at SCS Engineers; read our case studies and articles: