State Rep. Lynn Smith's brownfield legislation passes House

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL sarah@newnan.com State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, is author of a bill intended to help encourage people to clean up and redevelop "brownfields." The Georgia Brownfield program offers liability protection and tax incentives for those who clean up environmentally damaged land.
Under HB 1102, which passed the Georgia House of Representatives by a vote of 162 to 1, a person who purchases a brownfield property can apply for the brownfield program up to 30 days after closing on the property. Under current law, the application must be made before the person actually purchases the property. A "brownfield" is a former industrial or other site that may have small amounts of contaminants or pollutants, which can complicate redevelopment. "This legislation passed with overwhelming support because it is more than just an environmental cleanup program," Smith said. "Expanding the Georgia Brownfield program is about creating jobs, growing our economy, cutting red tape and revitalizing our communities." The legislation "would encourage more people to participate in the Georgia Brownfield program," Smith said. The program was created by the Reuse and Redevelopment Act of 2002. "Many sellers were reluctant to allow potential buyers" to conduct the necessary inspections and testing needed for a brownfield program application "before they closed on the land," Smith said. "Because they might not buy the land." "So this is to encourage people to once more want to take the risk," Smith said. Georgia's program gives liability protection to participants, and allows property owners the opportunity to recover expenses by giving a credit against property taxes on the increased value of the property, for up to 10 years. Since the program was created, nearly 400 properties have been or are being cleaned up with private dollars. The brownfield program has strong oversight, Smith said. "You have to meet certain standards," she said. The program "helps spread the liability and it gets our land cleaned up." The other change in the bill specifies that the liability protection and designation follows the land itself, if it is sold or transferred, and does not stay with the owner who made application. The law specifies that liability protection cannot be given to anyone who was responsible for a "release" of environmental contaminants on the property. Examples of brownfield sites include old gas service stations where the underground fuel tanks leaked, and dry cleaners where chemicals were leaked, as well as large industrial sites. "Savannah has lots of contaminated areas," Smith said. "All of our counties and cities have them." The most famous brownfield redevelopment program in Georgia is Atlanta's Atlantic Station, a high end commercial and residential development that was built on the site of the closed down Atlantic Steel mill. Smith's legislation had the support of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, as well as "Red Tape Watch," a new program of the House Special Committee on Small Business. The purpose of Red Tape Watch is to undertake serious regulation reform to help spur Georgia's economy. The program has a website, www.house.ga.gov/redtapewatch, and those who know of a regulation that is a needless burden on business are encouraged to visit the site and fill out the form. Smith said she is very proud of the legislation, which has now moved to the state Senate for consideration. "It's all done with private money," Smith said of brownfield cleanups. "It's win win win all the way around."


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