Since the sunset of the Clean Ohio Program in 2013, there has been a strong push for dedicated funding to address brownfield sites in Ohio. The Ohio 2022-2023 budget just signed by Governor DeWine comes through in a very big way by allocating $500 million in new funding under various programs. The budget allocates $350 million for investigation, cleanup and revitalization of brownfield sites and another $150 million for demolition of vacant or abandoned commercial or residential buildings.
The funding will be administered by the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) which must adopt rules for allocation of brownfield funding and the demolition program. The rules determine project eligibility and administration of the program. The program must be operational with 90 days of passage of the budget (i.e. early October 2021).
Brownfield Remediation Fund
With regard to the $350 million allocated for brownfield redevelopment, the budget bill provides no real direction to ODOD on eligibility requirements for brownfield revitalization other than the following:
- $1 million in funding is reserved for 1 year for each of Ohio’s 88 counties;
- The remaining $262 million in funding is to be provided to eligible projects on a “first come first serve basis”; and
- Up to 75% of the project cost will be funded (i.e. a 25% minimum match requirement).
Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Fund
The bill allocates $150 million for demolition of commercial and residential buildings and “revitalization of surrounding properties on sites that are not brownfields.” Interesting that the budget language includes funding for revitalization of surrounding properties. Similar to the Brownfield Fund, the budget bill provides very little direction to ODOD on administration of the program other than the following:
- Funding is to be directed to non-brownfield sites. “Brownfields” are defined as industrial and/or commercial where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by known or potential releases of hazardous substances or petroleum. This suggests that funding under this program is only meant for abandoned buildings that do not have contamination;
- $500,000 in funding is allocated to each of Ohio’s 88 counties;
- The remaining $106 million in funding is to be provided on a first come, first served basis; and
- Up to 75% of the project cost will be funding (i.e. a 25% minimum match requirement)
Significance of the Funding
The Clean Ohio program was held out as the “gold standard” brownfield grant program in the country. It allocated approximately $800 million in funding over the 13 years the program operated, but only about 50% of the $800 million was dedicated to brownfield funding. Therefore, the 2022-2023 budget allocates close to the full Clean Ohio amount to brownfield funding and that excludes the $150 million dedicated to the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Fund.
First Come First Serve
Clean Ohio typically operated by allocating $30 to $50 million on an annual basis for brownfield redevelopment. Annual funding was typically awarded in two rounds per year. The Clean Ohio Council had detailed scoring to determine which projects were to receive funding. Project funding rounds were typically very competitive. It was not uncommon during funding rounds to have several project fall “below the line” (i.e. not get funded).
The budget bill clearly states that ODOD is to award projects on a “first-come, first served” basis. Does this mean that any brownfield redevelopment project that meets minimum eligibility requirements will be funded? Also, does this mean that funding will be awarded on a rolling basis until the money runs out?
In talking with the brownfield community, cities and counties as well as developers are already trying to identify potential projects. While $500 million in funding for brownfield redevelopment and demolition projects is a significant amount of money, the “first come, first served” basis for funding suggests a sprint to grab funding while it lasts.
Even though the details on eligibility are still forthcoming, it would be wise to start identifying potential projects and vet them to have the best chance of getting funded.