“Brownfields” group asks more for tax program after record requests

5-3-14 Cascades Park

In Sarasota, a Lowe’s that employs 175 people was built on the cleaned-up site of a former industrial wastewater spray field.

In Tampa, a Walmart shopping center employing 400 people was built on 40 acres at Henderson Road and Gunn Highway, where contamination from a paint factory was cleaned up between 2001 and 2004.

In Tallahassee, arsenic and other contaminants were removed from a former auto repair shop and railroad spur to allow construction of 130 student apartments along with retail shopping space near Gaines Street.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection points to these other examples of success in the state’s “brownfields” contamination cleanup programs in an annual report.

Last year, a brownfields tax credit program administered by DEP received a record 86 applications for $9.4 million compared with $7.2 million the previous year.

But a group of brownfields professionals says a backlog in the tax credit program could discourage other contamination site owners from moving ahead with cleanups.

The state Voluntary Cleanup Tax Credit program, created by the Legislature in 1998, is capped in state law at $5 million per year, according to the Florida Brownfields Association. That’s created a nearly $12 million backlog and a four-year wait before landowners can receive their tax credits.

That discourages landowners from cleaning up contamination sites to create new development and new jobs, often in inner cities or blighted areas, said Jason Lichtstein, a lawyer with Akerman LLP in Tallahassee and a past president of the Florida Brownfields Association.

“They (landowners) are approved and sitting there but it takes years for people to be able to use their tax credit,” Lichtstein said. He is a co-chair of the FBA legislative and policy committee.

The Florida Brownfields Association is asking the Legislature to increase the cap in state law from $5 million to $8 million and provide enough money in the budget to eliminate the backlog, Lichtstein said. No bills have been filed to raise the cap.

Meanwhile, this year HB 841 has been filed to ease cleanup requirements for sites if human activity has increased the level of contamination in a general area. The bill is scheduled for its first committee stop Tuesday before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

Lichtstein said the Florida Brownfields Association is watching HB 841 and other bills but isn’t pushing for any major legislation.

SB 1302 would require increased accountability and transparency for economic development programs including the Brownfields Redevelopment Bonus Refund. The bill also would eliminate a requirement for a local match for the state refund program.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 325 that sought to clarify liability protections for firms cleaning up brownfields sites.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee

Bruce Ritchie


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