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Brownfields Revitalization

There is support for counties, cities, and other landowners in the Sierra Nevada to assess and clean up abandoned mine lands.

The Sierra Nevada is riddled with mine-impacted lands that if assessed and cleaned up can be developed and reused benefiting cities, counties, and Sierra residents. These abandoned mine lands can present hazards from arsenic, lead, and mercury. There is an array of support to counties, cities, land trusts, property owners, and other organizations interested in accessing financial and technical resources to remediate Brownfields in their Sierra communities.

This webpage provides more information about how to access these resources.

Cleaning up and revitalizing these Brownfields properties can facilitate job growth, take development pressures off undeveloped land; and improve and protect the environment and public health.

“The Sierra Fund found us when my staff and I were at a crossroads in the remedial process and were concerned about continued funding. The Sierra Fund staff provided us with encouragement and grant information. I found them passionate and experienced, especially when helping small communities. I greatly appreciated their mental and technical support.”

– Yvonne Kimball, City Manager, City of Jackson

The process of mining valuable minerals often used toxic materials to process the material, such as mercury, or crushed up and distributed toxics across the landscape, such as asbestos and lead. Consequently, lands with abandoned mines often have hazardous substances on the property. Cleaning up these sites most often does not require Superfund status, but instead involves smaller steps that within a couple of years results in a property that can be used as a valuable asset once again.

When remediated, Brownfield site are valuable assets to Sierra communities. Left unremediated these properties can pose serious liabilities for landowners and local government and pose public health and safety threats. Counties, public entities, and agencies at the local and statewide-scale have a lot to gain by taking action to assess and remediate legacy mine hazards.

Experience has shown these cleaned up and redeveloped sites:

  • Protect public health
    • Remediating these sites reduces exposure to hazardous materials which turns a a public hazard into a safe site for reuse.
  • Facilitate job growth. During the assessment and clean-up process and when a business uses the revitalized property jobs are created.
  • Turn prior unusable land into public assets! Redeveloped brownfield sites have become public assets. These cleaned up sites have become
    • Housing or business sites
    • Parking
    • Recreational sites for hiking, picnicking, birdwatching and other recreation
    • Forestry land
    • Ranching areas
  • Improve and protect the environment. Critical habitats and landscapes can be conserved when AMLs are remediated. The same toxics that provide a public safety hazard are a hazard to local wildlife and plants. Removing these hazards creates a healthier and more resilient ecosystem.
  • Increase the local tax base by allowing the land to be used again and expanding local business opportunities.
  • Restore Cultural Sites: Some brownfields sites in the Sierra Nevada were culturally important places for local tribes to gather, harvest native material and/or held cultural significance. Revitalizing these sites allows Tribes to access these lands integral to their cultural practices.

Resources on Benefits of Brownfield Remediation

  • Gold Country Coalition Meeting, The Sierra Fund, February 2022: This hour long video includes presentations from:
    • Tom Last, Grass Valley’s Community Development Director. He managed the assessment project and will speak to the assessment key findings.
    • Jason Muir of NV5, a consulting firm who conducted the assessment. He will speak to the assessment process and findings.
    • Carrie Monohan, Ph.D., Program Director of The Sierra Fund. She will give an overview of issues related to cleaning-up and re-using abandoned mine lands.
    • Eric Byous from the US EPA will talk about federal funding and resource opportunities for clean ups.
  • Due Diligence in the Sierra Nevada Gold Country New Tools to Remediate California’s Abandoned Mines, The Sierra Fund, May 2021: This 70-page report summarizes the impacts of 19th century legacy mining on the health and environment of 21st century California. It reviews the current practices of assessment, appraisal, acquisition, and project management of these impacted lands, suggests best practices and summarizes lessons learned.
  • Improving California’s Response to the Environmental and Safety Hazards Caused by Abandoned Mines, Legislative Analyst’s Office, August 2020. This 32-page report from California State Agency the Legislative Analyst’s Office details describes (1) historical mining practices, (2) the risks Abandoned Mine Lands (AMLs) pose to the environment and the physical safety hazards they cause, (3) the coordination across the many state and federal agencies to address AML issues, and (4) laws and programs governing the remediation of AMLs. The second section of the report discusses key challenges to systematically remediating AMLs, such as a lack of a centralized statewide approach, land ownership issues, and lack of funding. In the third and final section, the LAO recommends steps the Legislature could take to improve California’s approach to addressing the threats to public health and the environment caused by AMLs.
  • Preventing Dusty Exposure Fact Sheet, The Sierra fund, 2020: This 2-page factsheet describes how people who live, work, and plan in mine-impacted regions can protect themselves from exposure to contaminated dust containing heavy metals.
  • Brownfields Revitalization Fact Sheet, The Sierra fund, May 2022: This 2-page factsheet support counties and cities in the Sierra Nevada to identify, assess, and revitalize abandoned mine lands.

“The Sierra Fund brings technical expertise, public participation and funding resources together to assess and remediate mine impacted land in the Sierra.”

Jason Muir, PE, GE, Principal Engineer, NV5

“There are a lot of grant opportunities and ways that EPA can provide assistance and The Sierra Fund has been helping connect local governments, tribes and non-profits to our resources.”

Eric Byous, EPA Brownfields, Project Manager

The 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included an unprecedented $1.5 billion investment in EPA’s Brownfields program.  With this new level of funding comes new technical resources to support remediation of abandoned mines.

Many Sierra Nevada local governments and landownwers can qualify for state and federal resources to support revitalization in their communities.  Already communities like Nevada City and GrassValley have secured EPA Brownfield funds to assess and clean up blighted properties to be reused as open space for recreational trails and for new housing and business. Learn more about EPA Grants and current opportunities.

Additional Resources:

Our Work’s Not Done: Resource for States and Tribes working on Abandoned Mine Lands.

US EPA Brownfields Program: Provides grants and technical assistance to communities, states, tribes and others to assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse contaminated properties

Department of Toxic Substance Control Equitable Community Revitalization Grant: The Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Office of Brownfields Equitable Communities Revitalization Grant (ECRG) will provide more than $270 million in grants through a competitive grant program.

The Sierra Fund is working with interested counties, cities, land trusts, property owners, and other organizations in the region to help them access financial and technical resources to remediate Brownfields in their communities. For example,

“The Sierra Fund was excellent at leading the public outreach efforts for our Brownfields Coalition grant (2017-2022). They were professional and easy to work with at every step.”

Thomas Last, Community Development Director, City of Grass Valley

Experience that Makes a Difference

The Sierra Fund has over a decade of experience in working to secure financial resources and support the technical assessment and remediation of abandoned mine lands. We have extensive relationships with state agencies and the federal EPA – with a deep understanding of how to qualify for their Brownfields programs and financial assistance

For example, The Sierra Fund has worked with the U.S. EPA, City of Nevada City, The Nissenan Tribe, City of Grass Valley, and Nevada County, helping to secure funding for assessment and cleanup of Brownfields sites and to support the reuse of these sites. In Nevada County’s recent assessment eleven properties in the county totaling 386 acres -all of which were near population centers were assessed and seven cleanup plans were prepared for 229 acres of property with mining contamination. The Sierra Fund hosted community meetings in partnership with the city and county to share the results of this work and help highlight resources available to local governments across the Sierra.

Offering Support to Help Assess Funding and other Resources to Assess and/or Remediate Your Sierra Site

What the Sierra Fund is offering is a free consultation on what your city or county is interested in either assessing or remediating and what financial and technical assistance would be available to help you. We understand from our past partnerships that many cities and counties lack the time and budget to write and manage the grants.

  • We have helped to write the grants or connect our local government partners with other qualified grant writers who can.
  • We have helped staff understand the phasing and sequencing of assessment and remediation.
  • We can connect staff with other city/county/state or federal staff to support their effort.

Why is The Sierra Fund offering this support? It’s our mission to restore resiliency to the Sierra. We have found our partnerships with cities and counties to be an incredibly fruitful in expanding the reuse of these sites that benefit our community’s health and environment, while also better supporting the local economy.

Connect with The Sierra Fund Contact Carrie Monohan Ph.D., Program Director at the Sierra Fund at carrie.monohan@sierrafund.org for an initial consultation to learn what resources might be helpful to meet your needs  . Or call us at 530-265-8454

Connect with The Sierra Fund Contact Carrie Monohan Ph.D., Program Director at the Sierra Fund at carrie.monohan@sierrafund.org for an initial consultation to learn what resources might be helpful to meet your needs  . Or call us at 530-265-8454