Sierra Rural Brownfield Revitalization

The Sierra are Riddled with Hazardous Brownfields

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 financial and technical resources available to counties, cities, land trusts, property owners, and other organizations interested in cleaning up (remediating) brownfields in their Sierra communities.

Revitalizing Brownfields has Many Benefits for Communities

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

While abandoned mines often have hazardous substances on the properties, cleaning up these sites most often does not require Superfund status, but instead involves smaller steps that within a couple of years result in a property that can be used as a valuable asset once again.

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 have multiple benefits:

  • Protect public health
    • Remediating these sites reduces exposure to hazardous materials, which turns a public hazard into a safe site for reuse.
  • Facilitate job growth. During the assessment and cleanup 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 Brownfields 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 brownfield sites in the Sierra Nevada were culturally important places for local tribes to gather and harvest native material and/or held cultural significance. Revitalizing these sites allows tribes to access these lands integral to their cultural practices.

TSF Resources to Support Brownfield Remediation

  • Brownfields Revitalization Fact Sheet, The Sierra Fund, May 2022: This 2-page fact sheet helps counties and cities in the Sierra Nevada to identify, assess, and revitalize abandoned mine lands.
  • Gold Country Coalition Meeting on Grass Valley Remediation Plans. While geared to Grass Valley two of the speakers provide information relevant to many Sierra communities with Brownfields. This hour-long video includes presentations from:
    • Tom Last, Grass Valley’s Community Development Director, and Jason Muir of NV5. They managed a Grass Valley assessment project and speak to the assessment process and  key findings.
    • Carrie Monohan, Ph.D., Program Director of The Sierra Fund. She provides an overview of issues related to cleaning up and re-using abandoned mine lands.
    • Eric Byous from the US EPA speaks to 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.
  • Preventing Dusty Exposure Fact Sheet, The Sierra Fund, 2020: This 2-page fact sheet describes how people who live, work, and plan in mine-impacted regions can protect themselves from exposure to contaminated dust containing heavy metals.

Other Resources on Brownfield Remediation

  • 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 (LAO) 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.
  •  Learn more about EPA Grants and current opportunities.
  • 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.
small excavator moving soil in brushy area
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