Brownfields: Tips for Property Owners

Ask yourself – Is my land vacant?  Does it have some environmental concerns that scare prospective buyers away?  Does your banker want an environmental assessment before talking to you about financing any development on your property?  If you answer “yes”, then you may own a brownfields.

Brownfields are properties where environmental contamination hinders their use through expansion, redevelopment, sale or re-use.  If you own such a property, then you probably want to keep reading.

Under both state and federal law, current property owners assume the liability to clean up existing contamination of their sites.  Prior owners who held title when the contamination occurred also remains liable.  The current owner cannot avoid liability by selling their property.  In essence, they merely add the new purchaser to the list of potentially liable parties.  

Brownfields are difficult to develop because they present an environmental risk – but it is a manageable risk. As with managing any risk, the first step entails gathering the facts.  An environmental assessment, or an  “All Appropriate Inquiry” (AIA), lets you know, as precisely as possible, the characteristics of the contamination. This information leads to the ways and means to cleanup the property. It sheds light on the cleanup cost. Another key factor is the market value of the property. Property owners weigh these two factors – cleanup costs and market value – when they consider their options. 

Many property owners discover their brownfields site lays on some prime real estate. This website links brownfields property owners to the ways and means to develop a successful risk management strategy. It will get them on the way to putting their property back into productive use.

Additional Resources

  • Guidebook for Property Owners (PDF) – Although this book is nearly 15 years old, it contains some good advice regarding “as is” sales. The Environmental Law Institute drafted the handbook.
  • Brownfields Resource Guide (PDF) – A good primer about redeveloping brownfields in Washington state.
  • Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program – Ecology provides technical assistance through its Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). Many property owners use this program to perform a cleanup independently. They request assistance from Ecology, for small fee, to make sure their cleanup meets applicable laws and regulations.

Brownfields Links


Bridget Paris, Program Manager
Phone: 360-870-9288