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Kenton County Leads Way in Brownfield Redevelopment
By Ryan Kent, Associate GIS Specialist, Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission

Editor's note: Historically, northern Kentucky's industrial and commercial activities have provided goods, services, and jobs that have contributed to the region's economic well-being. However, the activities at some of these industrial and commercial sites have adversely affected the environment. These environmentally troubled lands, also known as brownfields, may be lost as a resource for continued economic growth unless a concerted effort is made to rehabilitate them. Kenton County has worked with other regional organizations to make these areas productive again.

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Brownfields as properties that were historically used for commercial or industrial purposes but are currently vacant or underutilized due to real or perceived environmental contamination.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) defines brownfields as properties that were historically used for commercial or industrial purposes but are currently vacant or underutilized due to real or perceived environmental contamination. The redevelopment of brownfields can profoundly and positively affect communities by improving environmental quality and public health, stimulating economic growth, and enhancing visual appeal of a community.

Cities and communities must play an active role in redeveloping these blighted properties but before they can take action, brownfields must be identified. Creating the Kenton County Land Recycling GIS-based inventory is the first step in implementing a purposeful, communitywide program for brownfield redevelopment. The inventory includes properties within Kenton County that may be classified as brownfields. Through a grant from Northern Kentucky University (NKU), the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission (NKAPC) and the City of Covington have partnered with NKU's Department of History and Geography and NKU's Center for Applied Ecology (CAE) to inventory sites and create a database of potential brownfields in Kenton County.

Brownfield properties were identified by contacting city mayors and administrators and reviewing environmental regulatory files and historic land use maps such as Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. The information gathered from various resources was collected in the database. NKAPC, which managed the GIS portion of the project, could then create a map showing these locations in relation to the rest of the county. NKAPC analyzed the characteristics of these potential brownfield sites. For each property, a digital aerial photo was captured and parcel line data and parcel identification number (PIDN) added.

The project, originally begun in ArcView 3.2, is moving to ArcGIS 8.3. ArcView 3.2 was used to plot the potential brownfields and obtain information about these properties. The GIS map shows all properties that were identified in the inventory by using the PIDN to link site information in a Microsoft Access database to the parcel layer in ArcView. The inventory's ultimate goal is to assist planners, economic development professionals, investors, researchers, communities, and other interested parties in returning the brownfields to an environmentally safe condition and an economically productive use.

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Map showing the Donaldson Avenue site and the potential surrounding brownfields.

The city of Covington led the way by doing a pilot inventory of sites within its city limits. The project began May 2001 and is ongoing. Covington has already benefited from its participation in the inventory. Covington Economic Director Ella Brown-Frye said, "GIS is an economic development tool we are using to market our brownfields and other target redevelopment areas in Covington and with this technology we can provide information to developers or financial institutions in a matter of hours." Covington has targeted for redevelopment seven of the locations identified as potential brownfield sites. The city's brownfield sites are also included in the Kenton County inventory.

NKU's CAE was the force behind gathering environmental data for the Kenton County inventory. Scott Fennell, a senior environmental engineer who represented CAE on the project, has been working for 15 years in the environmental field. During that time, he has created innumerable maps, figures, and tables in an effort to make environmental data easily understood by decision makers, government agency professionals, and the public. "This combination of GIS, database management software, digital photography, and other data is a huge leap forward," said Fennell. "Compared to prior available techniques, the GIS brownfield data presentation is visually more professional and appealing, more economical to compile and update, more integrated with other available data, more flexible, and in many other ways more useful. I can't envision a future environmental project without a GIS component."

After almost two years, work on the project is still not done. The inventory needs to be updated at least once a year and the inventory is only the first step toward the redevelopment of these sites. A big part of the project is getting the information out to the public. The inventory was made available to the public in January 2003 following a presentation at NKU. Using GIS to visually present information on potential brownfield locations to the public has had the most impact. By allowing citizens and city administrators to see the environmental history of nearby brownfield properties motivates them to get involved.

Kenton County has begun a process that could return county lands to a productive condition. The inventory may also be used by the state of Kentucky as a template for brownfield inventories in the rest of the state. With the cooperation from the communities, businesses, and cities, more brownfields can be redeveloped and put to uses that will better serve the county and northern Kentucky.

For more information on the Kenton County Land Recycling inventory, contact

Ryan Kent, Associate GIS Specialist
Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission
Tel.: 859-331-8980
E-mail: ryan.kent@nkapc.cog.ky.us

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