Beyond the brownfields: New Belgium’s Asheville project means land-use recycling

Along with the prospect of a new case of the brews, the Asheville site proposed for New Belgium Brewing Co.’s new East Coast facility would get cleaned up: Part of the Craven Street property qualifies for North Carolina’s brownfields program, a federal and state initiative that streamlines the redevelopment of property that may be contaminated.

The 17.5-acre site once hosted the WNC Stockyards, a hay warehouse, a filling station, and an automobile repair-and-painting shop. It’s property that, among others in our region, has been awaiting “a savvy developer to revitalize it,” says Kate O’Hara, project manager at the Regional Brownfields Initiative, located at the Land of Sky Regional Council. With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, O’Hara and staff promote redevelopment projects in Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Transylvania counties.

Details captured in a 2011 assessment of the Craven Street site suggest what problems might deter many prospective buyers but also indicate that both local officials and New Belgium staff see the opportunity for solutions.

In June 2011, local firm Altamont Environmental, Inc., reported finding elevated cadmium levels in the soil under the livestock building. The presence of this heavy metal may come from chemical fertilizers applied to the feed given to the animals housed there, according to the report. And in the soil samples collected behind the hay warehouse, there were elevated concentrations of cadmium and other heavy metals — such as antimony, lead, arsenic and manganese. Volatile organic compounds, including the carcinogens benzene, naphthalene, and xylene, were also detected. These chemicals are common gasoline additives, the report notes.

But the brownfields program does not always require a cleanup of all contaminants to the level that a Superfund cleanup would require.

“You can perform a risk assessment to see if those contaminants pose a health risk, or if there are ways we could cut off exposure to the contaminants that would eliminate health risk,” says Bruce Nicholson, program manager for North Carolina’s Brownfields Program. “In certain circumstances, we can engineer a cap that can be maintained in place and that’s a way to get to ‘no risk’ for the site.”

The beauty of the program, he continues, lies in its power to ‘recycle’ such properties, “as long as you make them safe for the use that they propose.”

It’s not yet known what needs to be done on the Craven Street property, says Nicholson. “A brownfield agreement will define the actions the prospective developer needs to take to make the site suitable for the intended use, while fully protecting human health and the environment,” he explains.

How long might it take for New Belgium to get that agreement?

Within a month or two, if the Colorado-based company applies to North Carolina’s Redevelopment Now Program, which allows a prospective developer to cover the costs associated with developing the agreement up front, rather than waiting its turn in line for an agreement provided at state expense, he replies. Nicholson also mentions that it’s “pretty assured” that New Belgium has the money to do what’s needed.

“It would take a company like New Belgium to bring such a property back into use,” says Jenn Vervier, director of strategic development and sustainability at New Belgium. Sustainability considerations like site restoration are among the company’s top priorities, she adds. New Belgium plans to “work with DENR and take all necessary steps to minimize any risk to employees and visitors.

“Certainly we will have a vapor barrier under all our buildings,” Vervier continues, “and we’ll elevate the entire building site out of the flood plain.” Further, New Belgium’s brewing process will use filtered municipal water.

The WNC Stockyards portion of the site was previously nominated to the brownfields program by its current owners, the French Broad River Group, which bought it for $1.2 million in 2006. Brownfields Program staffer Tracy Wahl says New Belgium is working to acquire additional property beyond the stockyard to complete its acquisition plan for the brewery, but at press time, the company hadn’t yet applied for the entire property.

In addition to imposing cleanup requirements, brownfields agreements typically include land-use restrictions and establish future soil- and water-quality monitoring to ensure safety and compliance, O’Hara says.

“Any site that’s in the brownfields program, you know it’s going to be redeveloped safely,” she adds. “The state stands by it.”


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5 thoughts on “Beyond the brownfields: New Belgium’s Asheville project means land-use recycling

  1. Vick French

    New Belgium is not a California company, as stated in the article. It’s a Colorado-based company.

    I couldn’t even get New Belgium beer back when I lived in CA,I could only get it when I went to the Four Corners states for work.

  2. bill smith

    Keep readers posted about this process. I’m curious what they will actually have to do to make it ‘pass’.

    • Susan Andrew

      Not sure how “California” got placed in the published version! Original draft said “Colorado.”

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