Cook County Working to Return Brownfields to Productive Use

July 13, 2017

Initiative encourages economic development; environmental stewardship

Cook County, in partnership with a coalition of seven west suburban municipalities, is working to return brownfield properties to productive use to encourage economic development. 

The Cook County Department of Environmental Control on behalf of the coalition that includes Schiller Park, Franklin Park, Northlake, Melrose Park, Bellwood, Maywood and Forest Park -- received in 2014 a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess brownfield sites in those communities.

Through the program, 30 sites totaling approximately 127 acres were assessed and currently more than 120 acres are undergoing reuse planning or redevelopment.

Brownfield sites generally are real property in which expansion, redevelopment or reuse of the property may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands, according to the U.S. EPA.

Removing the stigma of contamination from brownfield sites to get them back in use is an element of the Cook County sustainability plan developed under President Preckwinkle. 

“Brownfield sites typically sit underused for long periods of time,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “The redevelopment and reuse of brownfield sites is a great opportunity for economic development – redeveloped sites generate revenue and jobs while helping the environment.”

The goal of this project was to assess and quantify environmental uncertainty associated with brownfield sites at no cost to coalition communities or property owners, and develop site-specific plans for reuse of sites.

The next steps in the program involve redevelopment of the sites.  Five of the sites already are under redevelopment with the potential for more than 200 jobs on those sites.  Other sites assessed as part of this project are now ready to be marketed for redevelopment, or will be shortly.

“It is with great pride in our West Cook Region and our Coalition Partners; the U.S. EPA and Cook County that Maywood was able to participate in the brownfield redevelopment program,” Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins said. “This program allowed the Village of Maywood to receive funding for environmental assessments that will lead to redevelopment of several vacant lots that had no hope for redevelopment. This program has restored hope and serves as a beacon for regional coalitions and public partnerships.”  

For Thomas Engoren, a business owner in Maywood, reuse of an adjacent brownfield site means the possibility of growing his company.

“The work done by Cook County and the coalition means my business, Seaway Supply Co., can stay in Maywood and expand here –  in a community I am proud to be a part of,” said Engoren, President of Seaway Supply Co., a janitorial and maintenance supplies wholesale distributor.

Cook County looks forward to building on this productive model of partnerships with local communities to advance brownfield redevelopment in areas of need throughout the County.