WEB EXCLUSIVE: Why can’t the Green Municipal Fund get rid of its cash?

The federal Green Municipal Fund (GMF) has $20 million ear-marked for grants and loans for brownfield development this year, but so far, only a fraction of that cash has been committed, says Stephanie Bohdanow, a program officer for the GMF.

How is it possible that municipalities and their private sector partners aren’t beating down the doors to get at the money?

The barriers, believes Steven Desrochers, a senior contaminant hydrogeologist with Golder Associates Ltd., have been mainly a lack of understanding about how the program works and the mechanics of the funding process.

Desrochers participated in a project earlier in his career that received GMF funding for an environmental assessment on municipally-owned land in Brantford, Ont.

“We were retained by the developer to conduct the assessment and the municipality applied directly to the Green Muncipal Fund,” he says. The money was then funnelled through the developer to Desrocher’s company; a process that went smoothly.

“Where I haven’t seen the same level of success,” says DesRochers, “is when a project is driven by a private entity—a developer. It’s a lot more challenging to access those funds when there isn’t a municipal champion.”

Unfortunately, says Tammy Lomas-Jylha, a Toronto environmental consultant currently working with the GMF, too many Canadian cities don’t understand the benefits of brownfield redevelopment and don’t have the tools needed to facilitate it.

“Only a few municipalities, often in the oldest parts of Canada, have developed policies, strategies and approaches that focus on brownfields,” she says.

Another barrier, Desrocher believes, is municipalities are sometimes leery about GMF money extended in the form of a loan, rather than a grant. “There’s some concern as to who holds those loans,” he says. “Is it the municipality? If so, that puts the municipality at risk if something happens with the remediation program or the future development. How do they protect themselves in those instances?”

Other issues include variable land values (in less developed areas of Canada, it’s usually cheaper to develop a greenfield location), as well as the cost of remediation and regulatory complexity, according to the GMF.

Brownfield bootcamp

In order to encourage brownfield development and eliminate some of the barriers to take-up of designated funds, the GMF launched its first Brownfield Bootcamp in June.

The 10-month program ends in March and showcases municipalities that have demonstrated leadership in the brownfield sector in the past, by developing policies, incentives and administrative support for redevelopment of the sites, for example.

This year, the program drew a full roster of 19 participants from 10 different municipalities. “They’ll be learning from experienced ‘brownfielders’ about a range of topics,” says Lomas-Jylha, including success stories and proven models for development.

The program, she says, “is intended to help those who don’t know how to get started with developing brownfield sites.”

In addition to the bootcamp, says Lomas-Jylha, the GMF recently introduced a dedicated web portal offering targeted educational resources, including roadmaps, case studies and webinars to clarify steps and processes for municipalities and developers.

Interested parties can also complete an on-line eligibility questionnaire to help determine whether their project qualifies for GMF funds, and get tips on completing the application. Another useful feature: a searchable database on the site highlights projects that have successfully applied for funding.

The feedback

Desrochers’ verdict? The new portal and the Brownfield Bootcamp are an “important step in the education process.” But ultimately, he says, “I think there may be some more tools that have to accompany it to provide certainty of process.”

Developers are accustomed to jumping through hoops to get things done, he says. But, “I think if the [GMF] funds were made available in a more predictable and uniform structure through arrangements with municipalities there would be greater uptake on it.”

Additional tools might include sample contracts or agreements. “Some form of guidance to municipalities would help,” suggests Desrochers. “Some form of transfer agreement, if you will, that might streamline the process of transferring GMF money to those who are ultimately going to do the remediation work and that would provide both the municipalities and private sector companies with some certainty around the process.”

The good news: the GMF has made it a priority to remove barriers to brownfield development and smooth the way for funding. The ultimate goal, says Bohdanow, is “to increase applications to the Green Municipal Fund.”

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