What are Brownfields?

Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or under used industrial and commercial facilities/sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.

The importance of site assessment

It is the uncertainty associated with the real or perceived contamination on Brownfields sites that inhibits their redevelopment – uncertainty about legal liability, uncertainty about the cost of any clean-up required, and uncertainty about the health and environmental impacts of any contaminants that may be present.

Brownfields assessment answers each of these areas of uncertainty. By addressing legal, financial and environmental questions, site assessment gives landowners the information they need to manage risk, get a loan from a bank, and be released from liability.

Why do we care about Brownfields?

Washington County’s coastal cities and towns hosted a heavy concentration of shipyards, canneries, fuel transport and other business along the waterfront.  Over a century of industrial emissions and discharges has resulted in residual impacts to the land, groundwater, and marine environment.  When combined with over 250 spills of oil and hazardous substances reported by Maine DEP for Coastal Washington County since 1984, the cumulative environmental impacts are substantial.[1]  These issues become exacerbated with climate change and associated sea level rise, where shorefront factories, like the Columbian cannery in Lubec, become inundated and contaminants are released to the marine environment.

In 2013, MaineHealth published a report that ranked Washington County 14th of 16 counties in Maine for a number of “Physical Environment” rankings.  These rankings reflect cumulative environmental impact for many communities in the county.[2]  For example, the county scored high for threats to drinking water, air pollution and limited access to healthy foods.  These data raise concern over the high reliance on groundwater for drinking water, and risks posed by industrial waste and water pollution; as well as local and regional transport of industrial air pollutants.


[1] Maine DEP “Spill Report Master List,”‎

[2] Mainehealth, “2013 Community Health Rankings – Summary for Washington County,” 2013.


This image depicts a map of current Brownfields projects in Washington County.

Map of Brownfields projects in Washington County.

Regulatory Barriers to Redevelopment

There are only a handful of municipalities in Washington County with locally adopted zoning ordinances. Others have very basic land use ordinances or nothing at all besides the state-mandated subdivision and shoreland zoning regulations. None of these regulations contain regulatory barriers to infill development. Indeed most of them, and the Comprehensive Plans on which they are based, encourage it.

How are Brownfields chosen for redevelopment?

The Washington County Brownfields Advisory Committee help to select properties by using a set of ranking criteria that is based on many factors. Strong redevelopment potential is high among them. Properties also score points where redevelopment is supported by available infrastructure and when the community has expressed a policy about desirable locations for development.

A threshold requirement is landowner willingness – site assessment is entirely voluntary at the direction of the property owner.

Examples of successful redevelopment include:

  • tank removal and re-use of a former Route 1 gas station;
  • re-use of a Maine DOT maintenance garage by the town of Pembroke;
  • demolition of a former sardine factory with contamination by lead and organic compounds into a now thriving indoor lobster storage facility, and
  • repurposing of an old Five and Dime store into offices, computer training lab, and community arts space.

Nominate a Brownfields Site in Your Community

Fill out the form below to nominate a brownfields site in your community. A member of the SCEC Community Development team will contact you to follow-up. 

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The Sunrise County Economic Council received financial support from the EPA under an Assistance Agreement.

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