The Alaska State and Tribal Response Program Workshop and Partner Spotlight on the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Brownfields Program
During a blustery November snowstorm in Anchorage, 14 of the State’s Tribal Response/Brownfields Programs gathered for the Alaska State and Tribal Response Program (STRP) Workshop hosted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Brownfields Program. Attendees included forty individuals representing Tribal Response Programs (TRPs), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
The Alaska TRPs are a close-knit group; in part due to in-person gatherings like the STRP Workshop, as well as shared experiences living in the “Last Frontier.”
Though it was a treacherous adventure through snow and ice to get to the venue, I could not contain my excitement when entering the room filled with the friendly, smiling faces of TRP Coordinators from across the State. It had been a few years since I attended this Workshop and now I got to be there to provide technical assistance through the Center for Creative Land Recycling(CCLR), EPA Region 10 Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Provider.
Alaska is Unique. A whopping 229 of the 574 federally recognized Tribes nationwide call Alaska home, it also has the highest number of Tribal Brownfields programs that receive CERCLA 128(a) funding. And brownfields practitioners active in Alaska face unique challenges due to land ownership through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). The STRP Workshop provides a great opportunity for the TRP community to congregate and learn from each other.
The first STRP Workshop debuted in 2008 and has grown tremendously since then. To kick things off, TRPs provided an update about their goals for the upcoming year, identified issues they’re facing that may be hindering brownfields reuse, and highlighted community success stories, either on a site-specific or programmatic level. In 2023, all EPA Region 10 Project Officers who work with Alaska TRPs were able to attend the STRP Workshop in person, which allowed for hands-on feedback and engagement not possible online or over the phone. The STRP Workshop also provided an open dialogue where TRPs have the space to celebrate and commiserate with their peers and brainstorm ideas for overcoming challenges.
“It is nice to lean on others going through the land reuse process,” one TRP Coordinator commented. “It can be daunting. The work is much more manageable knowing you have support.”
Representatives from the Alaska DEC State Response/Brownfields Program included, Marc Thomas, Flannery Ballard, Breanna Mahoney, Nabi Qureshi, Nick Waldo, and Henry Leasia. As the supporting cast for the STRP Workshop, the DEC team ensured the agenda was filled with presentations that showcased a broad range of environmental initiatives and concerns specific to different regions and communities within Alaska. Oh, and they served sandwiches, so many delicious sandwiches.
This was the first year CCLR was invited to assist with the STRP Workshop, but DEC and CCLR have partnered on several specific efforts to encourage brownfields reuse in Alaska. For example, CCLR hosted a webinar focused on how to move projects beyond Phase I/Phase II environmental site assessments and invited DEC to provide an Alaska perspective. DEC and CCLR also partnered to develop a new “Self-Check Eligibility Tool” for potential applicants interested in applying for DEC site-specific brownfields services.
When asked about this partnership, Marc Thomas stated, “As the EPA Region 10 Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB) Provider, CCLR’s experience navigating various aspects of successful brownfields projects—from connecting stakeholders to various potential funding resources to providing grant writing and management support—makes them a much-appreciated partner and one who we definitely want TRPs to be aware of.”
Aw, shucks. This passionate DEC team sure makes it easy for us.
Aside from hosting the STRP Workshop, the Alaska DEC Brownfields Program offers site-specific technical assistance through its DEC Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup (DBAC) Services Program. Depending on the needs of a specific project, DBAC services can include anything from environmental site assessments to cleanup planning and some cleanup activities. DBAC awards are provided as services, not grants. For selected projects, DEC will conduct and manage the project, including selecting an environmental contractor and completing necessary paperwork on behalf of the applicant, which makes things much more manageable for a small TRP with limited capacity.
Previously completed projects have included:
- Phase I/Phase II Environmental Site Assessment
- Hazardous Building Materials Surveys
- Cleanup Planning
- Analysis of Brownfields Cleanup Alternatives
- Community Engagement and Facilitation
- Asbestos Abatement
- Soil/Groundwater Cleanup
- Reuse Planning
DEC prioritizes which sites receive technical support in any given year based on applications received from mid-November through mid-February. The 2023-2024 DBAC application period is now open through February 15, 2024. The application, as well as other information and resources related to the Alaska DBAC Program, can be found on the DEC website.
At the Workshop, the Alaska DEC Brownfields Program also issued an updated version of its Alaska Brownfields Handbook, intended to serve as a reference of brownfields-related resources and programs not only for TRPs, but anyone interested in learning more about Alaska brownfields and potential brownfields resources. DEC is looking forward to continuing discussions from the STRP Workshop at the Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management to be held on March 26-29 at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel. ATCEM is another great opportunity for TRPs and other environmental professionals working to address brownfields to come together and exchange ideas.
Being a part of the 2023 Alaska STRP Workshop was inspiring. Hearing about all the great work happening in Alaska and sharing laughs over moose jerky made me wish it was already March. I can’t wait to see the Alaska DEC in action at ATCEM and to witness what amazing things the Alaska TRPs continue to do.