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Release Date: 02/02/1999
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - Calling sprawl development "the number one environmental issue facing New England," John P. DeVillars, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England Office, announced to an audience of more than 900 developers, planners and civic leaders today an ambitious, multi-faceted action plan for addressing "sprawl" in New England.

Unplanned and unchecked development is eating up more than 1,200 acres of open space, farmland and wetlands each week in New England - including nearly two acres an hour in Massachusetts alone, according to statistics compiled by EPA and the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

DeVillars outlined the sprawl strategy at an EPA-sponsored conference, "Smart Growth Strategies for New England," at the Hynes Convention Center. Co-sponsors of the conference included the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the New England Chapters of the American Planning Association, the New England Governors' Conference, the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and the Urban Land Institute.

The action plan includes:

    • Greatly expanded Brownfields investments to accelerate economic redevelopment in urban areas.
    • A significant financial investment to develop and implement training programs for local officials in 20 New England communities most vulnerable to sprawl.
    • More aggressive use of EPA's statutory authority to oppose and reshape development and infrastructure projects that contribute to sprawl.
    • More than $2.5 million in grants over the next two years to New England state and local officials to support smart growth projects.
    • Creating a New England Smart Growth Partnership - comprised of non-profit organizations from the conservation and development sectors, local, regional, state and federal agencies, educational institutions, developers and others - to ensure effective implementation of EPA-New England's smart growth strategy.
Many of EPA's strategies dovetail closely with President Clinton and Vice-President Gore's recently announced sprawl initiative called the "Livability Agenda: Building Livable Communities for the 21st Century."

"Poorly-planned suburban growth is the largest challenge New England faces and it will continue as such for a good long while. It's degrading our environment, it's fiscally inefficient and it's undermining our social fabric. In short, it's a bona-fide threat to New England's environmental and economic future. Action to curb it is long overdue," DeVillars said, in opening remarks at the conference. "With this action plan - and with the help of New England's many creative thinkers in the business, environmental and political communities - we can begin reversing this destructive trend so that we can rebuild our cities and preserve our rural communities and landscapes."

Today's conference included a diverse and powerful coalition of more than 900 developers, conservationists, planners and civic leaders - among those, Vermont Governor Howard Dean, whose state has been in the forefront of smart growth strategies, including new tax incentives to encourage downtown development.

"In Vermont, we have been successful in coordinating so-called "smart growth" by focusing not on the disincentives to developing farmland and open fields, but instead promoting "incentives" for maintaining the vibrancy of our small downtowns," said Governor Dean, who delivered the keynote address at the conference. "Sprawl is more a problem of maintaining communities than it is a problem of wanton development. Working with developers and our communities, we can maintain our traditional villages and rural landscapes."

Developers, too, were well represented at the conference, which included panels on such topics as "Siting Commercial Development and Promoting Urban Redevelopment" and "Incentives for Smart Growth: Where and How Should Development Occur."

"The issue of growth management is going to be the most important issue debated over the next five years," said David Begelfer, executive director of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, a co-sponsor of the conference. "It is extremely important that all parties get together to work out real solutions to legitimate problems that will still allow for growth, while meeting the concerns of local municipalities."

DeVillars kicked off the conference by sharing a number of sprawl-related statistics and trends - all of which could undermine the region's environmental, economic and social future if they continue unchecked. Among the statistics:

    • From 1982 to 1992, Massachusetts lost 233,000 acres of land to development - the equivalent of one-third of Rhode Island.
    • Rhode Island's population has been stable the past 10 years, yet 26,000 acres of land was developed - an area the size of two Providences.
    • From 1970 to 1995, Maine's public school population fell by 27,000 students, yet it spent $727 million on new school construction, nearly half of it on new buildings in fast-growing towns.
    • For every $1 of revenue a low-density housing development brings a New England town, it costs the community as much as $1.45 in increased expenses to pay for schools, roads and other costs.
DeVillars outlined a multi-pronged action plan for tackling sprawl, with three main themes: strengthening local capacity; reshaping EPA's programs and policies; and building effective partnerships.
    • Strengthening Local Capacity:EPA will be directing substantial resources to support local smart growth activities, both through training and workshops for local officials and through financial assistance.
By June of this year, EPA will begin offering a "Fundamentals of Smart Growth" training program for local officials from communities across New England. The training program, which is being developed in partnership with state and regional planning agencies, developers and non-profit groups, is expected to be offered in 20 communities over the next two years. EPA will also be conducting Regional Growth Forums in two of the region's fastest growing areas later this year. The areas haven't yet been identified.

In May of this year, EPA will establish a New England Smart Growth Challenge Grant Program to aid communities in applying new tools and approaches for preventing sprawl and encouraging infill and redevelopment. A total of $300,000 will be available from EPA's New England Office in each of the new two years under this new competitive grant program. Nonprofit organizations, communities and other groups will be able to apply for these grants.

In each of the next two years, EPA-New England will earmark $150,000 each year to each of the six New England state environmental agencies for smart growth projects. A total of $1.8 million will be targeted to the six state agencies in the next two years. The money will be used for such activities as a workshop in Connecticut to educate municipal officials about the connection between land use and water quality, and the development of financial assistance tools in Massachusetts to implement the state's new Brownfields Law.

    • Reshaping EPA Programs and Policies: EPA's statutory programs and policies are being redirected and refocused to fight sprawl and encourage smart growth in New England.
In New England's urban areas, EPA is devoting substantial resources to help revitalize urban core areas which, in turn, helps discourage suburban sprawl. Much of this work is being done through EPA's Brownfields and Urban Environmental Initiative programs.

To help further the Brownfields effort, EPA-New England this summer will be providing $150,000 of Brownfields-related site assessment work to two urban communities. To qualify, communities will need to have growth management plans in place. Additionally, EPA in July will be selecting as many as four urban communities in New England for Brownfields Demonstration Pilot Grants, which are designed to assist communities in assessing contaminated properties. As much as $800,000 will be available through this program.

Additionally, EPA will aggressively use its authority under both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Clean Water Act Section 404 programs to advance smart growth principles.

"EPA will oppose projects that contribute to sprawl and, where appropriate, require mitigation measures to address sprawl-related impacts," DeVillars said. "We've done this several times already for environmentally damaging highway projects proposed in New Hampshire - specifically in Nashua, North Conway and Manchester. We intend to intensify these efforts."

DeVillars said the agency will also use its Clean Water Act authority more aggressively to identify and protect valuable aquatic habitats in advance of projects being proposed.

In addition, EPA's enforcement program will continue utilizing its Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) authority to ensure that environmental violators pay not just penalties for the U.S. Treasury, but also fund projects that will improve the environment of the community or neighborhood where the violations took place. As part of this effort, EPA is finalizing a partnership with the Nature Conservancy to assist EPA-New England in identifying SEPs that will help prevent the loss of valuable open space.

    • Building Effective Partnerships: This spring, EPA will create a New England Smart Growth Partnership - comprised of non-profit organizations from the conservation and development sectors, local, regional, state and federal agencies, educational institutions, developers and others - that will meet quarterly to discuss and share policy, legislative and technical approaches to smart growth. This group will serve as EPA-New England's outside Board of Directors to further develop and update EPA's strategy and to ensure its effective implementation.
And today, the New England offices of EPA, HUD and DOT are signing a Federal Smart Growth Agreement to combine existing resources to meet smart growth goals such as easing traffic congestion, better protecting green spaces and developing regional growth strategies.