Guest Author Jesse Silverstein, Colorado Brownfields Foundation, discusses how redeveloping sugar beet factories impacts Colorado communities.
Sugar beets were cultivated in Colorado as early as 1869. The first sugar beet processing factory in Colorado was built in Grand Junction in 1899. By 1906, sugar beet factories had been constructed in Rocky Ford, Loveland, Greeley, Eaton, Fort Collins, Longmont, Windsor, Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush. By the mid 1930s, Colorado was the state with the largest number of beet sugar factories and at one time or another, a total of 22 factories were located throughout Colorado from the western slope to the eastern plains.
During the 1970s, competition from cane sugar and corn syrup, both less expensive to produce, as well as from artificial sweeteners such as saccharine and aspartame, led to a decline in beet sugar prices. By the early 1980s, many of these factories were shuttered. Today only one Colorado factory remains in operation, located in Fort Morgan. The sugar beet industry, once the nucleus of company towns, has left these towns with large acreages of land ready for business redevelopment, but for notable amounts of waste left on these sites.
In 2010 and with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Brownfields Foundation (CBF) assembled a stakeholder group to identify opportunities and challenges associated with the redevelopment of Sugar Beet Factories throughout Colorado. Participants included local government representatives from communities along with site owners, regulatory agencies (state and federal), environmental consultants, representatives from industries interested in lime reuse, and materials recycling technical experts.
Common threats identified by stakeholder communities include: large vacant, abandoned, and blighting property; trespassing, vagrancy and vandalism; environmental threats from asbestos and illegal dumping; potential ecosystem impacts from lime waste; nuisance conditions from blowing lime waste; noxious weed growth on piles.
Additionally, these closed factories present lost community opportunities including: lost opportunities for in-fill redevelopment; loss of riparian lands thereby hindering open space preservation; loss of riverfront development opportunities; loss of potential intermodal trail/transit connections (bicycle, pedestrian, vehicular); and loss of community connections, particularly between river fronts, downtowns, and residential districts. Geotechnical constraints limit the ability to construct buildings on lime waste and potential asbestos remediation costs present a high barrier to entry in the redevelopment process. One of the most obvious challenges faced by redevelopment at a sugar beet factory is the sheer volume of lime waste; estimated at up to 1,000,000 cubic yards spread over as much as 40 acres.
Despite challenges, a number of opportunities exist to position these sites as redevelopment opportunities:
• Many locations have existing heavy rail service and are in close proximity to major highways, an industrial opportunity for redevelopment that can be an advantage;
• Given the former industrial usage of the sites, there is likely three-phase electric service to these sites, capable of both deliver energy to the site and moving (renewable) energy from the sites;
• The proximity of these sites to commercial cores, as well as the large size and industrial zoning of these sites, present primary jobs economic development opportunities close to work force housing and with the ability to increase downtown daytime populations
Cleanup and redevelopment of some of these sites are proceeding on the heels of much effort: the Town of Eaton has acquired title to its factory through the purchase of tax liens and is negotiating for intermodal transit reuse of the buildings. The City of Greeley has formed a public-private partnership and is assisting Leprino Foods in locating a major manufacturing facility to its former sugar beet site. Other lime piles are slowly being drawn down for use as in treating acid mine drainage. However, the cost of transporting lime waste to end uses is still a major burden and CBF, the CO Department of Local Affairs, and various pilot communities are seeking to create a market opportunity to bring value-added production to lime waste a as raw material. Next steps in this effort are to apply for USEPA Brownfields Assessment Grant funding (please contact CBF or DOLA for more information) to continue to research the opportunities to recycle lime waste and recycle the underlying real estate for infill redevelopment.
Jesse Silverstein is the executive director of Colorado Brownfields Founation, a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance with financing, redeveloping, and reusing brownfields sites.