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"Preserving Communities While Revitalizing Brownfields"

By Gretna Mayor Ronnie C. Harris

Gretna (LA) Mayor Ronnie C. Harris participated in a panel discussion that focused on the benefits of future land use redevelopment on long-term residents and businesses as opposed to the promotion of gentrification.

The panel members included Tom Warshauer, Business Services Supervisor, City of Charlotte; Tom Benjamin, President, Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement; Gary Kaplan, Executive Director, Boston Jobs for Youth; and Gerri Washington, Coordinator, Environmental Justice Action Group.

Mayor Harris stressed the importance of involving the public in brownfield redevelopment efforts and described how, while applying for funding, the city of Gretna involved the community every step of the way. "Neighborhood meetings were held in all parts of the city, not just in the communities adjacent to the site", explained Mayor Harris.

As part of the process, civic association meetings were held which culminated in District meetings. As a result, the Brownfields Partnership Consortium, consisting of neighborhood, government and economic development representatives, was established. Participants included a broad range of community representatives, including real estate, insurance, EPA, title companies, neighbors and lawyers.

 Site options were presented to the consortium for discussion and the community representatives identified the sites of concern. This was an important part of the process because "brownfield sites can be real or perceived", explained Mayor Harris. Further investigation revealed that of 42 sites, only nine were of real concern. The remaining sites involved non-brownfield issues such as abandoned buildings, tall grass, debris etc.

"The process for the brownfield redevelopment project was slow but, more importantly, it was successful", observed Mayor Harris, who is committed to public involvement.

Next year, the Consortium will act as an advisory board to the already successful redevelopment project. To ensure continued success, public involvement will continue as the reuse plan is put into action.

Panel members agreed that community involvement, job creation, work force development, and effective local decision-making, can strengthen and enrich the existing community as local entities move through the redevelopment process.

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