What is CABIN?
The Central Appalachian Brownfields Innovation Network (CABIN) is a peer exchange group of regional brownfield, redevelopment, and environmental professionals, who work with each other and their local communities to facilitate the redevelopment of brownfield sites and formerly mined lands. Our organization includes partners from multiple agencies throughout Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Despite the fact that these states are facing similar challenges, a shared economic and environmental history, and comparable cultural perspectives, they are divided among three administrative regions under the US Environmental Protection Agency. While this division makes sense administratively, it does not make sense in the day-to-day work of Appalachian communities. Communities in rural West Virginia have much more in common with communities in rural Kentucky or rural Tennessee than they do with communities in the urban centers of Pennsylvania or Maryland, with whom they share an EPA region. As a result, these rural Appalachian communities have limited opportunities to connect or learn from each other and almost no mechanisms to share best practices or technical assistance when they are in different EPA regions. CABIN bridges this gap by bringing people together to learn from each other’s experiences, as well as providing public education on the challenges and benefits of the sustainable redevelopment of brownfields and formerly mined lands.
What is a Brownfield?
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfields program states that “a brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.” Most communities have at least a few brownfield sites present, even though they may not realize it. Some of the most common examples include: abandoned gas stations and auto shops with leaking storage tanks and fuel runoff; older houses or buildings with lead-based paint, asbestos containing materials, or other toxic treatments; industrial sites that used harmful chemicals in their production processes, like glass factories or dry cleaning shops; and the abandoned mine lands (AMLs) that are commonly found all throughout Appalachia.
However, any kind of site that has “real or perceived contamination” resulting from human use likely meets the criteria to be labeled a brownfield. A dilapidated and crumbling old farmhouse, for example, may not technically have any lead or asbestos on site, but the perceived potential presence of such contaminants and the associated risks still make that site a problem for the community. Even a seemingly beautiful historic apple orchard can be a brownfield, due to the traditional use of pesticides (like arsenic!) that remain in the soil indefinitely.
What is Central Appalachia?
Geographically, the Appalachian Mountains stretch across most of the East Coast of the United States and extend all the way into parts of Canada. Culturally, the Appalachian Regional Commission states that Appalachia is made up of 420 counties across 13 states and spans 205,000 square miles, from southern New York to northern Mississippi. The central Appalachian states that comprise CABIN’s footprint are Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
Central Appalachia can be further defined by three key challenges that unite the region: a beautiful but difficult terrain, a history of domination and abandonment by big industry, and subsequent economic stagnation and population loss. While their love for the land is generally a defining characteristic of Appalachians, it is no secret that the rugged, mountainous landscape has made it extremely difficult to build and maintain quality infrastructure systems (especially broadband internet today) throughout the region. In many places, these systems were only established as a result of the coal, lumber, and manufacturing companies that thrived in Appalachia during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. These businesses flocked to our area for its wealth of natural resources, and often became the economic lifeblood of entire communities. Unfortunately, as the natural resources were depleted and profits dried up, businesses moved on and left these boomtowns with no way to support themselves.
The past few decades have subsequently seen a sudden economic decline across Central Appalachia and a mass exodus of working-age adults who must leave rural areas to find work elsewhere. As a result, the landscape is now littered with the crumbling industrial sites, abandoned and dilapidated homes, and deteriorated downtowns that are a constant reminder of better days. That is why CABIN and a growing number of concerned citizens and community groups are dedicated to reclaiming these sites and bringing economic diversity and prosperity back to the region.