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Return to Use Initiative

At the California Gulch site in the historic mining town of Leadville, Colorado, a 12-mile bike path now loops around historic mining artifacts, 2,315 acres of the 18-square mile site will be preserved as parks, wildlife habitat, and recreational areas, and in 2009, a public sports complex – the first in the area – will open on the former zinc smelter.

Additional RTU Information

An Initiative to Help Communities Reuse Cleaned Up Superfund Sites

Activities to Date
RTU Demonstration Projects


EPA developed the Return to Use (RTU) Initiative in late 2004 as a critical element of the Agency's Superfund Redevelopment activities. The RTU Initiative is designed to remove barriers to appropriate reuse at those Superfund sites where construction of the cleanup remedy has been completed. Many of these sites remain idle or underutilized, and could be subject to damage by trespassers or vandals. Barriers to appropriate reuse include:

  • lack of understandable information about the site;
  • stigma of being a Superfund site;
  • liability concerns;
  • site ownership issues; and
  • lack of clear information regarding what uses might be appropriate for the site.

Appropriate reuse of these sites can:

  • allow the community to regain lost land as valuable open space;
  • add recreational amenities or commercial property;
  • prevent sites from becoming targets for midnight dumping, vandalism, and destructive trespassing;
  • remove any lingering disincentives associated with vacant sites; and
  • increase values of surrounding property and augment the tax base.

As part of the RTU Initiative, EPA, for example:

  • provides the public with site reuse profiles, information sheets, and assessments;
  • works with surrounding communities to establish processes for determining appropriate reuses;
  • supplies information to potential purchasers; and
  • determines technical needs to properly design and reuse the site.


In 1999, Superfund Redevelopment began with the goal of working with local stakeholders and partners at every cleanup site so that the Agency can consider likely future uses of sites before cleanup remedies have been selected. This approach gave the Agency the best chance, where practicable and cost effective, of selecting remedies that are consistent with the reasonably anticipated future use of the site, and gives communities the best opportunity to productively use sites following cleanup. However, with its focus on sites where remedies were not yet implemented, Superfund Redevelopment did not address the many communities that have vacant sites where construction of the remedy is already complete. There are over 1000 construction-complete sites. Many of them remain idle or underutilized and remedies could be subject to damage due to trespassing or inappropriate activities. The RTU Initiative was designed to focus on these sites.

As part of the Initiative, EPA is committed to working with stakeholders interested in the reuse of sites in order to move forward with the identification of protective reuses that do not require costly changes to remedies. Activities have included:

  • Modifying fences - Some fences may no longer be needed, or wanted by site owners, because the remedies have succeeded and risk has decreased over time; in other cases, gates may be added to allow pedestrians to enter for appropriate activities, like jogging, while still keeping out motorized vehicles that might damage the remedies.
  • Providing information to address local concerns about environmental conditions at the sites - Information about the status of a particular site can give local communities, developers, or site owners the confidence to move ahead with its reuse. Site reuse profiles, Ready for Reuse (RfR) determinations, and comfort letters are examples of the many tools used by the Agency for this purpose. A site reuse profile, which is used in some Regions, highlights a site's background, environmental history, and reuse status. An RfR determination is an environmental status report written in clear language that is designed to provide important information about a site so it can be used without compromising protection of people and the environment. Comfort letters provide information about the site and can clarify liability and other issues for prospective purchasers and site owners.
  • Eliminating misleading signs and unnecessary obstacles - "Keep Out" signs and barbed wire send a strong message that an area is dangerous. They may have been necessary when the remedy was being constructed, but the conditions at the site may no longer require them. Eliminating these potent symbols, when the responsible EPA officials confirm that they are no longer needed, can open the door to reuse.
  • Implementing appropriate institutional controls - In many cases, the remedy that EPA has selected for a site require institutional controls to be implemented by other authorities, such as the State or local government. Where the authorities responsible for implementing the controls have not done so, or where EPA determines that the controls are more restrictive than needed, the community-based effort to return the site to use may provide the impetus to get appropriate controls in place so that reuse can proceed.

Activities to Date

Establishing partnerships with communities and other stakeholders to address potential obstacles to reuse is the focus of the Initiative. These site-specific partnerships, referred to as demonstration projects, can be as formal or informal as communities wish. Projects have ranged from an informal consultation between community representatives and EPA personnel, to a memorandum of understanding between Regional offices and local stakeholders.

Since 2004, EPA has established over 60 Return to Use Initiative demonstration projects. These demonstration projects, located across the country, consist of efforts by local stakeholders, including community groups, government officials, site owners, and potentially responsible parties (PRPs), and working with EPA, to achieve appropriate site reuse. In cases where the site has not yet been returned to use, EPA continues to support reuse efforts at these demonstration projects. New demonstration projects were added on an annual basis until 2010 and are now added on a rolling basis as new stories develop.

Since the inception of the Return to Use Initiative, EPA has learned many new and better ways to work with communities and other stakeholders in support of site reuse, and hopes to apply those lessons at many more sites in the future.

More information about the demonstration projects.