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Brownfield Sites Present New Opportunities

Looking to develop on a contaminated site, but frustrated by the slow response of state officials to get involved? Many states are now quasi-privatizing the process to get old brownfields cleaned up and back on the tax rolls.

Aug/Sep 09
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Brownfields Law
Remediation activity picked up steam in many states in 2002, after President George W. Bush signed legislation increasing federal assistance for site remediation projects. The so-called Brownfields Law also included grants for assessment, cleanup, and related job training.

The Brownfields Law also amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to authorize a CERCLA grant program establishing and enhancing state and tribal response programs. In the years since, state action to reform and streamline the remediation process has accelerated.

In North Carolina, the state moved in 2007 to initiate the Registered Environmental Consultant (REC) Program, through which a developer or "responsible party" can petition the state for approval to initiate cleanup of a site. The state signs off on the hiring of a REC and cleanup begins.

Although the certified REC essentially takes the place of state oversight, the state audits a portion of REC projects to ensure that basic state guidelines are being met. If the REC leads a successful cleanup of the site, the state awards the site a "No Further Action" status, and development of the site can begin.

In Ohio, the process is known as the Ohio Voluntary Action Program (VAP). Certified professionals, land owners, and/or developers in Ohio are first required to perform a site environmental assessment to determine which contaminants may be present on the property and how cleanup would be achieved. VAP allows certified professionals to prepare a plan to clean up the piece of property through remedial actions, along with a cost estimate. If approved, the plan can be eligible for state funding through the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund or the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund.

Legalizing the Private Sector Project Manager
According to Newman, states have followed the lead of Massachusetts by legalizing the concept of the private-sector remediation project manager, but have left it up to the developer to get that party on board. The licensed professional then has to oversee the project in the same way the state regulator would.

"It's that individual's responsibility to make sure the program is implemented appropriately, according to the regulations," Newman said. "In most of these programs, it's not a complete substitute for the state approval. In almost all cases it's to streamline the process."

The simplification of the process, along with clearer guidelines, has spurred more developers to consider sites that need remediation, Newman added. "Fewer developers were interested in doing this 10 years ago. With codification of the cleanup program requirements, it has become more apparent what is necessary. This is not always black and white, even if you are engaged in one of these licensed programs and an LSP (Licensed Site Professional) is engaged; but the entire process has the potential to be more understandable," Newman

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