HAZWASTES: Cleanups Generate Economic Growth In Communities

While attempting to clean up the nation's most contaminated sites, the federal government has been hit by two barriers: lack of time and available resources. Now, more than a decade into the project, thousands of sites remain idle while waiting for government ac-tion.

These "brownfield" areas can be of significant value to host communities, however, with respect to ex-isting infrastructure investments and tax basis. State and local community officials are therefore in limbo between the benefits of brownfield areas and their potential environmental liabilities.

Areas that once thrived with in-dustrial activity often provide the necessary labor and infrastructure such as transportation and utilities. However, banks and businesses are reluctant to redevelop these sites due to environmental liabilities and the costs associated with cleanup compliance. As a result, "greenfield" sites are often developed as an alternative.

To expedite the process, U.S. EPA and several state governments are evaluating, and in some in-stances initiating, privatized, voluntary cleanups. Last June, the state of Ohio enacted its version of voluntary cleanup under Senate Bill 221, Ohio's Real Estate Reuse and Cleanup Law.

The new law, to be administered by Ohio EPA, has three goals: to in-vestigate properties suspected of contamination and expedite clean-up at the sites; to protect unused greenfield areas from further in-dustrial development; and to spur economic growth and create jobs.

Ohio law grants reprieve for lending institutions in most situations. In addition, sellers and buyers re-ceive a Covenant-Not-to-Sue with property deeds once the site meets, or is in the process of meeting, ap-plicable cleanup standards. Al-though property owners may be subject to federal and third-party suits, the covenant will ban most state actions against the property.

Cleanup standards will reflect the intended use of the property (e.g. residential, commercial, in-dustrial). Volunteers may also conduct site-specific risk assessments to determine appropriate remedial actions or rely on protective engineering and institutional controls.

In an effort to speed cleanup activities, consolidated permits will be issued when multiple permits such as NPDES wastewater discharge and air emission permits are required to commence remedial activities.

Ohio EPA will establish criteria for certified professionals and laboratories who can determine when applicable regulations have been met and when sites have been sufficiently cleaned. To date, eligible environmental professionals in-clude professional engineers, certified geologists, toxicologists and certified industrial hygienists who meet rigorous requirements and possess at least five years of experience in site remediation and have three years of project supervisory experience.

Ohio volunteers who wish to re-develop a site can receive funding through tax abatements. Any real estate taxes corresponding to the incremental increase in property value will be abated for 10 years. Volunteers may also apply for low interest loans from the state.

Property owners can recover cleanup costs from parties who contributed to the contamination; the recovery amount is based on each party's responsibility.

Under the program, the Ohio EPA can audit all cleanup activities as well as the conduct and technical conclusions of certified professionals and laboratories. At a minimum, 25 percent of the sites which receive a covenant will be audited. If any non-compliance or misrepresentation sites are found, Ohio EPA may revoke the covenant, assess strict penalties and pursue civil and criminal convictions.

The public is notified of all clean-ups that have been completed. In addition, a series of public hearings will be held statewide during rule development and prior to any permits being issued.

While rules are being developed, only sites without groundwater contamination are eligible, but no more than 200 covenants will be issued. The law was put into effect on September 1994 and is expected to be fully implemented in Sep-tember 1995.