There’s no skating around it — rehabilitating a contaminated property is an enormous undertaking. And if you’ve had the same tract of derelict land or dilapidated buildings sitting on the books for years, it can become second nature to put remediation projects on hold again and again.
However, ignoring the possibility of remediation keeps you carrying a significant amount of environmental liability. With careful planning and cleanup, you can transform your contaminated properties into significant assets for your business.
The remediation process: a quick overview from the environmental cleanup perspective
All environmental projects are one-of-a-kind. The air, water, and soil are different for every property. So as you read through these steps, keep in mind that environmental differences and historical uses of the property, not to mention stakeholder decisions, will all impact how your project advances.
The first steps in environmental remediation projects are commonly referred to, collectively, as due diligence. Often, due diligence happens concurrently with fund sourcing and redevelopment planning. On some projects, feasibility studies will also be completed to evaluate the challenges and opportunities that may come along with rehabilitating a property or end-of-life site (e.g., a retired mine).
Getting a handle on the extent to which your property is contaminated will provide the foundation for the rest of your project. To start, you’ll need to complete a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). If you’re securing specific funding, such as EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant funds, your Phase I will need to be completed in accordance with AAI Final Rule at 40 CFR Part 312, so it’s best to hire a consultant well-versed in remediation projects. Phase Is entail thorough research on the historical uses of the property via private and public records. Sometimes, consultants will also conduct interviews with current owners, previous owners, neighbors, and community members.
Phase II ESAs follow. These include physical trips to the site to gather water, air, or soil samples for testing. Depending on the condition of the property, subsurface investigations may be necessary.
Permitting and approvals
Before performing any more work, you will need to ensure you have proper permits and land use approvals in place. Always check with your state and local authorities to make sure you have all the permissions needed to proceed with site remediation.
Once you have a handle on the full extent of the contamination, buy-in from all stakeholders, financing locked down, and a comprehensive plan in place, it’s time to get to work cleaning up your site.
The cleanup process varies significantly from project to project and may include soil, surface water, or groundwater remediation. Waste must be disposed of following all federal, state, and local regulations. Depending on what’s laid out in the remediation plan, construction activities may take place simultaneously with cleanup efforts.
Site closure and next steps
Once your federal, state, or local authorities issue a “No Further Action” letter or similar notification, you can consider your cleanup efforts complete. Any planned construction can commence or continue. Once it’s complete, your property will be ready to take on a new life.
Long-term environmental monitoring and maintenance may be necessary after site closure. For example, any water treatment systems installed during the remediation process may need regular inspections and maintenance. Further, you may be required to report data to your federal, state, or local authorities.
Strategically planning the next steps for your newly cleaned property will make your investment and hard work worth it. The opportunities for redeveloped land and buildings are endless, but loosely follow one of two routes.
- Hold on to the newly functional site. For example, if you cleaned up an abandoned industrial site and rehabbed some old warehouses and factories, you can use the new facilities to expand your operational capacity.
- Sell or lease the property. Once your site is cleaned up, its value will likely soar, presenting you with the opportunity to make a pretty penny off the sale or lease of the property. If a property developer scoops it up, they’ll be able to transform the previously run-down site into something that’ll benefit the community and the economy without having to worry about environmental liabilities that existed before remediation.
An environmental remediation success story from the heart of Michigan
Downtown Lansing, Michigan, looks wildly different from what it did in decades past, and the redevelopment of an old coal power plant is partially responsible for the urban renewal.
The Ottawa Street Power Plant sits riverside in the central business district of Lansing. It was built in 1938 but ceased power generation operations in 1992. In 2007, the City of Lansing sold the plant. The plan? To transform the landmark once hailed for its stunning Art Deco design into the corporate headquarters for the Accident Fund.
Giving the old power plant new life wasn’t just an enormous undertaking from a building rehab standpoint — the site was contaminated and in dire need of cleanup. Funds from the DEQ and EPA were critical to making responsible cleanup possible. Plus, since the plant was once used as a chiller plant, equipment needed to be removed from the site prior to renovation. This massive task was made possible by the $24,000,000 Brownfield tax increment financing (TIF) funds granted to the developers.
- 268,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater was cleaned from the site
- State equalized value before redevelopment: $2,190,500
- State equalized value after redevelopment: $33,650,300
Through a continued public-private partnership, developers transformed the power plant into a thriving headquarters for the Accident Fund. This project also sparked inspiration for further economic development in the heart of Lansing. Since the Ottawa Street Power Plant’s extensive rehab and a river cleanup funded by DEQ grants, developers have created dozens of amenities and attractions. As a result, there are over 1,000 residents (and counting) in the immediate area and hundreds of jobs have been created.
To hear the full story about downtown Lansing’s riverfront revival, check out this video.
Remediation assistance programs in your state
Redeveloping contaminated properties has become a top priority in the United States in recent years. As such, the opportunity is ripe to secure funding and assistance for your projects. To get the ball rolling on redeveloping your properties, check out your state’s brownfield programs to learn more about applying for grants and other financial assistance programs.
- Due diligence: Environmental due diligence is a formal process that assesses real estate for potential risk of environmental contamination, such as soil or groundwater contamination. [Source]
- Feasibility study: An analysis and evaluation of a proposed project to determine if it is technically feasible with the estimated cost, and also, if the proposed project will be profitable. [Source]
- Phase I ESA: Process involving a review of records, a site inspection, and interviews with owners, occupants, neighbors, and local government officials. [Source]
- Phase II ESA: Process including sampling and laboratory analysis to confirm the presence of hazardous materials. [Source]
- Subsurface investigations: The appraisal of the general subsurface conditions at a building site by analysis of information gained by methods such as geological surveys, in situ testing, sampling, visual inspection, laboratory testing of samples of the subsurface materials and groundwater observations and measurements. [Source]
Our team of environmental experts can work with you on remediation projects from start to finish. Contact us today to get started.