In the United States, regulatory agencies and guidelines require remedial action in locations that are polluted by past industrial activity or a single environmental event. Site remediation is the process of removing surface water, groundwater, soil, or sediment that is polluted or contaminated to reduce the harmful impact to people, animals, and the environment.
New Jersey’s Brownfields Act promotes remediation of sites impacted by pollution, called brownfields. Learn more about this process to ensure compliance and prevent costly delays for your project or business.
What Is the Brownfields Act?
New Jersey legislators passed the Brownfields and Contaminated Site Remediation Act (typically referred to as the Brownfields Act) in 1998. It was created to support the cleanup and remediation of properties and land which are identified to be hazardous. These sites can be privately or publicly owned.
The Brownfields Act was passed in an effort to restore empty and abandoned sites that pose a health risk and financial drain on the community. These sites are transformed into safe and productive locations that enhance their communities and generate jobs and tax revenue once again.
What is a Brownfield Property?
To be classified as a Brownfield, a property must meet three criteria:
- It must currently be underutilized, vacant, or abandoned.
- It must be a current or former commercial or industrial property.
- It must be known or suspected to be contaminated with hazardous substances.
Common examples of Brownfield sites include dumps, landfills, gas stations, manufacturing plants, and dry cleaners.
An Overview of the Site Remediation Process in New Jersey
Site remediation consists of the following stages:
Phase I Environmental Site Assessment
A Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESA) is a risk assessment that determines if a property has any environmental concerns that must be corrected before construction can proceed. Phase I ESAs are used for agricultural, industrial, and commercial real estate transactions.
A Phase I ESA consists in part of an on-site visit, a visual assessment of the site, interviews, and a review of any records pertaining to the property. Generally, Phase I assessments are conducted by certified environmental professionals or engineers.
The assessment is important because it helps protect the buyer from liability if it is completed before they purchase the site. If there is no cause for concern, the buyer can purchase the site with confidence that it is environmentally sound. If there is a cause for concern, a Phase II ESA is required.
Phase II Environmental Site Assessment
A Phase II ESA is used to assess whether contaminants or other questionable environmental conditions are present. This phase is more comprehensive and may include groundwater and soil sampling and inspections of interior spaces for asbestos, mold, radon, and lead-based paint.
Trained and licensed engineers and/or geologists who conduct these assessments also look for wetlands, ecological resources, and protected and endangered animal species that may prevent the land from being used for specific purposes. If contamination or other issues are discovered during the Phase II ESA, a Phase III ESA must be completed.
Phase III Environmental Site Assessment
A Phase III ESA is more involved than the previous assessment. This assessment determines how pollution, contamination, and other site concerns impact the environment. At this stage, recommendations for remediation are provided, along with estimated costs to correct issues to make the site compliant.
The next stage of the site remediation process is the remediation design. The remedial design describes the type and extent of the contamination present. It also includes a detailed analysis of each stage and element of the remediation process as it relates to relevant regulatory guidelines. Cost estimates for the project are also provided. The property owner or developer uses the remediation design to pursue bids to complete the project.
Per New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) guidelines, the party that is undertaking the remediation is required to notify the clerk of the municipality 45 days before construction begins. This allows the municipality to make any necessary arrangements such as rerouting traffic or notifying local residents.
Once all assessments are complete the remediation design has been submitted, the work of site remediation takes place. At this stage, the contamination is cleaned up and the property is rendered compliant.
Remediation execution might include remediating the soil or groundwater or the removal of underground storage tanks. Once the site is compliant, construction of new projects of structures can begin.
Completion of the Job
After remediation is complete, the respective NJDEP Case Manager reviews the case one final time and makes a determination of completion. If the site has properly undergone remediation, the case manager approves a Letter of No Further Action, and the site can be reused. Remediated sites have a wide range of uses: they can become businesses, schools, housing, and parks, and other open spaces.
Who Is Responsible for Site Remediation?
In the Garden State, New Jersey Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (NJ LSRPs) are typically hired to develop remediation plans and execute those plans according to all applicable environmental laws and regulations. It is also wise to work with a law firm that focuses their practice on environmental law.
Legal counsel is invaluable for ensuring the necessary permits are submitted and all due diligence is complete, among other services. Clients who hire an environmental lawyer to assist with site remediation have peace of mind knowing they are protected from liability for environmental violations that can derail their development venture.
Support for Site Remediation
The Brownfields Act is a powerful piece of legislation that is intended to assisted municipalities and private investors in identifying sites in need of remediation, funding the cleanup process through incentives and grants, and even encouraging communities to market these sites to encourage investors to purchase and develop them.
Financial Incentives for Site Remediation
Through the Brownfields Act, various financial incentives may be available to private developers and municipalities to clean up hazardous sites. They include various tax incentives, low-interest loans, and grants.
What Is the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund?
The Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund (HDSRF) consists of grants and loans which are available to qualifying non-profit organizations, public entities, and private entities specifically for remediation of a hazardous substance.
Created in 1993, the HDSRF is funded by a portion of New Jersey Corporate Business Tax. The state Department of Environmental Protection reviews applicants to determine if they are eligible and considers their estimated remediation costs.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) reviews the applicant’s financial status to determine their loan or grant eligibility and awards funding from there. The HDSRF is just one of various incentives designed to make site remediation feasible for organizations and developers to improve communities and benefit the environment.
Benefits of Site Remediation
This process offers countless advantages for the local and the larger community. Site remediation:
- Improves air, land, and water quality
- Improves property values and beautifies neighborhoods
- Reduces crime, vandalism, and vagrancy that occur on abandoned properties
- Is a catalyst for change and growth throughout surrounding neighborhoods
- Transforms vacant properties into safe and usable spaces that help grow employment and the economy
If you are a business owner or developer with questions about site remediation, contact an environmental lawyer near you to learn more about the process.
Warren Environmental Lawyers with Herold Law, P.A., Help Clients Remain Safe and Compliant
Warren environmental lawyers with Herold Law, P.A., are here to assist your company and ensure you act within the law to prevent exposure to costly and time-consuming violations. Call us today at 908-647-1022 or contact the firm online. Located in Warren, we are available to assist clients in Plainfield and throughout all of Northern New Jersey.