Digging up the past: pollution risk in site redevelopment
What is site redevelopment? Basically, it’s a type of construction project that converts an unused or underperforming property into something profitable. Typical projects range from recreational use properties such as a former golf course to properties with a history of heavy industrial use. Future use may be of a similar nature, such as apartments being redeveloped into high-rise residential. They could be something totally different, like redeveloping a vacant industrial property into mixed-use retail and residential.
Before breaking ground on such a project, stakeholders must recognize that there are a number of critical environmental risk factors that can impact success and profitability. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Location, Location, Location
At first blush, it might seem that a manufacturing site and a fallow orchard might have nothing in common with one another. The fact is both could have historical contaminants that could complicate their redevelopment. The challenge is this: many redevelopment projects involve distressed or vacant properties that may have been home to commercial, industrial or agricultural activities and/or structures, all of which could have left behind unwelcome souvenirs of their previous existence. Worse still, possible contaminants could be lurking below an adjacent property causing environmental concerns at your redevelopment site without someone stepping up to assume responsibility.
What you don’t know can hurt you
If you fail to identify and understand environmental risks during site redevelopment, you could wind up facing unexpected costs, construction delays, legal fees, remediation expenses, or even injury to site workers. And because of the complicated nature of contamination, cleanup, liability and other factors, expenses can quickly escalate for buyers, sellers, and developers.
You could end up being forced to abandon a project altogether.
Getting to know what’s below
Knowing the historic use of the property in question goes a long way to understanding the potential risks. Dry cleaning, electroplating and vapor degreasing sites, for example, have a long and well-established history of leaving behind some nasty substances – even beneath a concrete foundation. Completing a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and subsequent subsurface investigation(s) is a key step in identifying and defining environmental conditions.
Depending on the outcome of the Phase I ESA, additional study may be required, including subsurface sampling. It’s important to have a well-qualified firm perform the needed sampling and analysis. For example, imagine your redevelopment site is an old gas station. Not only should samples be tested to confirm the presence of gasoline, but depending on the years it operated, professionals should know when to recommend whether additives such as lead and methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) should also be tested. Consultants can also help interpret results and recommend next steps.