Environmental Considerations with Land Use Redevelopment

August Mack
December 19, 2012 — 1,730 views  

The range of land use in the United States is extensive, varying from agricultural land use to heavy industrial use. Not only do environmental considerations arise when redeveloping a Brownfields site, they must also be taken into account in nearly all redevelopment scenarios whether it is agricultural to residential or residential to commercial.  These environmental considerations should be looked at early in the redevelopment process and discussed with your environmental consultant in advance to minimize unforeseen expenses, delays, and project constraints.  Below are four redevelopment scenarios that are commonly encountered when conducting environmental assessments.

Residential
For land that was previously utilized for residential purposes, especially residential land developed in the 1960's and earlier, it was common practice to use fuel oil as a home heating source.  Many times the fuel oil was contained in unregulated underground storage tanks (USTs).  As technology advanced, many homes switched to other heating sources often leaving heating oil USTs abandoned.  Because home heating oil USTs are unregulated, there is usually little documentation regarding the location, construction or proper closure of the tanks.  Tanks and associated piping that were not properly closed or removed have the potential to degrade and leak.  A proper abandonment procedure of the UST involves pumping out any remaining fuel, cleaning the interior of sludge or residue, removing the tank, and confirming that there has been no leakage via soil and/or groundwater testing. The fill ports, vent pipes, and supply line should be completely removed from the tank and building to prevent mistaken delivery and spills into the building or ground. Although closures of these tanks are not regulated by government agencies, closure procedures should be conducted and supervised by qualified professionals who will use standard safety practices.  If soil and/or groundwater testing during UST closure reveal the presence of contaminants associated with the UST, appropriate investigation and/or remediation should be conducted.

Agricultural
The majority of agricultural properties in the United States, especially monoculture practices (the producing or growing of one single crop over a wide area), have had chemical applications uniformly applied. Types of chemicals commonly used on these sites include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. Most states provide little or no guidance when redeveloping these types of agricultural properties regarding if the chemical use was consistent with industry accepted or manufacturer recommended application practices.

In many cases, agricultural properties include other areas of environmental concern that may include:

  • Structures such as homes, garages, equipment sheds, barns, and other out-buildings
  • Pesticide storage, mixing/loading, and wash-down areas
  • Irrigation ditches/canals, containment berms, and low-lying swales or drainage areas
  • Irrigation water containment ponds and collection/recirculation sumps
  • Production wells and pumps
  • Pole- or pad-mounted transformers
  • Waste oil areas
  • Animal pens, barns, and manure and disposal piles
  • Burn piles
  • Underground and above ground storage tanks

Types of contaminants of concern (COCs) commonly found on agricultural use sites can include petroleum compounds (fuels and oil), pesticides (dieldrin, toxaphene, DDT), herbicides (arsenic), and nitrogen compounds.  Prior to redevelopment, an environmental assessment can identify if any of these areas of concern exist and determine the proper investigation methods to establish the presence or absence of COCs.  Depending on the planned redevelopment of the site, if COCs are found to exist on the property that are a threat to human health or the environment or present a redevelopment limitation, then the appropriate remediation methods, engineering controls, and/or institutional controls will need to be considered.

Soil Considerations for Site Development
It is important to document soil quality beneath a site as early as possible, preferably before purchasing the property. The soil quality data that should be gathered depends on historic site usage. For example, soil should be tested for pesticides on property with historic agricultural use, while soil on a former or existing gas station property should be tested for a wide range of compounds such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), petroleum hydrocarbons, and lead.  Conducting a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) can help to determine the historic site use.  Knowing the constituents of concern will help to save money that could otherwise be spent on unnecessary analyses.

If soil is identified that requires special disposal, the location of the contaminated soil should be indicated on the grading plans and the developer or contractor should request approval from the receiving landfill before earthwork begins. Frequently, landfills have specific analytical requirements and may ask for additional laboratory tests that will increase costs, especially if an expedited laboratory response is required.

If it is determined that soil will need to be brought onto the site, it is important to obtain as much information regarding the soil and source as possible. Key information includes the history of the source property and any analytical data available. Your environmental consultant can compare the analytical data to commonly accepted regulatory thresholds, evaluate whether the soil samples were collected from the same area and depths where the soil is proposed to be excavated, and whether the samples were appropriately collected.

Environmental Restrictive Covenant (ERC)
State and federal environmental agencies are progressively turning to a risk-based approach when cleaning up brownfields and other sites with environmental contamination. The new approach helps to expedite the redevelopment of properties that would have otherwise been left vacant or abandoned for many years because of the difficulty achieving state applicable closure levels. Unlike a complete site cleanup, risk-based remediation leaves some residual contamination at the site, but limits the range of activities that can take place on the property, thus limiting the risk those chemicals pose to human health and the environment.

 In Indiana, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has accepted ERCs as part of the risk-based closure process. ERCs are "deed restrictions" that limit certain activities from occurring, such as residential site-use or the installation of potable water wells.  In addition, ERCs can require certain actions be undertaken, such as maintenance of an engineered barrier such as an asphalt parking lot or protective fencing on a property. If the ERC requires land use restrictions of an engineered barrier over a large area, these considerations are vital because the ERCs "run with the land." As such, specific requirements and conditions of the ERC must be maintained by the current property owner and all successor owners.

Above are only a few examples of environmental situations that may affect the redevelopment of a site.  Contacting an environmental consultant early in the acquisition phase is prudent in order to assess and investigate a property's environmental condition, restrictions, and risks to determine if it will adequately serve future development, budget, and timing needs.

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August Mack


Erin McClendon is a staff scientist for August Mack Environmental, Inc. in its Indianapolis, Indiana office. She has four years of experience in asbestos and mold surveys, oversight and abatement, Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, transaction screen assessments and subsurface investigations. Erin can be contacted at 317.916.3150 or via e-mail at [email protected]