EPA No Longer Recognizes Old ASTM Standard for Phase Is

U.S. EPA has published in the Federal Register its action that removes the old Phase I standard (1527-05) from the "All Appropriate Inquiries" Rule (AAI).  Until this action, AAI recognized both the old standard and the new standard- ASTM 1527-13.  

The major differences between the old and new ASTM Phase I standard include:

  • Key legal definitions associated with contamination
  • Enhanced requirements for agency file reviews
  • As discussed below, new language highlighting the need to assess the potential for vapor intrusion

EPA delayed the effective date of the rule until October 6, 2015 to allow the continued use of 1527-05 until that date.  Going forward, any Phase I report issued after the effective date of the rule which is based on ASTM 1527-05 will no longer be deemed sufficient for meeting establishing the Bona Fide Purchaser Defense to CERCLA (BFPD).  The BFPD provides new owners and tenants of property a defense to liability under CERCLA if it completes due diligence in accordance with EPA's AAI Rule.

EPA action was not a surprise.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of EPA action is the comment in the preamble related to vapor intrusion:

"The scope of the AAI Rule and the ASTM E1527–05 standard always included the
requirement to identify all indications of releases
and threatened releases of hazardous substances, or ‘‘recognized environmental conditions (RECs),’’ including indications of vapor migration or vapor releases. With the updates included in the 2013 version of the ASTM E1527 standard, ASTM modified the definition of migration to specifically include vapor migration and remove any confusion regarding the need to identify all RECs, or all indications of releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, when conducting an AAI investigation." (emphasis added)

While EPA may believe it has always been known the vapor intrusion needed to be assessed, that certainly was not the case among consultants.  Many prepared Phase I reports that did not mention in anyway vapor intrusion.  I have read such reports in the past.

This issue is whether this type of statement from EPA provides grounds for professional negligence claims against environmental consultants who did not perform a vapor intrusion evaluation under an old Phase I which followed ASTM 1527-05.  

The most likely scenario would be someone who purchased a building and learned later that a vapor intrusion/migration issue existed on the property.  They obtained a Phase I environmental assessment prior to purchase, however, the Phase I did not review the potential for vapor intrusion.

As discussed in a prior post, a recent survey indicates that barely half of the Phase I reports being performed using the new ASTM 1527-13 standard analyze for vapor intrusion.   

Key Update on JobsOhio Revitalization Brownfield Program

Last week, we hosted a very successful seminar covering commercial and industrial property redevelopment.  I participated on a panel that included JobsOhio, the City of Cleveland and TeamNEO discussing brownfield redevelopment, in particular, incentives.  A major focus of the discussions was the relatively new JobsOhio Revitalization Program.  

I have worked with JobsOhio on brownfield projects and have experience with how the new program operates.  It is very different then the old Clean Ohio program which operated for over a decade.

Here are some of the key pieces of information that I learned either at the seminar or through my experience working with the program over the last year.

Available Grant and Loan Brownfield Incentives

  1. Phase II Assessment
    • Up to $200,000 in grant funds for Phase II sampling
    • Phase I must be completed prior to application
    • JobsOhio said a project "needs a high likelihood of job retention or creation, not certainty at this stage"
  2. Revitalization Loan Fund
    • Low interest loans up to $5 million, covering 20-75% of project costs
    • End user and job creation/retention
    • Industrial, commercial or mixed use w/office
    • Principal & interest free during construction (i.e. until certificate of occupancy)
  3. Revitalization Grant Fund
    • Up to $1 million in grant funds for cleanup and other eligible costs
    • Typically coupled with a loan where grant acts to fill funding gaps

Who and What is Eligible

The JobsOhio program has wider eligibility than Clean Ohio.  Businesses, developers and non-profits can all apply for incentives without going through a local governmental entity.  However, the entity cannot have been directly responsible for the environmental contamination (with some limited exceptions based on the structure of the deal).

Eligible Use of Funds

A wider array of costs are eligible for reimbursement under the JobsOhio program.  In fact, it was noted during the program that 50% of the projects JobsOhio has funded did not involve contamination.

Eligible costs include any of the following:

  • Phase II environmental assessments
  • Demolition and disposal
  • Environmental remediation
  • Building renovation
  • Site preparation
  • Infrastructure
  • Environmental testing & lab fees

Criteria for Evaluating Projects

JobsOhio utilizes three basic criteria when evaluating projects:

  1. Jobs (private sector)
    • Retained
    • Created
    • Wage rate 
  2. Investment 
    • Private v. public & JobsOhio investment
    • Capital investment in addition to site preparation
    • Priority for JobsOhio targeted industry projects
  3. Certainty of Completion
    • End user commitment
    • Completeness of redevelopment plans
    • Adequacy of project funding

Key Differences between JobsOhio and Clean Ohio

Having worked on multiple projects under both programs, it is fair to say there are very significant differences between the two programs.  Here is a list of key differences:

  1. No VAP Covenant-Not-Sue Required under JobsOhio- As discussed above, 50% of the projects don't even involve contamination.  All brownfield Clean Ohio projects involved contamination.  Even with sites that have contamination, JobsOhio says they will not require you to complete Ohio EPA's Voluntary Action Program in all cases.
  2. Application Costs and Timing-  The JobsOhio application process is significantly faster than Clean Ohio.  All applications can be filed on a rolling basis.  The amount of information required to find out whether you will receive an award is vastly different.  Under JobsOhio you can find out whether you will qualify for funding very inexpensively.  Under Clean Ohio it could cost $20k-$50k to find out whether you would be funded.  Also, funding under Clean Ohio was more of a political process that was largely determined by which projects were most favored locally.
  3. Flexibility-  JobsOhio provides greater flexibility in terms of the projects that can qualify.  Also, a wider array of costs are eligible for reimbursement under JobsOhio.  There is also greater flexibility to structure the incentives under JobsOhio to fit your project.  No rigid match requirements or artificial caps on certain costs.
  4. Confidentiality-  The Clean Ohio process was entirely public.  All applications and reports were public records.  Under JobsOhio, a company can keep deals confidential until a public announcement is made regarding the award.  There is even the opportunity to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement with JobsOhio.  
  5. Funding- Unfortunately, JobsOhio does not provide the same level of grant funding as Clean Ohio.  For smaller, less contaminated sites this is not an issue.  For sites involving very significant contamination or complex cleanups, the $1 million in available grant funding may not be sufficient.
  6. Jobs Requirement-  All JobsOhio projects must involve either job retention or creation.  Under Clean Ohio, there was the opportunity to cleanup sites without firm job commitments in order to attract development to strategic areas.  
  7. Criteria for Award-  Clean Ohio had a published scoring system that could provide potential applicants some sense of whether they would qualify for money.  JobsOhio has the three criteria discussed above (jobs, investment and certainty of completion), but there are no hard and fast rules of when they will fund a project.

 

 

New Ohio EPA Public Records Procedures Impact Phase Is

More than one environmental consultant has reported that Ohio EPA has changed its public records review procedures.  Ohio EPA has centralized its document review process.  It has developed a new public records request form that it asks any consultant requesting records to fill out (click here for the form).

After files are compiled in response to the request, Ohio EPA will typically not release the records until the Legal Office completes a review.  The purpose of the review is to ensure attorney-client or other privileged documents are not released.  That is understandable.  However, the practical effect, as reported by more than one consultant, is that records are not being released or files made available for review as quickly.

Many times it can take more than three weeks before files will be made available.  This causes practical issues for consultants performing Phase I Environmental Assessments.

Under the new ASTM 1527-13, the consultant performing a Phase I is required to review records from pertinent regulatory files. The consultant must review files that are deemed "reasonably ascertainable."  With regard to records, the new ASTM standard defines reasonably ascertainable as a file review or copies made available within twenty days of making the request.  

More and more Phase Is will note that file requests were issued, but no response was made when the report was finalized.  While proper documentation in the Phase I does not render the report inconsistent with ASTM, it does create practical ramifications for the user of the report.

State EPA files are more often than not the best source for identifying environmental issues with properties.  Those issues could include information about prior releases of contamination, enforcement actions, permitting issues, etc.  

The more time it takes Ohio EPA to produce files, the more likely these critical reviews will not be completed before the Phase I report is finalized.  This leaves the purchaser or tenant who ordered the Phase I with significant risk that problems exist with the property that will not be identified until after the transaction closes.

Users of Phase Is are left with the choice of delaying their transaction while they wait for the files to be reviewed or moving forward without potentially critical information regarding the property.

As a Buyer Can I or Should I Rely on an Old Phase I?

In real estate transactions it is not uncommon for the seller to provide the buyer a copy of prior a Phase I environmental assessment.  The seller either ordered a Phase I in anticipation of the transaction or one may exist from a prior transaction involving the same property.  Should the buyer be satisfied with this prior Phase I?

Purpose of the Phase I from the Seller's Perspective

In terms of records and site review, a Phase I environmental assessment essentially involves the following steps:

  • A review of environmental databases- records of known or potentially contaminated sites in the vicinity of the property, landfills, and other disposal sites, and underground storage tank records (for both leaking and registered USTs) 
  • A review of local regulatory files-  these could include the state EPA, local fire department or health department.
  • Aerial photos and sanborn maps- to review the history of the use of the property
  • Interviews- with a site contact or  someone with knowledge of the property
  • Site walkover by the consultant-  the consultant is looking for signs of potential releases of contamination (ex: distressed vegetation or oil stains)
  • No sampling- A phase I will not involve any actual soil or groundwater sampling even if issues are identified

If the seller has a Phase I, they may have ordered a Phase I to determine whether there are any environmental concerns that can be quickly ascertained.  However, keep in mind the seller and buyer's goals are not exactly in line with regard to environmental due diligence.

First, seller is not concerned with establishing any liability defenses because they aren't entitled to them if they perform a Phase I after already owning the property.  Second, if the Phase I identifies a potential issue, many sellers will stop their inquiry- they aren't interested in taking on the costs of addressing any issues that may be identified.

Buyer's Perspective- Establish the Bona Fide Purchaser Defense

CERCLA liability applies to "owners" and "operators."  Therefore, as the buyer, once you take ownership of the property you can be liable for any historical contamination that may exist, even if you had nothing to do with that contamination.  

In 2002, Congress passed the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (known as the "Brownfields Act").  The Act amended CERCLA to provide greater incentives for buyers to purchases and re-utilize brownfield properties.  The amendments established the Bona Fide Purchaser Defense (BFPD).  

Under the BFPD, a Buyer can establish a defense to liability under CERCLA if it performs due diligence prior to purchase in accordance with EPA standards.  A property does not need to be abandoned or vacant to be eligible for the BFPD, facilities still operating can qualify.

This post is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the requirements for establishing the BFPD. However, three key points to keep in mind from the buyers perspective with regard to prior Phase I reports:

  1. The Phase I must be performed within 180 days of purchase.  If a Phase I was performed within the last year, then a Phase I update can be performed. A Phase I more than one year old cannot be used to establish the BFPD;
  2. The buyer must be able to "rely" on the Phase I.  This means if the buyer wants to utilize the Seller's Phase I it must obtain either be identified in the Phase I update as a party that can rely on the Phase I or it must obtain a reliance letter from the consultant who performed the Phase I; and
  3. The buyer must make sure that the Phase I meets all the required elements set forth under EPA recognized standard for Phase Is- ASTM 1527-13 and EPA's "All Appropriate Inquiries" Rule (AAI).  (See discussion in prior post on the new ASTM standard).

Item 3 is of particular importance to the buyer.  I have reviewed plenty of Phase I reports that did not contain the required elements of the ASTM or AAI rule.  An inadequate Phase I will not allow the buyer to establish the BFPD.  

Therefore, it is of critical importance the buyer review any prior Phase I reports to ensure they are up-to-date, can be relied on and meet the required elements.  

Buyer May Want a Closer Look

If the seller's Phase I is "clean"- does not identified any "Recognized Environmental Conditions" (i.e. no indications of a release of contamination), then seller will be reluctant to allow any greater scrutiny of the property.  However, buyer should make sure the Phase I was adequate and no red flags are contained in the report.  

If the Phase I report does identify RECs, did the seller perform any additional investigation?  While AAI technically does not require sampling, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to establish the BFPD without sampling to determine if a release did occur.  

If contamination is identified, then the buyer still can establish the BFPD if it takes "reasonable steps" to stop releases and prevent exposure to that contamination.  Under the BFPD, the buyer is not expected to perform the same level of cleanup as a liable party under CERCLA.

Beyond liability defenses, as the potential owner of the property, it is generally prudent to avoid taking on major headaches.  Therefore, buyers want to make sure sufficient due diligence was performed.  It is definitely in the buyer's interest to ensure they have a thorough understanding of the condition of the property.

For example, the BFPD is only a liability defense to CERCLA.  If other environmental regulatory obligations exist, such as underground storage tanks, the BFPD will not provide liability protection to those requirements.

Sellers may resist any questioning of the adequacy of a prior Phase I.  If the prior Phase I identified issues, seller may also be reluctant to allow further investigation.  However, as the buyer, you face liability exposure under CERCLA and potentially other environmental laws once you take ownership.

In conclusion, if a prior Phase I report exists, it it very important the buyer thoroughly review the report and take the necessary steps to protect themselves.  

EPA Takes Action to Recognize ASTM 1527-13 as the "Appropriate" Phase I Standard

On December 30th, the  Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally took action trying to address the confusion it caused when it previously issued a final rule recognizing both ASTM 1527-05 and 1527-13 as appropriate standards for conducting Phase I assessment.  A proper Phase I assessment is a requirement  for establishing the Bona Fide Purchaser Defense under CERCLA.  (See prior post).  

On the second to last day of the year, EPA published a final rule in the Federal Register (78 FR 79319) recognizing the new ASTM E1527-13 phase I standard practice as an approved method for complying with the All Appropriate Inquires (AAI) rule.  EPA also provided new language in the preamble as well as a separate guidance document addressing comments EPA received.

Background on Prior EPA Actions

On August 15, 2013, EPA issued a direct final rule which recognized both E1527-05 and E1527-13 as appropriate standards for conducting environmental due diligence in accordance with the AAI. EPA received negative comments regarding its decision to continue to recognize both standards. Many felt it caused unnecessary confusion.  In response to comments, on October 29, 2013, EPA withdrew the final rule.  

As a result of EPA's action, there was a two month period where the most up-to-date standard, E1527-13, was not recognized by EPA as satisfying AAI.  This caused some attorneys and buyer/sellers of real estate  to request consultants to meet both standards.

With the December 30th action, EPA officially recognizes E1527-13 and also indicates it will soon issue a proposed rule removing AAI's reference to E1527-05.  

Vapor Intrusion Remains the Big Issue

 The biggest differences between E1527-13 and E1527-05 include:

  • Revised definitions of RECs, HRECs CRECs
  • Greater emphasis on reviews of regulatory files
  • Vapor intrusion

(See prior post discussing differences in greater detail)

It is the last bullet point that has caused the greatest confusion and controversy.  Some provided comments to EPA expressing their view that under the prior E1527-05 standard consultants did not have to evaluate vapor intrusion.   Those commentators view E1527-13 as establishing that requirement for the first time.

However, EPA makes clear in the preamble to the December 30th action that the language in E1527-13 pertaining to vapor intrusion is only an enhancement of the requirements under the old standard.  EPA specifically states that E1527-05 "already calls for identification of potential vapor releases or vapor migration."

EPA comments create issues for environmental consultants who did not include evaluation of vapor intrusion as part of Phase I assessments under E1527-05.  Failure to do so could be grounds to assert the consultant committed malpractice.  

In situations where no such evaluation was performed under an old Phase I, and the building later proved to have vapor intrusion issues, consultants face heightened liability exposure.

EPA action should provide greater clarity to the due diligence community.  

 

 

 

Which Phase I Standard Should Consultant's Use Right Now?

Over the weekend, there was a good blog post on Schnapf LLC Blog discussing which Phase I standard lawyers and consultants should use for at least the rest of 2013.  Due to an unanticipated reversal by U.S. EPA, there is a gap right now between the current ASTM standard and EPA's recognized standard for Phase I's for compliance with the "All Appropriate Inquiries" Standard (AAI).

On November 6th, ASTM officially recognized E1527-13 as the new standard for conducting Phase I environmental assessments.  As a practical matter, this means ASTM E1527-13 represents current best practice in the industry.  

However, as discussed in a prior post, U.S. EPA reversed course and withdrew a direct final rule that would have recognized both E1527-13 and E1527-05 as meeting AAI.  As a result, the only standard EPA currently recognizes as satisfying AAI is E1527-05.

The post discussed the quandary caused by the current gap between sanctioned standard and the most up-to-date standard: 

So what is a consultant to do for transactions requiring a phase 1 prior to EPA formally recognizing E1527-13? On the one hand, by publishing E1527-13, ASTM is essentially saying that the new version now represents good commercial practice. Thus, a consultant failing to use the most current version of E1527 could expose a consultant to professional negligence claim if, for example, the consultants fails to identify a REC because it did not do a file review or fails to evaluate the soil gas pathway. This would seem to tip the decision towards using E1527-13.

However, E1527-13 is not yet recognized as an acceptable method of satisfying AAI. Thus, if the purpose of the phase 1 is to comply with AAI, a consultant stating that its phase 1 complies with AAI could be subject to breach of contract or claims of misrepresentation since only E1527-05 is currently recognized in the AAI rule.

The biggest differences between the two standards is the more defined requirements pertaining to file reviews and analysis of the vapor intrusion pathway.  It is pretty clear the E1527-13 requires additional work.  Arguably, a Phase I that meets E1527-13 should also be consistent with E1527-05.

For an attorney, you will want the consultant preparing the Phase I report to state it meets the current EPA recognized standard- E1527-05.  Without such a reference it is possible your client hasn't satisfied AAI.  

A consultant will want to comply with the standard recognized in the industry as the best practice- E1527-13. Otherwise, one may argue the consultant isn't utilizing current best practice.

It may be best to discuss the issue with your consultant and see if they are comfortable stating in the report that the Phase I meets both standards.  That may be the best alternative until EPA officially sanctions E1527-13. 

 

With the last $15 million of Clean Ohio Spent...What is next?

This past spring, the Kasich Administration put another $15 million in grant funding into the Clean Ohio program. (See prior post).  While a public announcement has yet to be made regarding grant awards for the remaining $15 million, it is my understanding that the money is allocated. Announcements may be made next week at the Ohio Economic Development Association 2013 Summit.

After this last $15 million has been spent, what is the future in Ohio for brownfield grant funding?  The Administration has discussed a possible rollout of a new program by year's end.  On multiple occasions, the Kasich Administration has indicated the new JobsOhio brownfield grant program will closely approximate the size of the old Clean Ohio program- roughly $43 million annually.

The changes made to the Clean Ohio program this past spring provide some indication of what a new program could look like.  

  • Streamlined application process where selection decisions are made before investing significant money in preparing detailed applications;
  • Selection criteria that will emphasis end use, job growth, job retention and enhanced tax revenue post development;
  • More involvement of local economic development organizations in the selection process; and
  • Continued use of Ohio EPA's Voluntary Action Program as the benchmark for determining whether a property has been adequately cleaned up

With the incredible success of the Clean Ohio program there is a lot to emulate when JobsOhio launches its new program.

The uncertain rollout date for the new program has hindered getting new brownfield projects in the que.  Projects can take months before all the pieces (end use, infrastructure, financing, incentives, etc.) can be fit together.  Hopefully, an announcement can be made before the end of the year so we don't lose any more momentum in this critically important area of economic development.

In the meantime are there other brownfield incentives available? 

Yes.  Many of the major and medium sized metropolitan areas have their own brownfield redevelopment programs.  They don't provide the same level of grant funding, but they can be attractive.  

Both the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County maintain their own brownfield incentive programs. They are similar in their approach.  Here are the key aspects of the Cuyahoga County Commercial Property Reutilization Program:

  • Phase I Funding: Up to $6,500
  • Phase II Funding: Up to $35,000

 

Cleanup Loans

  • Up to $1 million- 4% over 10 years
  • 40% forgiveness
    • 15% for VAP NFA
    • 15% job creation (1% per job over $44k per year)
    • 10% for use of vendors in the County
  • Wider eligibility for types of clean up costs covered by the program (i.e. BUSTR, RCRA, etc.)
     

Brownfield Redevelopment Tax Incentives

Ohio also has on it books tax incentives for brownfield redevelopment.  The automatic abatement described below has been widely used, but is tricky to navigate.  There was considerable debate following a determination that the automatic tax incentive didn't cover new buildings.  

Automatic Abatement (R.C. 5709.87)

  • 10 year Ohio Property Tax Abatement for Brownfield redevelopment
  • Abatement is on the increase in value of land and buildings post clean up
  • Abatement does not include new structures or fixtures after clean up (Caution: process for fixing abatement is complicated)

A more broad based tax incentive is available that does allow coverage for new structures as well as machinery.  However, do to the fact these incentives must be negotiated with local officials, the local tax abatement has not been utilized frequently.

Local Tax Abatement (R.C. 5709.88)

  • Tax abatement for real or tangible property(machinery and equipment)
  • Up to 100% abatement for increase in value in land or buildings(including new structures)
     

Buyer Beware: Five Environmental Due Diligence Tips for Purchasers

Performing appropriate environmental due diligence prior to acquisition of any industrial or commercial property is a necessity. Due to expansive liability under environmental statutes, most notably CERCLA (i.e. Superfund), a purchaser of contaminated property can be held liable for all cleanup costs regardless of whether the purchaser caused the contamination or knew it was present. Therefore, taking the appropriate steps to understand what you are buying is critical. All purchasers should follow the simple “no surprises rule.”

Here are five tips for purchasers regarding environmental due diligence.

1. Avoid Low Cost Phase Is

Typically, the first step in the environmental due diligence process is a Phase I environmental assessment. A Phase I involves the review of records, government databases, interviews with those familiar with the property and a site walk over by the retained environmental consultant. The purpose of the review is to determine whether there is any information or visible signs to suggest a release of contamination may exist on the property. If the consultant determines such evidence exists, it will be identified in the Phase I report as a “recognized environmental condition” (REC).
Phase I environmental assessments have become the norm in virtually any commercial or industrial property transaction. Most financial institutions will require a Phase I report prior to agreeing to finance a transaction.

In this regard, Phase I's have become a commodity- A box that needs to checked off before a deal can go through. But buyer beware, while Phase I may be enough to secure financing, does the report provide a high quality review of the condition of the property?

There are a plethora of environmental consultants who perform Phase I’s. However, all consultants and Phase I reports are not equal. Performing a good Phase I involves ensuring a comprehensive review takes place, attention to detail as well as the exercise of professional judgment. At a minimum, the Phase I should meet the ASTM 1527-05 standard which is required in order to potentially qualify for the federal EPA liability defenses discussed below.
Be wary of consultants who are willing to perform a Phase I for less than the typical fee for your area. A low price can be a red flag that you will not receive a quality Phase I.

2. Be Mindful of Lurking Vapor Intrusion Issues

Vapor intrusion can occur when volatile chemicals from contaminated groundwater or soil enter an overlying building. Volatile chemicals can generate vapors that migrate from groundwater or soil through basements or foundations into indoor air similar to radon gas in homes.

Regulations and guidance associated with vapor intrusion are changing rapidly both at the state and federal level. It is likely that forthcoming revisions to ASTM guidance for performing Phase I assessments, which is expected this year, will include new guidance on evaluating the potential for vapor intrusion.

Given the potential legal liability and/or costs associated with addressing vapor intrusion, a purchaser should make sure that the environmental consultant properly evaluated the potential for vapor intrusion during the due diligence process.

3. Take Advantage of Potential Liability Defenses

Under federal law, purchasers can protect themselves from liability under CERCLA by performing proper due diligence, as established by EPA regulation and guidance. Proper due diligence is referred to by EPA as “all appropriate inquiries” (AAI).

If a purchase performs due diligence in accordance with AAI, it can qualify for liability protection known as the “bona fide prospective purchaser defense” (BFPD). AAI requires the performance of a Phase I that meets ASTM 1527-05. It also requires that the purchaser take reasonable steps to address any contamination that may be identified during due diligence.

In December 2012, EPA issued an update to its BFPD guidance which expanded the ability of tenants to qualify for the defense so long as the tenant performs AAI prior to leasing the property.

While it is well worth taking the steps to qualify for available liability defenses such as the BFPD, you should also understand the limitations of these defenses. For example, the BFPD does not cover petroleum related contamination. Also, federal liability protections such as the BFPD do not provide state based environmental liability protection.

4. Access and Confidentiality

Key issues that need to be addressed upfront with the seller include securing proper access to the site as well as obtaining copies of all key documents, such as permits and prior environmental reports. Typically, the parties will enter into a confidentiality agreement that sets forth the terms upon which information will be shared.

It is also critical to make sure you have secured the requisite access before you initiate your due diligence. You should make sure you have the legal right to access the property to perform any tests deemed appropriate. As the purchaser, you want to avoid battles over access once the due diligence process commences.


5. Beware of Issues Not Covered in the Typical Phase I

Typical Phase I’s do not cover whether the property contains wetlands, asbestos or endangered species. However, you can add them to the scope of the Phase I if you determine the conditions of the property justify such a review. For example, if you are purchasing an undeveloped tract of land it is critical to review for wetlands and endangered species. If you are purchasing a building that was built before 1980 then you should strongly consider having an asbestos survey performed.
 

A Revised ASTM Standard for Due Diligence to Be Issued

A task force assigned to review the ASTM standard for Phase I environmental assessments has completed its review of the current standard.  It has sent its recommendations to U.S. EPA who is expected to accept the recommendations. 

Any revisions to the ASTM standard for Phase I has big implications.  Phase I reports are a requirement of the "All Appropriate Inquiries" process to establish CERCLA liability defenses.  Most property transactions involve a Phase I assessment.

As reported on the Schnapf LLC blog, the revised standard will likely include the following changes:

  • definition of REC was tweaked to make it more understandable to environmental consultants;
  • A new term “Controlled REC” (CREC) was added which is intended to complement the HREC term. The latter applies to prior RECs that have been remediated to unrestricted cleanup levels while CREC applies to risk-based cleanups that have ongoing institutional or engineering controls;
  • creates a presumption that the environmental professional should perform a file review of agency records in determining the presence of a REC. If the environmental professional decides a file review is not required, it must explain why a file review was not performed;
  • the revised legal appendix clarifies scope of the CERCLA indoor air exclusion from definition of release and also discusses other CERCLA exclusions;
  • the revised legal appendix clarifies the role of that vapor intrusion in phase 1 reports (it is just like any other exposure pathway- (groundwater, air, soil). In most cases, there will be an underlying REC (contaminated groundwater or soil) that will already be a REC. However, there may be instances where there is an off-site source where there is potential for vapors to have laterally migrated through the soil gas to the subject property. In such an scenario, the potential for Vapor intrusion could be a REC. However, determining if the pathway is completed will usually beyond scope of the phase 1unless otherwise specified by the client;
  • a new Business Environmental Risk (BER) appendix describes the BERs that are commonly encountered for commercial properties and discusses factors that may be considered in determining if a client wants to include BERs in the scope of the phase 1.

A couple comments on these potential changes:

  1. REC Definition-  It will be interesting to see how the definition of REC is modified.   In my experience, there is a wide range of interpretations applied by environmental consultants.  Some will opine that any property that had industrial operations should be identified as a REC.  Others say there needs to be some information suggesting a release or at least the potential for a release to have occurred to be identified as a REC.
  2. Vapor Intrusion-  Adding specificity that vapor intrusion issues should be identified as a REC will add to the complexity of analyzing Phase I reports.  With the clarification discussed, it may lead to the vapor intrusion pathway being identified as a REC in more Phase I reports.  This has big implications for due diligence because the vapor intrusion pathway is often the most difficult to assess in a subsequent Phase II.  It doesn't help that U.S. EPA still hasn't finalized its vapor intrusion guidance and relies upon 2002 OWSER vapor intrusion guidance still labeled draft.

Delay in Clean Ohio Funding Doesn't Appear Connected to JobsOhio Lawsuit

The Kasich Administration has decided that it wants to put the legal challenges to JobsOhio to rest once and for all. Through legal maneuvering the Administration has put the ultimate question- is JobsOhio constitutional- before the Ohio Supreme Court.  At issue is whether transfer of liquor profits to JobsOhio violates the Ohio Constitutional prohibition on providing credit/funding to a private corporation.

As discussed in the Columbus Dispatch, David Goodman, Director of the Department of Commerce, has refused to sign the Franchise and Transfer Agreement which would transfer Ohio's liquor distribution operations to JobsOhio.  Director Goodman's refusal was in reality a legal maneuver to allow the Ohio Supreme Court to hear the legal challenges to JobsOhio.

Though I personally question the validity of these constitutional challenges, I believe my oath of office to uphold the Ohio Constitution precludes me from executing the Franchise and Transfer Agreement until the Ohio Supreme Court is given an opportunity to address the merits of these claims,” Goodman wrote in a letter this week to Mark Kvamme, interim president and chief investment officer for JobsOhio.

Implications for Brownfield Redevelopment in Ohio

The Kasich Administration has made clear that their ultimate goal is for JobsOhio to take over most of the economic development activities from the former Ohio Department of Development.  Those responsibilities would include control over brownfield funding and redevelopment.

JobsOhio officials and the Kasich Administration have hinted that the future of Ohio brownfield funding will be much different than the $40 million per year that has been handed out as grants over the last decade through the Clean Ohio program.  The most controversial aspect of changes to funding is the Administration statements that brownfield redevelopment funding will be more heavily geared towards loans instead of grants.

While it is clear that the legal fight over the constitutionality of JobsOhio has delayed any announcement regarding Ohio's future brownfield programs.  The Kasich Administration's midterm budget (H.B. 487) set aside $15 million in funding.  The availability of this funding does not appear to be in any tied to the legal fight over JobsOhio.

Here is the language from H.B. 487 regarding the $15 million in funding:

SECTION 301.21. The items set forth in this section are hereby appropriated out of any moneys in the state treasury to the credit of the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (Fund 7003) that are not otherwise appropriated.

Appropriations DEV DEVELOPMENT SERVICES AGENCY

C19500 Clean Ohio Revitalization $ 12,000,000

C19501 Clean Ohio Assistance $ 3,000,000

Total Development Services Agency $ 15,000,000

TOTAL Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund $ 15,000,000

The foregoing appropriation items C19500, Clean Ohio Revitalization, and C19501, Clean Ohio Assistance, shall be used in accordance with sections 122.65 to 122.658 of the Revised Code, and are subject to all provisions of Am. Sub. H.B. 482 of the 129th General Assembly that are generally applicable to such appropriations.

The budget language makes clear that the current Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF) and Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) will be used to administer the $15 million in funding.  The language also seems to suggest that the current process for awarding grants under COAF and CORF will be utilized.

While H.B. 487 passed in May, the Administration has yet to announce when the $15 million in funding will be made available. The need for this funding is great.  New brownfield projects are not entering the pipeline due to the lack of assessment money. 
 

A Phase II environmental assessment answers the biggest question with regard to a property- how much will it cost to clean up and is redevelopment feasible.  Unless a property is just perfect for redevelopment, most companies and re-developers are unwilling to pay for the cost of a Phase II assessment out of their own pocket. 

COAF funding for Phase II environmental assessment ended last December.   Since that time no new funding opportunities at the State level have been presented.

While the shape of the State's brownfield funding may be uncertain until the JobsOhio fight is resolved, the $3 million in COAF funds could be made available immediately so we do not continue to lose momentum on brownfield redevelopment in the State.

City Officials and Developers From Around the State Express Concerns Regarding Changes in Ohio's Brownfield Funding

The picture is still very murky with regard to what brownfield funding will look like in Ohio.   The program is being transferred from the Ohio Department of Development to JobsOhio.  The Kasich Administration has stated it believes the program needs to be overhauled.  (Click here for prior post regarding transfer to JobsOhio

Only sketchy details have emerged as to what brownfield funding may look like after the transfer.  Comments from JobsOhio officials have suggested the grant model will be tossed in favor of loans.  This has local officials from around the state voicing concerns regarding such a radical change to what has been viewed as a very successful program.

Articles have appeared in newspapers around the State discussing local official concerns over changes to the Clean Ohio program.  Below is a synopsis of recent articles.

Middletown

On Monday, the Middletown Journal had a lengthy story discussing the potential impact on the City's efforts to address multiple brownfields.  The title of the article captures the concern among City officials "Middletown Clean Up Efforts May Reduce with State Change."  The concern expressed, which I have echoed in prior posts as wells, is that JobsOhio will be moving away from grants and more toward loans.

Middletown’s acting Economic Development Director Denise Hamet said there will be fewer applications in a year to clean up brownfields — which are defined as industrial properties that are either vacant or underutilized with environmental contamination to prevent reuse or redevelopment — if a loan policy is in place.

“I think you wouldn’t have a lot of projects penciled out if you have to repay remedial work because that’s above and beyond doing the normal work,” Hamet said. “It’s hard to get projects to pencil out beyond normal construction costs.”

Hamilton Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson agreed and said grants reduce risks.

“That’s why the grant system has worked so well,” he said. “You’re mitigating risk for property owners and the city when you bring in grant dollars.”

Cleveland

In an article from February 13th in Crain's Cleveland Business, titled Leaders fear stalled brownfield clean up cash, local official expressed concern regarding the lack of assessment money as well as a shift to loans from grants.

Tracey Nichols, Cleveland's director of economic development, fears the state under new rules will reject applications that can't identify a specific new property owner with plans to clean up and redevelop a property. The city often has used Clean Ohio money to clean up properties without committed end users so that the properties would be ready for use when prospective buyers or developers come along.

“Most companies aren't going to say, "I love that site and I'll wait two or three years until you're done cleaning it up,'” Ms. Nichols said.

Akron

On March 28th, the Akron Beacon Journal also had an article discussing the uncertainty around future brownfield funding.  I was interviewed for the story and discussed that the uncertainty means potential projects are in limbo until details emerge. 

The article was titled Future of Ohio Clean Up Program is Uncertain. The ABJ pointed out the tremendous benefit the City of Akron has received from the program. 

Over the years, the city of Akron got about $16 million in brownfield money from the Clean Ohio Fund. That includes grants for the Goodyear redevelopment, Bridgestone America headquarters, Canal Place, the Middlebury grocery store, the old Beech Street power plant and the Landmark Building.

The brownfield program has been in limbo for some time in Columbus with the change. The state earlier stopped accepting applications. The program is to be reactivated July 1.

Dayton

On March 5th, the Dayton Daily News ran a story titled "Fund Change May Hurt Ohio Development."  The lengthy article detailed the number of projects in the Dayton area that would not have moved forward without Clean Ohio brownfield funding.  Local officials and developers also expressed serious concern with moving from a grant to a loan based program.

Downs said the cost of evaluating and rehabilitating old industrial sites would be too high for the city and most developers if Clean Ohio were a loan program.

“A loan program is certainly less attractive to us than what exists right now,” he said. “We couldn’t take advantage of it like we have the existing program.”
 

Toledo

A series of letters to the Editor in the Toledo Blade have pointed out the strong benefit the Clean Ohio program has had in the Toledo area. 

  • Since its creation in 2000, public and not-for-profit conservation groups across the state have used the program to protect more than 26,000 acres of natural areas and 20,000 acres of farmland from development.- Steve Madewell is executive director of Metroparks of the Toledo Area. (click here for April 22nd letter)
  • Black Swamp Conservancy has been a regular participant in the farmland preservation program. Our land trust has helped farm families bring millions of dollars to our region's economy. The conservancy has helped protect more than 7,000 acres of northwest Ohio farm ground -- prime soil that always will be used for agriculture.-Kevin Joyce, Executive Director Black Swamp Conservancy Perrysburg (Click here for April 26th letter)

 

JobsOhio $1.4 Billion Dollar Deal Includes Sketchy Details on the Future of Clean Ohio

Details were released this week by the Kasich Administration on the establishment of its privatized economic development agency known as JobsOhio.  Many of the traditional job creation duties that fell to the Ohio Department of Development will be shifted to JobsOhio. 

Along with the restructuring of development duties, the Administration is shifting the State's liquor profits to help fund the Agency.  Last year the liquor profits took in around $700 million in revenue to the State.  In return for a 25 year agreement to fund JobsOhio with liquor profits, JobsOhio will make a one-time $1.4 billion dollar payment back to the State.  Details of how those funds would be utilized were discussed in the Plain Dealer:

The $1.4 billion agreement calls for Ohio to collect $500 million for its general revenue fund, money already factored into the current state biennial budget, $750 million to pay off existing liquor revenue backed bonds, and $150 million to continue "Clean Ohio" environmental programs for the next three years.

The reference in the Plain Dealer Article regarding Clean Ohio is a bit confusing.  Based upon an article in Columbus Business First, the $150 million is set aside to pay for the grants that were awarded or will be awarded by July 1, 2012.  In the future, funding will be set at $43 million per year.

The agreement, which will be reviewed and possibly voted on Jan. 30 by the state Controlling Board, includes a provision for the $43 million for economic revitalization projects as well as $150 million to cover Clean Ohio Fund projects approved by the state before July 1, 2012.

Impact on Clean Ohio

The transformation of the Ohio Department of Development and creation of JobsOhio has resulted in tremendous uncertainty regarding  the State's $50 million dollar per year brownfield redevelopment program. 

This fall, when the Administration made the announcement that liquor profits would be shifted, the Administration said it would look for a new revenue source to support Clean Ohio.  It now appears that the same revenue-a portion of liquor profits- will be used to support the program for the next three years. 

What remains uncertain is when that money will be available.  Currently, the Ohio Department of Development announced the end of funding for the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) which pays for Phase II environmental assessment on brownfields.  Also, the Department announced the current round of the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF) would be its last. Now that the funding source has been announced, the question is when will the State start accepting grant applications again?

Due to the fact the $150 million is being allocated pay for COAF and CORF grants in the pipeline and the last round of CORF, it appears no new funding will be available for Phase II work prior to July 1st.


Who Will Administer Clean Ohio in the Future?

What also remains uncertain is whether the current process for grant selection and administration will remain.  During yesterday's announcement, the Administration indicated that the current process will remain in place through the summer.  However, the Kasich Administration also suggested that legislation could be introduced this Spring to modify the program. 

What the Administration did make clear is that they want to see more direct economic development benefits for use of Clean Ohio funds in the future.  This means it is unlikely grants such as the Redevelopment Ready track of the Clean Ohio program will continue. 

The Redevelopment Ready track provided grants up to $2 million to clean brownfields that were primed for development based on their location but lacked a specific end use (i.e. development project).  Some argued that the Redevelopment Ready Track allowed areas outside Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati to better compete for the grant money. 

While this week's announcement seemed to answer the question as to whether funding will remain in place for Clean Ohio in the near future, there remains three major questions:

  1. When will the grant process open up again:
  2. Who will administer the program- the newly created Ohio Development Services Agency or JobsOhio; and
  3. What will the grant application and selection process look like in the future?


 

Kasich Administration Looking to Replace Brownfield Funding

The Clean Ohio Council awarded half the available funds for brownfield redevelopment for fiscal year 2012 two weeks ago.  As discussed in prior posts, available funding is running out in the next few months.

The future of State brownfield funding became uncertain when the Kasich Administration shifted funding from the state's liquor profits to JobsOhio.  I was interviewed for an article appearing in Gongwer last week discussing the future of the program.   It is clear from the article that the Administration is trying to replace the liquor profits with different funding to continue brownfield grants beyond fiscal year 2012. 

Ms. Sabatino said the administration has indicated the program will continue, although it has yet to identify an alternative source of funding. "I know they're actively working on it as we speak," she said.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols added, "Helping put brownfields back to work to create jobs is valuable and something Ohio will continue to do. As we transition from state-run job growth efforts to efforts run by the private-sector experts at JobsOhio, we're evaluating these programs to make sure we have the right
tools to serve job creators and to make sure taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment."...

The revitalization program provides reimbursements to communities working to clean up brownfield sites, and interest in the program has been high, DOD Community Services Division Chief William Murdock said. "There's more demand than there is supply, and that's a really good sign," he said.

Mr. Koncelik said, however, the few projects that were denied funding in this round could multiply should the future financial source be smaller than the previous one.
"A new revenue source may dramatically cut down the available funding, and won't have as robust a program, not as many projects will happen," he said, adding it could be half a dozen or more projects that are rejected in future rounds.

I am glad to see the future of the program is starting to get coverage in various publications.  It is an important public policy issue that deserves such coverage.

(Gongwer article provided with permission of publisher)

Loans Versus Grants to Spur Brownfield Redevelopment

Current Debate Regarding the Future of the Clean Ohio Program

The Kasich Administration has announced that it is re-evaluating the Clean Ohio program.  The next round of the Clean Ohio Revitalization Program (Round 12) will be the last.  Also, funding under the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund, which pays for sampling on brownfield properties, is likely to run out as soon as February 2012.

It appears the Administration is discussing other funding sources that may allow the program to continue.  (See Clean Ohio Funding End 2012....What Next?)  Last week, an article in Crain's Cleveland discussed the potential end of the program:

Ohio Department of Development spokeswoman Katie Sabatino said the state considers these successful programs, but is evaluating its options for assisting with the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Of the Clean Ohio Fund in particular, she said, “The Ohio Department of Development is working with the (Kasich) administration to chart a path to assist with brownfield issues....."

“It was supposed to end June 2014, but word out of Columbus is it will end sooner,” said one observer who asked not to be identified because he's shepherding brownfield projects still under review. “I'm very concerned about them pulling the rug out from under us.”

 In the article, it states that the Administration may be interested in moving towards loans instead of grants. 

In addition, Mark Kvamme, chief investment officer of JobsOhio, is said to prefer loans over grants, according to a half-dozen economic development professionals who work with the state's programs. He was not available last week for comment.

A similar change is under way at the Third Frontier Commission, which runs loan and grant programs for technology companies. Crain's reported in June that Mr. Kvamme was behind recommendations the commission is adopting to move to loans from grants.

Advocates of the change say loans not only stretch the reach of public funds, but also cause applicants to be more discerning about what they propose when they're on the hook to pay the money back.

Loans versus Grants

The problem with loans is that the require the developer or company considering a brownfield to pay for the entire cost of investigation or clean up.  Total clean up costs can range from $500,000 to $5 million or more.  This is the cost just to clean up the land, not the overall development costs. 

If developers and companies are required to utilize their own funding to pay for all the clean up and investigation costs, most will look to greenfield sites instead of re-utilizing urban properties that have pre-existing contamination.  Heavy industrial properties will simply sit idle unless the value of their location is so great it outweighs the clean up costs.  This is an unlikely scenario for the vast majority of brownfield sites.

Ohio already has a brownfield loan program that almost no one is currently utilizing- Ohio Water Development Authority's Brownfield Loan Program.  Under the OWDA program you can obtain a low interest loan for sampling (up to $500,000) or clean up ($5 million).  Despite the fact more sites are eligible for OWDA's program than Clean Ohio, OWDA has had trouble attracting interest in the program.

Under the grant program, applicants still have "skin in the game."  Under the Clean Ohio program, applicants are required to provide a 25% match.  Paying 1/4 of the clean up costs makes many for brownfield sites attractive to development. 

Future of Clean Ohio

Funding had been available for Clean Ohio to continue until July 2013.  However, as discussed in the Crain's Article funding has been shifted to other priorities. 

Word is the Kasich Administration is looking for a funding source to continue a brownfield redevelopment program.  The Administration may also be overhauling the program. Let's hope that what ever emerges provides a real opportunity for our urban core to attract development.

Miceli Dairy Project Highlights the Benefits of the Clean Ohio Program

Last Friday, I attended the Clean Ohio Council meeting with my client Miceli Dairy Products, Inc. (Miceli Dairy).  I had worked with Miceli Dairy over the last couple years on evaluating five parcels of property adjacent to their current facility on which the Dairy would like to expand its operations. 

The Dairy submitted an application to receive approximately $3 million in grant funds to assist with demolition, clean up and installation of infrastructure on the brownfield parcels.  The Dairy's application was competing with fourteen (14) other brownfield redevelopment projects from around the State. 

The fourteen projects were in competition for the available funding.  Each project is scored using various factors such as how much contamination is being cleaned up, number of jobs, etc.  In the end, the Miceli application was the number one project in the State and the Council voted to fund the application.  (Click here for press release from the Clean Ohio Council)

Miceli Dairy's expansion is a great story. Did you know that Miceli is the largest ricotta cheese manufacturer in the U.S.?  The Company has a wonderful Cleveland history that is best described in the Plain Dealer story profiling the Dairy's expansion plans. 

However, without the Clean Ohio program the expansion may never happened in the City of Cleveland.

Why the Project Wouldn't Have Worked without Clean Ohio

During the Clean Ohio Council meeting several comments were made the the Miceli project was one of the most complicated to every go through the program.  Here were some of the issues that complicated use of the brownfield parcels for expansion:

  • Two businesses operated on the parcels- a drum reclamation facility and plating operation;
  • Both businesses were the subject of environmental enforcement actions by the Ohio Attorney General's Office;
  • No environmental sampling has been performed prior to the project so it was impossible to know the levels of contamination present;
  • Liens were on the properties that exceeded $1 million dollars;
  • Hazardous waste units and drums were located on the parcels that needed to be cleaned and that work is ineligible for Clean Ohio funding;
  • Buildings in poor condition were located on site that made it difficult to obtain samples; and
  • Large debris piles were across the site.

All of these issues had to be addressed for the project to move forward.  It is clear that without funding through Clean Ohio the costs of sampling and clean up alone would have prevented expansion onto these parcels.  Without funding it was quite possible Miceli may have been forced to look outside Cleveland to expand its operations.

(Map:  From Cleveland Plain Dealer Article cited above)

Underground Tanks and Hazardous Waste Units Can Be Big Impediments to Ohio Brownfield Redevelopment

In working on brownfield redevelopment projects, I find that addressing old underground storage tanks (USTs) or hazardous waste (RCRA) units can be one of the trickiest issues to address.

Why are these two issues tricky? Because they complicate the clean up process under Ohio's Voluntary Action Program (VAP)

Due to the flexibility under the VAP and the fact it provides for more cost effective clean up options than other regulatory  programs, the VAP program is a common way to address environmental liabilities at brownfield sites.  In addition, Ohio's premier brownfield grant program- Clean Ohio- requires the grantee to complete a VAP clean up as part of the grant agreement. 

How do USTs and RCRA issues complicate the VAP and Clean Ohio process?

  • Areas where USTs or RCRA units are located are ineligible for a VAP clean up until they are certified closed by the proper regulator
  • Clean Ohio grant programs will not pay for clean up of USTs regulated by the State Fire Marshal Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulation (BUSTR)
  • Clean Ohio grant programs significantly restrict the ability to uses funds to pay for hazardous waste unit (RCRA) closures

Understanding a Projects UST and RCRA Risks

Due to these limitations, property developers and companies need to front load in their analysis of a site's redevelopment potential the property's BUSTR and RCRA issues.  It is essential that a full blown examination of any outstanding UST and RCRA closure be performed as part of the Phase I/Phase II environmental assessment process. 

Key questions relatives to USTs include:

  1. Are there BUSTR regulated USTs remaining on site?
  2. Were BUSTR regulated USTs that were removed from the site properly closed in accordance with applicable regulations (i.e. did BUSTR issue a "No Further Action" letter)?
  3. If "No Further Action" (NFAs) letters do not exist for tanks removed, what does BUSTR consider is needed to properly issue such a certification?
  4. What will the costs be associated with receiving a NFA for each tank?
  5. How will the process to obtain an NFA impact the timing of your redevelopment project?

Key question for RCRA units on-site can include:

  1. What is the closure status of the RCRA unit?
  2. What is the size of the unit?
  3. What type of sampling is needed to determine the clean up requirements for the unit?
  4. What will Ohio EPA require in terms of clean up for that unit?

USTs and RCRA issue do not impose a total barrier to development.  However, it is absolutely essential that in industrial property transactions and brownfield redevelopment projects that you gain a thorough understanding of the outstanding RCRA and UST obligations.

(Photo: Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

New Funds Available in Clean Ohio Brownfield Grant Fund

As of July 1st, the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) has been injected with new funding.  Below is the update recently sent out by the Ohio Department of Development.

I have heard that the 25% set aside for clean up projects has already been accounted for fifteen days into July.  Obviously, there must have been projects in the que that took up that funding immediately.

Remember, a key difference from the way the COAF has operated over nearly the last decade is that COAF will require 10% match on all clean up projects. 

Also, check out the revised Priority Investment Map to see if your project would qualify for COAF.

Clean Ohio Assistance Fund Update

Additional $10M for the COAF program is now available (effective July 1, 2011). The majority of funding, 75%, will be utilized for projects requesting $300,000 or less. This includes both assessment and cleanup projects. The remaining 25% of funding will be set aside for cleanup projects requesting more than $300,000. Additionally, all cleanup applications are required to provide 10% matching funds. Application documents have been revised and are available online. Be sure to download the new version – COAF Application.

The Priority Investment Area map has been updated for the July 2011 – December 2011 term. To be eligible for the COAF program, projects must be located within an area designated on the Priority Investment Area map.

State Modifies Clean Ohio Brownfield Grant Program

The State has announced the latest modifications to the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) policies which provides up to $300,000 for Phase II environmental assessments and up to $750,000 for brownfield clean up.  The State released its COAF policy update last month.

Unlike the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF), COAF grants are given out on a rolling basis as long as the State had money during the funding cycle. COAF has traditionally been used to obtain funding for Phase II assessments on brownfields.  The use of the COAF for clean up has been less frequent due to limited funding available and the larger clean up grants available under CORF (up to $3 million). 

The changes to the COAF program this time include:

Asbestos- 

The policy now explicitly states that abatement of asbestos are eligible clean up costs.  See, 3.06

Matching Funds- 

For the first time, the State is requiring a 10% match for use of COAF for clean up grants.  This means for a max clean up grant, the applicant will need to supply $75,000 toward clean up. While its understandable the State wants to see the applicant have some "skin in the game,"  the no-match component of COAF was one element that made it more attractive than CORF. 

Another issue is that the policy says the match must be spent by the "project approval date."  The policies don't define this term, but it would appear to be the date the Controlling Board approves the issuance of the grant.  This timing seems odd in that applicants would need to spend the 10% before they knew for sure they were getting the grant.

Jobs Commitment-

Perhaps even a larger change than the 10% match, is the requirement that COAF clean ups for industrial or commercial use must generate or retain at least 10 jobs.  See 6.09  Not every project has a job component at the get go. 

The State previously recognized that some brownfields may not have redevelopment committed but are located in prime locations for future development.  This is why for the CORF the State created the "Redevelopment Ready Track."  Perhaps the limited amount of COAF clean up funds available is driving the State to use the money only for projects that have a job component.

No Longer a "First Come/First Serve" Program-

In the e-mail to interested parties providing notice of the changes to the COAF policies, the Ohio Department of Development also stated the following:

"During the month of July, cleanup applications will be reviewed and approved based on project merits rather than a first come/first serve basis."

While the indication is projects will be evaluated on their merits, there were no other changes to the policies which shed light as to how they will be evaluated on their merits.  Unlike the CORF application process there is no defined scoring methodology for projects.  This statement from ODOD can probably only be interpreted to mean the Director retains discretion to reject your clean up project as not worthy of COAF funding. 

Questions Persist Regarding the Quality of Environmental Assessment

Phase I environmental assessments have become the norm in virtually any commercial or industrial property transaction.  Almost any financial institution will require a Phase I report prior to agreeing to finance a transaction.  

In this regard, Phase I's have become a commodity- A box that needs to checked off before a deal can go through.  But buyer beware, beyond securing your financing you may not truly know the condition of your property.  Or even worse, you may not secure the legal protections from environmental liability you intended by procuring your Phase I.

A recent U.S. EPA study evaluated the quality of 35 Phase I reports that were performed on brownfields in connection with federal grant funding.  The Phase I reports were evaluated against basic requirements necessary to secure protections under the "All Appropriate Inquiries Rules (AAI)" (a shield from CERCLA liability for innocent purchasers).

"All Appropriate Inquiries"

Under federal law, in order to establish a shield from liability under CERCLA, a purchaser must, prior to the date of acquisition, perform "all appropriate inquiries" into ownership and uses of the property.  In 2005, U.S. EPA finalized its rule establishing mandatory standards for conducting AAI to secure liability protection.

IG Evaluates 35 Phase I's

In the study, the Inspector General evaluated the 35 Phase I reports to see if they met the required elements of the AAI rule.  Not one of the reports met the U.S. EPA required elements (or alternative ASTM standard).  Worse yet, the missing components were simply formalistic elements necessary for a Phase I to meet U.S. EPA standards.  They did not evaluate the professional judgments in the reports which would be more prone to varying opinion.  Aspects evaluated included:

  1. Environmental Professional Qualification Statement- U.S. EPA AAI rule requires a boiler plate statement to be included in the report that the consultant meets the standards to be considered an environmental professional. 
  2. Signature-  The environmental professional who responsible for the assessment must sign the report. 
  3. Data Gaps-  The professional must identify any data gaps that may have impacted their ability to identify whether conditions at the property indicate a release or potential release occurred at the site.
  4. Opinion Statement-  The report must include a conclusion section that summarizes all "recognized environmental conditions" at the property.  Any areas where there were conditions identified on the property which indicate a release or potential release occurred.

In the opinion of the Inspector General, not a single one of the 35 reports evaluated adhered to all of the requirements set forth above. 

The report is another example of the risks associated with hiring an environmental consultant to perform a Phase I.  From my discussions banks don't often evaluate the quality of the consultant or even whether the report meets the ASTM or EPA rule requirements. 

What are the risks to the future property owners in the transaction?  The Inspector General summarized the risks as follows:

Improper AAI investigations introduce risk that the environmental conditions of a property have not been properly or adequately assessed. Consequently, decisions about appropriate uses of redeveloped or reused brownfields properties may be based on improper assessments. Ultimately, threats to human health and the environment could go unrecognized.

Beyond the risks of the unknown conditions, you also could be jeopardizing the legal protections available under the AAI rule.  The rule is very specific in mandating an ASTM or EPA regulatory compliant Phase I assessment before the legal liability protections kick in.  Years later, when an issue arises, you may find you have no shield from liability due to an inadequate Phase I.

Recommendations:

  • If you want a true evaluation of the conditions of the property hire a quality environmental consultant.  Avoid consultants who are simply churning Phase I's to move deals forward.  Low ball pricing can often be a red flag regarding the quality of the report.
  • Review the Phase I for compliance with standards to secure liability protections.

JobsOhio and Clean Ohio

The Governor's top legislative priority is the privatization of the State's economic development functions.  House Bill 1, known as "JobsOhio", has been introduced and a vote in the Senate may come yet this week. 

The Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) plays a critical role in the administration of the Clean Ohio program which provides millions in grants for brownfield redevelopment.  The Department's current role includes the following:

  • Review for Clean Ohio grant applications for completeness;
  • With the assistance of Ohio EPA, makes eligibility determinations;
  • Meets with applicants to discuss projects (known as "PRAMs");
  • Selects which projects will receive Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) funding which has recently become Phase II assessment grants;
  • Assists the Clean Ohio Council in evaluating projects for Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF) funding for clean up; and
  • Determines which projects can be reimbursed with grant funds.

On the brownfield projects I work on, the ODOD personnel are the key point of contact when evaluating projects and through out implementation of the project.  More than once, ODOD personnel have made absolutely critical decisions that impact the viability of projects or have made significant reimbursement decisions that cost  developers hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

With the privatization of economic development functions, ODOD's key role will almost certainly be absorbed by another state agency.  Most likely, Ohio EPA will pick up these functions, but its possible the functions could stay with the newly created non-profit corporate entity.

How far away are we from that transition? House Bill 1 is only the first step in privatization of the Ohio Department of Development and the associated transfer of existing functions to other state agencies.  The bill basically establishes the non-profit corporation to be known as JobsOhio.  The Bill then calls for a six month consultation process to evaluate transition of the other functions of ODOD. 

Here is the relevant section of H.B. 1:

Sec. 187.05. The director of development, as soon as
practical after the effective date of this section, shall, in
consultation with the governor, evaluate all powers, functions,
and duties of the department. Within six months after that
effective date, the director shall submit a report to the general
assembly recommending statutory changes necessary to improve the
functioning and efficiency of the department and to transfer
specified powers, functions, and duties of the department to other
existing agencies of the state or to JobsOhio, or eliminate
specified powers, functions, or duties
. The recommendations shall
be submitted in writing to the speaker and minority leader of the
house of representatives and the president and minority leader of
the senate.

After submitting the report, the director, in consultation
with the governor, shall continue to evaluate the department and
make additional recommendations on such matters to the general
assembly.

We are probably at least a year away from seeing any of ODOD's responsibilities transition to other agencies or to the JobsOhio entity.  For now it will be the status quo.  But in the near future a crucial decision will be made as to who will administer ODOD's critical Clean Ohio responsibilities.

U.S. EPA Solicits Proposals for Brownfield Assessment and Clean Up Grants

U.S. EPA has released its fiscal year 2011 request for proposals (RFP) for brownfield assessment and clean up grants.   There is a relatively short window of opportunity to file your application- the deadline is October 15, 2010

[Click here for access to U.S. EPA's RFP for the brownfield assessment, clean up and revolving loan]

There is a total of $92.9 million available.   While the RFP allows for greater funding under certain circumstances, the basic limit is $200,000 per site for assessment or clean up.  EPA is required to expend 25% of the total amount available for sites contaminated with petroleum. 

Ohio is lucky to have one of the best state brownfield grant programs- Clean Ohio.  Often Clean Ohio is a better option than pursuing the U.S. EPA grant funding because U.S. EPA's program is a national competition.  However, there are certain circumstances that make the U.S. EPA brownfield grant program potentially a better option than Clean Ohio.

COAF Clean Up Funding Exhausted for this Fiscal Year

The Ohio Dept. of Development announced that it is no longer providing funding under the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) for clean up of brownfields in fiscal year 2011.  However, assessment funding remains.

COAF can provide provide up to $750,000 in funding for clean up of brownfields.  Projects are evaluated and grants awarded on a rolling basis. 

Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF) is still available to fund clean up.  It provides up to $3 million in funding per site.  However, a 25% match is required and there are only two CORF rounds per year which typically are competitive.  Therefore, for smaller clean up projects looking for funding in the next year, U.S. EPA's program may be the better option.

Abandoned or Vacant Gas Stations

Under the Clean Ohio policies, removal and clean up of BUSTR (Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulation) regulated storage tanks and remediation of leaks from such tanks are not eligible costs under either the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) or the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF).

For local governments that are trying to deal with abandoned or vacant gas stations in their communities, the U.S. EPA brownfield grant may be their best option.  Communities can seek money for sampling of the site to determine if contamination exists. 

The fear of the unknown (whether contamination exists) acts as a strong deterrent to purchase and redevelopment by private parties.  Once sampling data has been generated, it removes one more impediment to purchase and redevelopment of the site.

Of course if sampling reveals contamination, this can act as a major obstacle to redevelopment.  However, communities can secure clean up funding for these sites under the U.S. EPA program.

Community Assessment Grants

U.S. EPA's program may also be better for communities that are interested in creating a brownfield inventory of various sites within their jurisdiction.  Also, U.S. EPA's program is great for local communities that want to create and fund their own local brownfield assessment programs. 

For example, in Northeast Ohio, the Northcoast Brownfield Coalition was created using U.S. EPA funding.  The Coalition is made up of  the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners, the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority and the Northeast Ohio First Suburbs Consortium.  The Coalition makes provides local grant funding for brownfield projects in Northeast Ohio in amounts up to $30,000.

Below are the applicable limits for assessment grants under the U.S. EPA program:

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo:  everystockphoto peasap)

Important Ohio EPA Updates on Brownfield Redevelopment

Recently, Ohio EPA released its newsletter directed toward those interested in brownfield redevelopment (SABR News).  The July 2010 newsletter included some important recent developments at the federal and state level.

Federal Brownfields Legislation

The Federal Brownfield Re-authorization Bill was introduced in May 2010.  If the bill passes it could include some important reforms to U.S. EPA's brownfield programs, including:

  • Increased funding- From $350 million in 2011 up to  $600 million in FFY 2016.  While an increase in funding helps spur brownfield redevelopment, one has to question whether such an increase is at all likely given the state of the federal deficit.
  • Increase in the cap on federal grants-  Move from $200,000 to $750,000. This is obvious change because the cap was woefully low compared to real word sampling and clean up costs at brownfield sites. Compare it to the Clean Ohio program that has a cap for property assessment work of $300,000.  Over and above the assessment money, you can also get a maximum of $3 million in clean up funding under Clean Ohio. 
  • Locally owned properties eligible for federal funding-  Under current law, any municipality who takes ownership of a parcel through foreclosure is considered a PRP under CERCLA and is ineligible for federal brownfield funding.  The legislation would remove this prohibition. This is a very important change.  Cities often take properties because of health or safety issues presented by their current conditions.  We shouldn't penalize cities for being proactive.

Background Soils Workgroup

The newsletter provides an update on Ohio EPA's effort to create a background soil database.  Native Ohio soils can contain various contaminants.  For example, Ohio farm soils are known for higher natural arsenic content. 

At clean up sites, consultants are often asked to perform an analysis to determine if detected levels of contamination are "above background."  If levels are at or below background, then remediation is not necessary. 

The site specific background evaluations can become time intensive and costly.  Hopefully, by producing an Ohio background soil database these types of evaluations will be streamlined and can be performed in a more cost effective manner.  A draft of the database may be available by this Fall.

New Guidance on Vapor Intrusion

In May 2010, Ohio EPA released its new guidance document for sampling and evaluation of potential vapor intrusion associated with contaminated soil and groundwater.  The technical guidance document provides information regarding how Ohio EPA will determine whether soil or ground water contamination would potentially result in unhealthy indoor air exposure to occupants of buildings. 

Vapor intrusion is getting much more attention nationally.  Previously, Ohio EPA simply referred to U.S. EPA's OSWER guidance on vapor intrusion.  Now, Ohio EPA has developed their detailed guidance. 

From discussion with some environmental consultants, they indicate that the Ohio EPA guidance seems to tilt the scales toward sampling in addition to just modeling.  Regardless, it is an important guidance document on an issue that will be receiving heightened attention.

Private Party Environmental Assessments Need to be Encouraged

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch, authored by Spencer Hunt, paints a sensationalistic depiction of environmental contamination on a former manufacturing site.  The article suggests toxic contaminants were hidden from the State EPA.  While it may be interesting to write a story about contamination on the new casino site in Columbus, the portrayal misses some key aspects of brownfield redevelopment.  Here are some excerpts from the story:
Hush-Hush Hazards
 
State kept unaware of environmental dangers at casino site
 
Delphi spent about a year identifying toxins at the West Side manufacturing plant it closed in 2007 but never told the state about what it found. It wasn’t required to. New owner Penn National Gaming has shared Delphi’s 3,000-page report with the EPA and plans to clean up the site before opening a casino in 2012... Prospective buyers have a right to know about any potential problems, said Tiffani Kavalec, the agency's (Ohio EPA) cleanup and reuse-section manager.

"If they had any expectations of selling the property, they would have had to do this," Kavalec said.

But what might be surprising is that companies don't have to share their findings with the government.

The story misses several key issues regarding brownfields.

  1. Surprise..old manufacturing plants have contamination- It is expected that a plant that operated for 70 years is going to leave behind some residual environmental issues.  The plant pre-dated most of the modern environmental regulations.
  2. Companies routinely perform assessments of their properties-  The privatized system works in the sense companies are encouraged to evaluate and assess their properties. Phase I and Phase II environmental assessments have become routine in any private party real estate transactions.  Any sophisticated purchaser will demand a due diligence period to understand the issues associated with the property they are considering purchasing.
  3. Regulations contain reporting obligations-  Many environmental regulations, including hazardous waste regulations, contain mandatory reporting requirements.  Companies that violate these provisions would still be open to enforcement.  Its the historical contamination issues that generally fall outside these mandatory reporting requirements.
  4. Mandatory reporting would discourage evaluation-  If companies were required to submit every environmental assessment they performed to Ohio EPA, it would act as a strong deterrent to performance of assessments.  These are voluntary assessments after all.  Companies perform them to get a better understanding of potential liabilities as well as facilitate transfer of the property. 
  5. A brownfield redevelopment success story-  Penn Central is purchasing and redeveloping a contaminated brownfield that is currently owned by a bankrupt company.  Without the redevelopment, this brownfield, like many in the State would remain contaminated.  Without the environmental assessments, Penn Central may have been unwilling to take the risk of buying unknown liabilities. 
  6. State and local grant programs pay for assessments-  In recognition that the lack of information regarding contamination on property can act as a deterrent to redevelopment, there are State and local brownfield grant programs that will pay for these assessments.  The biggest and best program is Clean Ohio, which will pay for up to $300,000 in assessment costs.  Clean Ohio has been a huge success by overcoming impediments to private party transactions involving brownfields, including assessment and clean up costs.

 

We should be encouraging private parties to perform environmental assessments of their properties.  Only by understanding the levels of contamination can a clean up cost be calculated.  Potential buyers must know that number to be comfortable with moving forward with the transaction.

If private parties are discouraged from performing assessments there will be a greater need for federal, state and local grant funding to pay for these costs. Most prospective purchasers are unwilling to pay a few hundred thousand dollars to perform sampling unless there are very strong business reasons for doing so.
 

 

Land Banks Offer Unique Strategy to Address Brownfields and Abandoned Residential Properties

There has been much discussion regarding the use of Land Banks to assist in addressing the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.  Here is an excerpt from the Cleveland Plain Dealer discussing the County's recently launched non-profit corporate land bank:

Formally launched by the county in April, the new, nonprofit land bank is the first of its kind in Ohio.It could soon turn Cleveland into the nation's biggest urban laboratory on how a declining industrial city with a comatose real estate market can downsize gracefully -- and prepare to rebound in the future. The impact on the city as a whole could be far greater than individual projects such as the proposed medical mart and revamped convention center downtown.

Ohio recently passed Senate Bill 353 which allows a two year trial period for Counties to create a separate county land reutilization corporation for purposes of acquiring abandoned and tax delinquent properties.  By allowing creation of a separate corporation, the law addresses the issue of liability- a major short-coming of Ohio's existing land banking law set forth in Ohio Revised Code 5722.  The law also allows for an expedited foreclosure process. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland released an good analysis of the new legislation titled "Understanding Ohio's Land Bank Legislation."

Why create a land bank?  Obviously, thousands of abandoned properties bring down property values across the board and create blight.  Abandoned properties also present other risks. Here is a quote from a University of Michigan study of its Land Bank program:

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that over 12,000 vacant structure fires are reported each year in the U.S., which results in $73 million in property damage annually.  In addition, abandoned properties tend to attract crime. A 1993 study of 59 abandoned properties in Austin, Texas, found that 34 percent were used for illegal activities and of the 41 percent that were unsecured, 83 percent were used for illegal activities.

While the focus of the recently enacted Land Bank Legislation has been as a tool for addressing abandoned residential properties, its utility should also be examined for application to brownfields. Land Banks can serve has effective means of addressing the complex legal and environmental issues that face brownfield properties. 

As an example, the Franklin County Land Bank was used successfully to address tax liens on the former Bedford Landfill which overcame a significant barrier to redevelopment.  The Bedford Landfill became a successful Clean Ohio project receiving a $3 million grant from the State of Ohio.

Today, I attended a presentation by members of the City of Cleveland's Economic Development Department on the City's Industrial Land Bank Program.  Nate Hoelzel and David Ebersole provided an interesting overview of this unique effort by the City to address large brownfield's for redevelopment.

The City of Cleveland's Industrial/Commercial Land Bank was launched in 2005.  The creation of the Cleveland Industrial Land Bank was preceded by an academic study by Cleveland State University.  The purpose of the bank is to try an assemble large tracks of abandoned property in areas identified by the City for priority commercial/industrial development.  Criteria include looking for properties of at least 20 acres in size and near key infrastructure.

In a relatively short time period (less than 4 years), the Land Bank has acquired 100 acres of brownfield property.  Thirty-seven (37) acres are currently on the market for industrial or commercial redevelopment.  The adjacent picture is from Economic Development Department's web page shows the location of 3 tracks currently held by the Land Bank.

The industrial/commercial land bank is designed to overcome the unique aspects of  contaminated urban property that prevents major development.  Representatives for the City of Cleveland estimated it cost approximately $300,000 per acre to address urban brownfield property.  Such a staggering costs often drives development to greenfields and promotes urban sprawl.  The factors that drive such staggering costs include:

  • liability for contamination
  • assessment costs for investigating the extent of contamination
  • demolition costs for vacant buildings
  • property title issues including tax liens

Land Bank's can overcome many of these barriers by providing public funds for costly environmental assessment, removing title issues and even potentially addressing liability through clean up of the property.  A property returned to the market may be free of tax liens and have received a full release from the State of Ohio for environmental contamination.

While successful for its relatively short existence, Cleveland's Industrial Land Bank could be improved if provided additional flexibility.  The Land Bank relies upon the traditional legal framework for its activities.  The legal authority for municipalities to purchase underutilized land exists at the State level in Ohio Revised Code 5722 and at authority for the Industrial Land Bank is located in Section 183.021 of the City of Cleveland Code. Under these authorities, no separate corporation can be created which means the City can face significant liability exposure under federal Superfund laws (CERCLA) for owning contaminated property. 

During the presentation, the presenters mentioned the City's effort to amend federal law during the effort in 2006 to reauthorize U.S. EPA's brownfield program.  While amendment of federal law to allow municipalities or counties to acquire property without fear of CERCLA liability makes sense, it may be an uphill climb.  It may be more practical to allow for expansion of Ohio's new Land Banking Legislation to specifically allow for political subdivisions to acquire brownfield properties through a separate corporation.  This would provide City's a layer of liability protection for being active in purchasing these complex properties.