By Rodger A. Ferguson Jr., LSRP
Reclaiming remediated sites for redevelopment has come a long way in New Jersey.
If you have traveled through New Jersey in recent years, you may have noticed a difference. Maybe you saw an old factory is gone, that a new town center has opened or a new residential high-rise or school is under construction in places like Camden, Passaic, Newark and Jersey City or even right in your hometown.
This summer, New Jersey reached a milestone: 12,000 environmental cleanups completed under the Site Remediation Reform Act of 2009, or SRRA, which created the Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) program. That number may climb to 13,000 by the beginning of 2019 if the trends continue.
Throughout the state, New Jersey is cleaning contaminated sites and turning them into productive, attractive new uses that are safe for the population and the environment. The state’s LSRPs are proud to be part of this success.
LSRPs, a new concept in 2009, are now an integral part of New Jersey’s environmental remediation process. LSRPs know how to work on redevelopment and remedial needs at the same time — keeping projects on track to meet the timeframes of federal, state and local environmental protection agencies as well as the businesspeople seeking to bring properties back to productive use.
This revitalization is happening at a record pace and scale. Before the SRRA, New Jersey identified 26,000 sites in need of remediation and most were on a waiting list with the state Department of Environmental Protection. Even with more sites being added every year, the wait list has been cut nearly in half.
In fact, there are more contaminated sites actively being worked on today than ever before because of the LSRP program, the NJDEP’s hard work and the SRRA. These sites are in every area of the state and are being cleaned faster than ever before with no loss in the quality of the remediation.
LSRPs have made a measurable difference. The SRRA required nearly all responsible parties, with some exceptions, to use LSRPs to guide them through the process. Since 2012, when the program was fully implemented, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of Response Action Outcomes, or RAOs, which is the term for the completion of a remediation project and the equivalent of what was once known as a No Further Action decision.
The number of remediations completed now averages around 2,000 a year, about four times the rate of completions when the SRRA was implemented in 2009. As a side note, since the program began, only 12 RAOs have been invalidated by NJDEP and 3 percent have been withdrawn by the LSRP due to administrative or technical reasons. A 97 percent save percentage will get you into the hall of fame.
Even more impressive, data from the NJDEP shows all cases are being completed faster. Simpler cases and complex cases (i.e., multiple areas of concern and impacted media) are both being completed at an accelerated rate with no loss in quality when contrasted with a comparable period before the SRRA. The state saw just over 2,900 cases closed from 2001 to 2008, a total that more than doubled to 6,223 from 2009 to 2016.
Of course, there is always room for improvement.
Already, NJDEP has begun to collect comments and suggestions for updates and changes in policy, regulations, and, if absolutely necessary, the law. Legislators have begun to craft updated legislation for review later this year.
As the front lines of remediation in New Jersey, LSRPs know how the process is working on the ground and in the groundwater. Through the Licensed Site Remediation Professionals Association, or LSRPA, we have begun considering how best to streamline and clarify the state’s rules for cleaning up sites.
Builders and developers have begun to consider these issues as well.
One issue LSRPs and developers should consider together is how best to streamline the paperwork and other requirements necessary to complete remediation projects.
Under the current law and regulations, NJDEP must process a “Remedial Action Permit” before an LSRP can submit the final paperwork for an RAO to declare the remediation is completed and the institutional controls are in place.
From the time it is submitted until the time it is issued, a Remedial Action Permit can take more than a year, delaying completion of property transactions and redevelopment projects.
Some of the delays are caused by improperly completed paperwork. The LSRPA has worked with the NJDEP and responsible party organizations in the past to improve training for LSRPs to remove the administrative hurdles. LSRPA also is active on the ongoing NJDEP stakeholder group to improve the current process and has reaffirmed its commitment to continuing education for LSRPs and responsible parties.
But more creative solutions also may be considered to ensure no bottlenecks exist between when the work of remediation is completed and the permit is issued so an RAO can be filed. One potential solution would allow the LSRP to issue some permits by rule while retaining NJDEP’s ability to review the final remediation documents to ensure the necessary controls are in place for the environment and public health.
The success of SRRA is evident, but any program, with enough experience, can be updated and improved. With appropriate and reasonable changes to our state’s laws and regulations, we can accomplish even more for the public, the environment and business.
Rodger Ferguson, an LSRP since 2009, is the president of the New Jersey Licensed Site Remediation Professionals Association and president of PennJersey Environmental Consulting in Milford.