When it comes to Brownfields cleanups, there may be something new in the Land of Steady Habits. Up until quite recently, Connecticut’s efforts to encourage the cleanup of contaminated properties has been frustrated by three forces:
- Lack of Predictability – Parties seeking to cleanup contaminated properties are unable to see through to the end of the project because the state’s regulatory programs are just too unpredictable. Promising redevelopment plans are tabled because when the potential economic return for a project can not be estimated, there is little chance the project will be started in the first place.
- Regulatory Inflexibility – In Connecticut there is a perception that enforcing the letter of the cleanup regulations is more important than achieving meaningful cleanup. This is unfortunate, because every contaminated site is different, and the ability to craft creative solutions that reduce or eliminate risk to people and the environment should be more important than meeting strict regulatory requirements.
- Liability Exposure – A friend’s favorite expressions is: “no good deed goes unpunished”. How right he is! In Connecticut a property owner trying, but failing to cleanup a contaminated property to the state’s satisfaction can be saddled with more liability than they bargained for. Look at this article regarding the Norwich Hospital for how the Town of Preston got saddled with $40 million in liability by the state.
Is anything changing? Maybe. First, as part of new Brownfields legislation, the state is now offering liability protection to innocent landowners trying to cleanup properties. How successful this new legislation will be remains to be seen, but it is good to finally get some incentives in place to encourage positive action.
Second, the new Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is seeking ways to improve the various Connecticut site cleanup programs. If he is successful in reforming the current programs by making them easier to understand and more predictable, then we may see more parties willing to take the risk of trying to cleanup contaminated property in Connecticut.