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| 4 minutes read

Recap of the Georgia Brownfield Association’s Annual Seminar

The Georgia Brownfield Association (GBA) held its 10th annual Brownfield Seminar on April 9th, bringing together leaders from the legal, engineering, and government sectors who share an interest in furthering the redevelopment of environmentally impacted properties.  The Seminar’s diverse and jam-packed agenda included program updates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), technical sessions from environmental consultants examining novel investigative and remedial approaches, and panel discussions between a variety of stakeholders regarding emerging issues in brownfield redevelopment.  Below are just a few of our takeaways.

EPD Program Updates:  EPD’s updates included two critical points for practitioners.  First, EPD expressed a willingness to utilize flexible approaches to address a recent influx of Georgia Brownfield Program applications involving more complex and heavily impacted sites, such as landfills and RCRA-permitted facilities.  These approaches may include canceling or transferring permits as needed to allow enrollment in the Brownfield Program or delaying a subject property’s listing on the Hazardous Site Inventory (which entails imposition of a deed notice impacting future marketability) to allow impacts to be addressed under the Brownfield Program. Second—and on a scarier note for brownfield redevelopers and their counsel—EPD announced that it is considering punitive measures aimed at addressing a reported uptick of prospective purchasers’ noncompliance with Corrective Action Plans (PPCAPs), due to issues ranging from delaying remedy implementation (without obtaining a schedule extension) to taking actions that cause or contribute to hazardous substance releases.  In an effort to stymie this trend of noncompliance, EPD indicated it may begin revoking liability protections from prospective purchasers who fail to meet schedules and milestones specified in a PPCAP (as is authorized by O.C.G.A. § 12-8-207(b)(4)), particularly for sites listed or deferred from listing on the HSI. 

Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund Availability:  Evan Daily discussed Invest Atlanta’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, which leverages federal funding to offer generous financial terms for brownfield projects located in Atlanta.  Currently, five-year loans for eligible projects are being offered with interest rates ranging from 2 to 3%—about half of current market rates.  While these rates are clearly attractive, developers seeking to tap the Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund should be prepared to navigate a more cumbersome approval process relative to traditional financing, due in part to federal reporting requirements.

Vapor Intrusion Technical and Legal Updates:  Charlie Denton and Tom Wurzinger examined recent regulatory changes driven by research linking short-term exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) with harmful reproductive effects.   These short-term, acute risks represent a paradigm shift from the chronic risks most often associated with vapor intrusion, and these emerging risks may create new liability exposures for landowners and developers.  Most pertinently, Denton anticipates a potential wave of lawsuits alleging that TCE vapors pose an “imminent and substantial endangerment” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which would fall outside of liability protections typically relied upon by brownfield redevelopers.  As such, owners of property impacted with TCE should take particular care in developing and adhering to a strategy for communicating with their tenants in advance of and in connection with any vapor intrusion assessment or mitigation activities.

PFAS Updates:  MMM’s own Gerald Pouncey moderated a panel that included PFAS technical experts Dora Chiang of WSP and Lucas Barroso-Giachetti of S&ME, as well as analytical chemist Noelle DeStefano of Eurofins.  Highlights included Chiang’s explanation of EPA’s new PFAS drinking water standards and Barroso-Giachetti’s exploration of unique ways that PFAS will impact brownfield redevelopments.  Pouncey addressed ongoing federal legislative efforts to potentially exclude “passive receivers” of PFAS from CERCLA liability, while DeStefano discussed the practical realities of PFAS sampling methods.  Most notably in that regard, although the recent EPA-approved method to sample soil and groundwater (Method 1633) can cost as much as $450 per individual sample, this cost may be cut by nearly half when using a modified method.  However, modified methods may not be optimal from a cost standpoint if sampling data must later be submitted to regulators.

Economics of Brownfield Redevelopment:  EPA’s Bayou Demeke presented economic research on the connection between brownfield redevelopment and surrounding property values.  As expected, cleanup and redevelopment correlate with increased values.  More notably, EPA announced plans to broaden this preliminary research to assess how brownfield redevelopments affect the demographics of surrounding areas (such as race and income).  This announcement triggered significant discussion among attendees and dovetailed nicely with a later presentation by Bellwood Homes’ LA Williams regarding the importance of ensuring that redevelopment aligns with community needs. While gentrification is a “wicked problem” with no immediate solution, research and dialogue are critical first steps to approaching any issue, and it is good to see GBA creating space for those to occur.

Case Studies – Chattahoochee Brick Company, Atlanta; & Reverend Pearly Brown Music Park, Americus:  As is tradition, the Seminar concluded with case studies of brownfield redevelopment projects. Highlights included the ongoing Chattahoochee Brick Company redevelopment, a site in Atlanta with a troubled history involving the use of convict lease labor.  Although private redevelopment was originally planned, the City of Atlanta ultimately acquired the site and plans to develop it into a community resource, which will include a memorial acknowledging the site’s link to our country’s complicated racial history.  Outside of Atlanta, Mary Beth Brownlee discussed the work of One Sumter Economic Development Foundation, Inc. to develop a multi-use park that will be named in honor of Reverend Pearly Brown, a pioneer of slide guitar credited with influencing the Allman Brothers Band.  The progress made to date represents a significant success story, particularly due to the unique challenges associated with redeveloping sites in Georgia’s rural areas.

Overall, the Seminar was another success for GBA and its members, allowing participants to learn from experts in the brownfield redevelopment space while building meaningful connections with their peers.