Environmental due diligence and remediation consulting is one of the most important aspects of site development for owners, lenders and purchasers. The presence of recognized environmental conditions (RECs) or hazardous contaminants on properties can significantly delay, if not outright annul, project milestones. Ensuring a site is clean and abides by environmental regulatory standards requires knowledgeable and experienced consultants, especially under complex or unique circumstances. In the following case study, we showcase a New York City remediation consult that required creativity and multi-faceted problem solving on a fast-track timeline.
Partner Engineering and Science recently provided environmental consulting and remediation services for a very large multi-purpose site in Brooklyn that was purchased by a private developer to be converted into a flexible indoor/outdoor event space for public use. Used formerly as an industrial facility and located in a heavily industrial area, the site had a significant history of contamination that posed an imminent threat to human safety. Projects such as these require especially meticulous environmental due diligence because the public is directly exposed to contaminants, if they’re present. In the case of indoor spaces, this means industrial hazards like the presence of radon, asbestos or lead, and vapor intrusion risk, which represents the next frontier in strict environmental regulation. With outdoor spaces, this means direct contact with contaminated soil and ground water. This development required both indoor and outdoor assessment and remediation on a quick timeline, along with a pending grand opening event, which presents an enormous challenge to the due diligence consultant.
A Costly Issue
The developer wanted to submit the site as a Brownfield Cleanup Program project, which garners State of New York tax credits towards cleanup and environmental mitigation. Their original environmental consultant gave a remediation estimate that, while technically correct, maximized cost and invasive efforts, while omitting important considerations for the client. He suggested aggressive removal of contaminated soil underneath existing asphalt, which in and of itself would cost $1.5-$2 million, and treatment of ground water. But he didn’t provide cost for estimating soil treatment or possible vapor intrusion. Not only would these add another $1 million in cost, but their omission could also present red flags in a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) audit. Because developers in NYC, the world’s most expensive construction market, expect every aspect of development to be costly by proxy, such gross overestimations are not always picked up and many developers overpay. However, for complex property development deals, it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion from a trusted, experienced and knowledgeable due diligence consultant.
Achieving a Better Remedial Solution
Dave Umbach, a Senior Project Geologist at Partner Engineering and Science, came onboard as a remediation consultant with weeks to go before proposed event space opening. Because he already had an established professional connection with the head of the NY regulatory committee at DEC overseeing Brownfield application, he quickly reached out, proposed an accelerated, actionable scenario, and got a Brownfields application approval. Dave’s 36 years of experience, including as a Licensed Site Remediation Professional in NJ, has given him technical know-how, entrenched relationships, and valuable knowledge of many different project scopes. He established a hierarchy of project objectives: filing for the Brownfield grant; successfully opening the venue; mitigating immediate public health issues; and setting up a plan for long-term remediation. This allowed for a limited scope of work for DEC to release the venue and generate revenue, which in turn would subsidize the rest of the more invasive cleanup.
Creative Problem Solving
In a period of just two weeks, Partner put together a comprehensive soils management plan, health and safety plans for people visiting the building, an operations and management plan for the internal and external spaces, and conducted indoor air sampling by the bathrooms and bar area. In three days, Partner engineers built a customized vapor mitigation system for contaminated restroom and bar areas, and completed remediation according to code. For $4,500, a “quick fix” soil remediation maintenance plan was approved that would look for and repair cracks in pavement, thereby isolating contamination from the public, and then fixing and restoring more invasively when events were not taking place. This is a non-disruptive, common sense approach in a busy, metropolitan and highly developed city like New York.
Optimizing Financing Solutions
Lastly, Dave worked out a solution with the developer’s lending institution, which took a very conservative project management approach and was looking to escrow $4 million from the loan because of cost, deadline and regulatory fears. This would have been financially crippling to the viability of the project. Partner provided a wholesale project estimate for only $750,000, significantly lower than the original consultant, attained Brownfield status approval from the DEC, and facilitated an escrow release.
Partner Engineering and Science prides itself on innovative, out-of-the box problem solving. In this latest project, our Senior Geologist and team of engineers were able to execute a fast, effective solution with customized remediation technology that saved the client considerable money, allowed their development to continue seamlessly, and be environmentally friendly in the process.