Contamination hunt to begin | News | The Press and Standard

by | November 9, 2017 5:00 pm

Last Updated: November 8, 2017 at 10:18 am

Walterboro is preparing to go on a brownfield search.
Brownfield is the designation for commercial and industrial sites that might have contamination, something that makes those sites unappealing to prospective economic development purchasers.
The problem is that the purchaser of a brownfield property assumes responsibility for the contamination, no matter how long ago the contamination happened.
In many cases, the potential cost of a clean up is an unknown that plagues the negotiations.
“The city’s role in economic development is to help businesses or developers migrate risk,” Assistant City Manager Hank Amundson explained — working on economic development is part of his municipal job description.
Having a brownfield assessment done on a property, gives prospective purchasers an indicator of the cost involved in handling the contamination problem. The assessments “take away that unknown variable,” Amundson said.
Walterboro City Council, during its September meeting, signed off on having a Columbia engineering firm administer the city’s brownfield program.
Cardno Inc. of Columbia will be paid $292,000 to provide the environmental and engineering consulting services.
The city initially entered an agreement with Cardno, Inc. to have the firm handle the city’s brownfield assessment grant applications at no cost to the city. Then, if the grant application was approved, Cardno would administer the assessment program. Amundson said that having the firm handle the application process and then the administration of the program is more efficient.
The application was successful, the U.S. EPA issuing two grants totaling $300,000 to the city for brownfield assessment.
The EPA is providing $200,000 to the city for assessment of properties that could contain hazardous substances and $100,000 for assessments for possible petroleum contamination.
The hazardous substance grants will be used to conduct six Phase I studies, four Phase II environmental assessments and then prepare three cleanup plans.
The petroleum grant is to fuel four Phase I studies, three Phase 11 environmental site assessments and prepare two cleanup plans.
Amundson explained that the petroleum contamination assessments do not cover underground tanks at vacant gasoline stations. The state administers a separate program to assess underground tanks and handle the cost of any cleanup.
The EPA grant would cover the assessment of closed businesses and vacant lots that had once been home to operations that might have used petroleum in manufacturing.
A kickoff meeting held Oct. 10 started the process of forming a group to officially identify and prioritize properties to be assessed.
The Phase One assessments will take a look at a site’s history and do some basic testing of the property to seek signs of contamination.
The Phase One work could either access actual contamination or certify that there might not be contamination on what Amundson called “stigmatized properties. I hear rumors all the time about contaminated properties — sometimes it isn’t true.”
If contamination is determined to be a distinct possibility on a property, it would be considered for a Phase Two assessment.
Phase Two, Amundson said, “would be digging deeper.” The assessment work could include burrowing below ground for samples or drilling wells to monitor the quality of the water underground.
If the Phase Two assessment shows a serious problem, Cardno Inc. would develop a cleanup plan for the site.
That cleanup plan, Amundson explained, produces a Voluntary Cleanup Contract. It details to a prospective purchaser what steps would have to be taken to rid the property of the contamination. “It locks down with DHEC what would have to be done to the property,” he added.
Having the assessments in hand, Amundson said, “makes it much easier to talk to businesses.” He can hand the potential purchaser a folder generated by the assessment that details what is in the ground and what steps would have to be taken to clean it up.
“It eliminates the variables for us too,” Amundson added. “You know what you are selling.”

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