June 24, 2005 — In order to gain support for an environmental bill pending in the Legislature, an informational session was held on Thursday to discuss the benefits of adopting a national model for more effective land cleanup.
"What this is going to do is help us deal with contaminated lands and bring them back at a maximum-use level that is feasible," Sen. Craig Barshinger, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, "because ideally, all damaged land can be brought back into a pristine state, but sometimes it is just too expensive."
According to Barshinger, the solution to the problem is the adoption of the Uniform Environmental Covenants Act, which allows for the long-term enforcement of cleanup controls on a piece of property through an "environmental covenant" between a landowneror any other interested partiesand a cleanup agency.
The process has two steps: First, an agreement is made between groups about what kind of cleanup should be done and what restrictions should be placed on the future use of the land; second, an environmental covenant, outlining the terms of the agreement, is submitted to and recorded with a local register of deeds so that individuals thinking about buying the property later on are aware of possible contamination.
"This is the best thing for all involved because everyone can agree on the manner in which the land is treated and used for the future," Barshinger said, "it lets us know what we can and cannot do."
The covenants act will also work in conjunction with "brownfields" legislation, which addresses the maintenance/redevelopment of abandoned sites with various levels of contamination.
"Because it is sometimes difficult to do a total cleanup on some of these lands, the UECA will function as a legal tool, which will create and maintain environmental land-use restrictions for as long as they are needed," said Michael Kerr, deputy executive director of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Kerr was brought in as a representative of the conference on behalf of the V.I. Uniform Laws Commission to help explain the UECA for various DPNR and Legislative officials.
Literature provided at the workshop supported Kerrs statements by showing how the Act can benefit parties engaging in environmental covenants:
–Property owners have the option of reliable, long-term, environmental controls, which reduce the risk that a future owner might (accidentally or deliberately) eliminate the controls and thereby increase or revive the first owners environmental liability;
–Lenders and local governments will have the legal tools which allow for the redevelopment, sale, and productive use of remediated property, thereby increasing the underlying value of the real estate;
–Environmentalists are provided a mechanism to ensure that restrictions are in place to contain both the property and the risk to human health;
–Neighbors and potential purchasers are able to be given clear notice of what activities and uses are appropriate for the property and what sorts of controls are needed to be maintained for the future;
Barshinger and Kerr received support from DPNR officials attending the meeting. (DPNR will be the cleanup agency involved in the covenant for the V.I. Government and will be responsible for the maintenance of the cleanup controls.)
The session was held at the DPNR conference room on the second floor of the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas.
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