How to Handle a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment
by Michael Bernstein
A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment can be a stressful experience for all parties involved. But there are measures the property owner or business operator can take that might ease the process. There are even more actions that shouldn’t be taken.
DO walk your property – all of it – in advance, inside and out. Scrutinize locations and operations that involve hazardous substances and any kind of waste. Look for features, conditions, and activities that might draw the assessor’s disapproving eye, and do something about them if possible.
When I arrived at a property in New Jersey, a technician was repairing a forklift on paved ground but right by a storm sewer inlet. That way, he said, spillage wouldn’t run into the street! I recommended (and the lender required) that this operation be moved to inside the building, especially since space was available.
The manager of an industrial plant in New Jersey had an aerial photograph of the site on the wall in his office. I noticed a dark area of ground adjoining the building. When the party attending the property visit – which included the buyer’s attorney and financial people – examined this area, we saw that it was devoid of vegetation. This area originated where a roof drain discharged to the surface, but the condition didn’t seem to be due to flooding. I theorized that the air pollution control equipment was failing to capture some of the particulate matter. These particulates, which contained heavy metals, may have been settling on the roof before being flushed to the ground during rainfall. The manager insisted he had never noticed the barren area. But admitting that he was aware of it and had done nothing about it could have been even worse.
DON’T stonewall the work by arranging for key people to be out sick or on vacation the day of the property visit. It will only prolong the process and cause troublesome “data gaps.”
DON’T play dumb. The caretaker of a closed plant in Pennsylvania told me that he had never noticed a specific structure that was plainly visible outside the rear of the building. I later learned it was associated with a seepage pit for process wastewater mixed with lavatory sewage. I can believe he didn’t know what the structure was. But he told me he had been the property caretaker for 12 years. If he had really never noticed it, his employer probably questioned whether he was walking the property or just drinking coffee in his office all day. He was lying, unnecessarily, because he was fearful of somehow being held responsible for something that nobody would have faulted him for anyway.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Nov/Dec 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 6.