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About the Center

 

The Center of Expertise for Superfund Site Recycling at the University of Virginia implements a cooperative agreement between the University and the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative. The Center undertakes interdisciplinary investigations in support of the redevelopment of Superfund sites for a range of beneficial uses. Our goal is to explore the relationship between site characterization and risk assessment, risk management, and private and public sector economics and decision-making in order to better predict the types of redevelopment that may be feasible and desirable under different circumstances, and to facilitate that development.

BACKGROUND

The Center conducts research on the scientific, technical, economic and governmental issues involved in Superfund site redevelopment, using teams of faculty members and students from schools and departments across the University, including Environmental Sciences, Civil Engineering, Systems and Information Engineering, Commerce , Law, Landscape Architecture, Urban and Environmental Planning, the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. Our research teams also include representatives from the private and public sectors, as well as representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and other entities supporting the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative. We disseminate our research results through local workshops, conferences, published reports, and this website.

photoHistorically, the federal Superfund program has focused on the statutorily mandated mission to protect human health and the environment by cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated sites listed on the National Priority List , pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. By contrast, economic development, recreational, and ecological re-use interests may focus on how to bring about beneficial end uses, which may require different degrees of site clean-up. The Environmental Protection Agency has sought to develop policies that integrate clean-up strategies with potential land re-uses, and that employ the specialized skills and knowledge of scientists, engineers, land use planners, private developers, mortgage bankers, and community members, including a recent restatement regarding re-use assessments.

The Center explores ways to address and serve the interests of all these participants, so that the remediation and redevelopment processes support each other, and each participant is involved in a collaborative rather than a confrontational experience. We engage a diverse group of stakeholders, such as local residents, local municipal land use planners, and representatives of the real estate development and mortgage banking industries, in the pursuit of effective strategies for recycling Superfund sites. We look closely at specific sites in the context of local natural systems, local municipal land use planning processes, historical patterns of regional land use, and regional real estate markets and capital investment. We also hold collaborative stakeholder workshops, or "charettes," in order to better understand the dynamics of site re-use.

PRINCIPAL ISSUES OF THE CENTER

The principal issues the Center has targeted include:

  • Re-use and Remedy — What is the relationship between re-use and remedy? How do risks, uncertainties, and time frames inherent in remedy selection impact the ultimate re-use and valuation of a site? Can remedies be developed to preserve and enhance future re-use? Do criteria for remedy selection, as currently applied, adequately support site re-use, and, if not, how might they do so more effectively? What is the role of monitoring to support re-use?
  • Managing Liability — How can perpetual Superfund liability be managed to support re-use? What tools are available — prospective purchaser agreements? Insurance? Other methods for managing and reducing uncertainty at redeveloped sites?
  • Local Planning Processes and Site Re-use Decisions — How can site visualization and design assist in re-use? How can information about sites be organized and disseminated to support re-use? How can the remediation process itself be used to re-establish the community’s relationship to the site? How can community preferences concerning future land use be better informed and developed? What kinds of collaborative processes, if any, are likely to be productive? How do existing institutions and regulatory and planning tools affect re-use decisions, and what institutional changes might work better?
  • Best Practices in Redevelopment — What does analysis and evaluation of site redevelopment experiences teach us so far? Which of the six principal re-use categories — commercial, recreational, ecological, public service, residential, and agricultural — have been most and least successful, and why? Have institutional controls been helpful, or a hindrance for redevelopment?
  • Value-based Model — Can a holistic, value-based model be developed to assist decisionmakers in making optimal use of sites and remedies, on a scenario or case-by-case basis? Could it effectively include both commercial and non-commercial uses, including ecological services and recreational uses? What factors need to be investigated that influence whether and how a site is redeveloped? Could they include societal costs and benefits of re-using a contaminated site in a new polluting versus non-polluting capacity?

We believe the Center will play a distinctive role in policy review and discussion. At the local level, Superfund site redevelopment will likely raise interesting questions about how stakeholders understand risk and value. Closer interaction among stakeholders also may suggest alternative remediation strategies and new roles for scientists and engineers in the early stages of site redevelopment. In contrast to government or industry settings, the Center provides a neutral ground for open and wide-ranging discussion, inherent in the educational component for our faculty and students.

In researching projects regarding obstacles to investment in cleaned up sites, we can identify policies and institutional barriers that inhibit site redevelopment. We are also researching the costs and benefits of site redevelopment for particular user groups, and will develop alternative approaches to site clean up and re-use. Some alternative strategies may include alternatives to "hog and haul," and at some sites it may be possible to design in situ restoration methods in which the site can be made to heal itself. Finally, a disproportionate number of Superfund sites are adjacent to economically disadvantaged areas, either rural or urban, industrial or residential. Site redevelopment here requires strategies that address job creation, low-income housing, affordable child-care and transportation, and recreational and open-space needs.

 

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Copyright 2004 by the University of Virginia Center of Expertise for Superfund Site Recycling