Superfund Site Level Two HeaderCenter Projects


Project leads: Janet Herman, Department of Environmental Sciences; Roseanna Neupauer, and Teresa Culver, Department of Civil Engineering

Superfund aims to remediate contaminated sites to render them sufficiently clean for re-use. The types of contamination (e.g., metals, solvents, etc.), degree of contamination, and the type of contaminated media (e.g., soil, groundwater, etc.) differ from site to site. Remedy selection has traditionally been based mainly on these characteristics. The future use of a site, however, may be limited by the chosen remedy; therefore, the future use must also be considered in the remedy selection.

What is the relationship between re-use and remedy? How do the risks, uncertainties, and time frames inherent in remedy selection impact the ultimate re-use of a site?

Site characterization reveals the nature and extent of contamination that requires remediation prior to any site re-use. The contaminants may be diverse in their chemical, physical, and biological character and impacts. The specifics of contaminants and the levels at which they are present determine the risk attendant to site re-use. Further, the nature of the media that is contaminated must be established, because the remediation approach and the subsequent risk of site re-use also depend on whether the soil or groundwater has been impacted. A variety of remediation strategies might be
considered for a particular contaminant. Unlike the present objective of restoring a site to a set contaminant concentration level, selection of remediation strategies could be informed by knowledge of a re-use goal for the site. Various intended site uses would have different chemical and biological quality requirements for site soil and groundwater.

We are investigating the relationship between reuse and remedy, through the development of a groundwater flow and solute transport model that will allow us to examine how uncertainty in monitoring data affects risk and to determine optimal monitoring methods for successful redevelopment. Simultaneously, we are creating a method for simulating the development and migration of the contaminant plume at a specific Superfund site, Emmell septic landfill in New Jersey. We will then examine various remediation alternatives using cost as the driver to optimize remediation.

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Project lead: Jon Cannon, School of Law

In the initial phase of our research, we examined how perpetual Superfund liability can be managed to support redevelopment. We also evaluated the viability of various management tools such as prospective seller agreements, financing for long-term site management costs, and private trusts to fund monitoring and institutional controls over the long-term.

Subsequently, we expanded our research agenda to focus on the goal of optimization over time at Superfund sites. We created an analysis of site optimization and its temporal component-adaptive management-within the legal and policy framework of the Superfund program. This includes attention to incentives and disincentives created by existing statutory requirements and agency policies. We are refining our analysis in conjunction with other Center faculty to provide a synthesis of the Center's work.

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Site Visualization and Design

Project lead: Julie Bargmann, Department of Landscape Architecture, Daniel Bluestone, Department of Architectural History

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?

This project has produced case study reports on five diverse Superfund sites that are primarily the work of teams of student researchers with extensive input from Center faculty members. The focus of the reports is on the physical characteristics of the sites, planning issues, site histories and regional contexts, but they also consider the nature of the contamination and its implications for remediation alternatives and possible reuses.

We have intensified our study of one particular site, Central Chemical in Hagerstown, Maryland. We have developed an extensive body of knowledge about the site and its context, which we are now using to design reuse alternatives for the Central Chemical site.

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Community Involvement and Collaborative Decision-Making

Project lead: Frank Dukes, Institute for Environmental Negotiation

Site redevelopment requires authentic public involvement and cooperation among diverse interests and institutions, including EPA, state, tribal and local governments, citizens groups, non-governmental advocates, and the private economic sector. We are studying community involvement and collaborative decision-making among these interests and institutions

Key Questions include:

1. What principles and practices of community involvement and collaborative decision-making processes are most likely to lead to decisions and actions that are well-informed, legitimate in the eyes of directly affected stakeholders and other interested parties, and likely to be successfully implemented?
2. How can community preferences concerning future land use be better informed and developed?
3. At what point should community preferences for redevelopment be first solicited?
4. What sort of changes in remediation strategies and new roles for scientists and engineers in the early stages of redevelopment may be suggested by any proposed recommendations for community involvement and collaborative decision-making?

The key project outcome of our assessment will be a written Guide describing best practices for community involvement and collaborative decision-making. This Guide will be informed and legitimized by extensive consultation with all sectors involved in Superfund site redevelopment and by on-the-ground experience at a number of Superfund sites.

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Institutional Impediments and Incentives

Project lead: Bruce Dotson, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning

How do local and state planning processes and permitting and finance mechanisms impede or facilitate re-use of sites? How do existing institutions and regulatory policies affect re-use decisions, and what institutional adjustments might be useful? Have institutional controls been helpful, or a hindrance for redevelopment? What barriers in federal policies may inhibit state, tribal and local government, as well as private sector participation, in Superfund site redevelopment? We will suggest strategies that non-federal entities might legally pursue in order to overcome any such barriers.

Potential Impediments include:

Lack of a clear master plan may leave uncertain expectations resulting in avoidance by developers.
Zoning may limit uses that might be economically attractive.
Variances and exceptions may be necessary to obtain project approval.
Conditional/discretionary uses may lead to uncertainty about approving authorities' actions.
Strict (versus streamlined) process steps can lead to delay and deter potential developers.
Lack of community understanding about the site, potential re-uses and institutional controls may generate community fears.
Neighbors or community leaders may use mandatory approval processes to block project initiation.
Lack of infrastructure and the cost of providing it may impede successful redevelopment.
High costs of development may not be offset by tax or other financial incentives.

Potential Incentives include:

1. A master plan that is clear about objectives but is flexible as to means, giving developers targets.
2. Creation of a public fund to manage future response and remediation risks for sellers and purchasers of re-used sites.
3. Streamlined approval processes based on previous planning may allow timely approval.
4. Unnecessary requirements have been removed while key performance standards have been strengthened, reducing uncertainty and time delay for developers.
5. Public involvement is focused on design and execution, not on revisiting basic policy.
6. Public/private partnership mechanisms are available for infrastructure financing.
7. Tax abatement/credit mechanisms are available for worthy projects.
8. Economic and fiscal benefits are directed to the immediate neighborhood of the project site.
9. State funds are available to fill gaps in local resources.

Our key project outcome will be a Guide for state and local governments that will serve as guidance for reviewing current procedures and mechanisms, and suggest ways that improvements can be made.

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Project lead: George Overstreet, and Mark White, McIntire School of Commerce, and Peter Beling, and James Lambert, Department of Systems and Information Engineering

Our key project outcome will be a holistic model that will assist decision-makers in selecting remedies and reuses for the entire portfolio of Superfund sites around the country. The model will integrate the work of the Center faculty, and will employ a number of techniques from risk analysis including regret minimization and tradeoff studies.

We will identify and characterize decisions, uncertain inputs, and uncertain outcomes (i.e.) cost, completion time, and performance) for each of the phases of the lifecycle of a Superfund site, such as pre-characterization, characterization, remediation, monitoring and redevelopment. Ultimately, the model will provide guidance for comparing decision options with respect to uncertain costs, completion times, and performance across these phases. We intend also to convey the tradeoffs of short-term investment in site pre-characterization and characterization versus long-term costs over the remediation/redevelopment life cycle.

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We will conduct sustained involvement in one or more specific sites. This involvement may include charettes and other activities designed to provide a platform for research that will gain insights on how to improve coordination at redevelopment sites and, particularly, what steps state, tribal and local governments can take to strengthen community institutions and encourage cooperative outcomes.

Key project outcomes will include published case studies, including "lessons learned" and references to other projects' outcomes that would be transferable to other entities conducting sustained involvement in site redevelopment.

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Interdisciplinary investigation of issues surrounding a site or a group or class of sites - including design, science, technology, finance, planning, legal and policy issues. This regularly convened faculty workshop series will review research-in-progress and discuss issues related to this and other agency programs that involve either land re-use or the local application of national standards. We will invite nationally known experts in environmental law and policy and environmental sciences, including present and former agency officials, non-governmental advocates, and regulated community representatives. These seminars will be related to public lectures for University students. We will also host a conference to vet our research among distinguished peers in the field of impaired property redevelopment.

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Center faculty

The Center will disseminate the results of its research through research reports. The Center will conduct research at particular sites and present the results of that research through case studies that will assist the EPA and communities facing similar issues.

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