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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Getting Started with Superfund Redevelopment

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Frequently Asked Questions About Superfund Redevelopment
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Buildings on Moutain View Mobile Home Estates Superfund site.

Becoming involved in the redevelopment of a Superfund site requires different considerations than other contaminated sites (e.g., brownfields). However, successful Superfund site redevelopment projects from around the country demonstrate that reusing Superfund sites can occur despite barriers and challenges.

The steps below highlight key issues and considerations while planning and undertaking the redevelopment of a site. However, the process may vary from the following steps depending upon the specific characteristics of the site you are interested in redeveloping. After reviewing the steps, you can send additional questions to the Superfund Redevelopment Coordinator in Region 9.

The document Superfund Top 10: Questions to Ask When Buying a Superfund Site. (12 pp, 771K, About PDF) also provides additional information about getting started with Superfund redevelopment.

Step 1: Gather Information about the Site or Property and Contact the Owner(s)

You may need to gather additional information about the site to understand its redevelopment potential and to inform discussions with EPA in the future. For instance, it will be helpful to know more about who owns the site, who is leading the site’s cleanup and progress made in cleaning up the site. A related question centers on the willingness of a current property owner or owners to sell their property for redevelopment purposes.

Identifying site ownership and contacting the owner(s)

The vast majority of Superfund sites are owned by private parties or corporations. Only during exceptional circumstances does EPA take ownership of a site. EPA's role is to oversee a cleanup performed by potentially responsible parties (PRPs) or to perform the cleanup itself. In fact, many Superfund site owners are PRPs involved in the cleanup or involved in a cost recovery negotiation with EPA.

It is important to identify and contact the owner(s) of a Superfund site in order to see if the site is for sale and, if so, begin negotiations to buy or lease the site or a portion of the site. You can review locally-held title or tax records to identify the current owner by, for instance, contacting the local property tax appraisal office or using their on-line property databases if available.

Some limited site ownership information may be available in documents included as part of the site's "Progress Profile" accessible through EPA's Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) database. If you are not sure that the site you are interested in is a federal Superfund site or is not found in the CERCLIS database, contact the Superfund Redevelopment Coordinator in Region 9.

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Determining which entity or entities are leading the cleanup of the site

Although EPA oversees the national Superfund program, some states in Region 9, in cooperation with EPA, may play the lead oversight role in the remediation of a Superfund site property. EPA or state agencies and their contractors may also perform the cleanup of a particular site. In some instances PRPs and their contractors take the lead in cleanup, with oversight provided by EPA or the appropriate state agency.

Understanding the various layers of involvement by EPA, the state and PRPs can determine who must be involved in substantive discussions and how to incorporate reuse considerations into the cleanup process. In addition, understanding these layers can help to determine when a site, or a particular portion of a site, may be made available for redevelopment.

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Determining the current cleanup status of the site

Conditions and circumstances may determine how and when redevelopment of a Superfund site can proceed. Many sites can be reused during the cleanup work as long as the owner or user of the site is aware of the limitations, such as refraining from drilling ground water wells.

Additionally, a developer may actually desire to take the lead in all or part of the cleanup process in order to expedite the redevelopment of a particular Superfund site. If you are not already familiar with environmental conditions at the site, collecting information on the site and its cleanup status is a critical step. Region 9 recommends collecting the following site information:

  • Current status of environmental conditions.
  • Future anticipated cleanup actions.
  • Current or future restrictions on the use of the site.
  • Compatibility between anticipated use of the site and the cleanup or restrictions on use.

Much of the information above can be accessed by viewing the site's "Progress Profile" accessible through EPA's CERCLIS database, or by contacting EPA Region 9 or the appropriate state/local agency.

The Tools & Resources section contains additional suggestions.

A related consideration is whether the site is a removal site or a remedial site - the two main categories of Superfund sites. Both types of sites can be redeveloped, however EPA recommends you contact the Superfund Redevelopment Coordinator in Region 9 to discuss the different technical and legal issues for removal and remedial sites.

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Step 2: Review Associated Legal Issues and Obtain Liability Clarification and Assurances

The cleanup of sites and the clarification of environmental cleanup liability are the foundation for redeveloping Superfund sites. There are complex legal issues associated with reuse of all contaminated properties. In most cases, these issues are surmountable and the property can be bought and reused with properly managed liability protections.

Legal issues related to Superfund site redevelopment include:

EPA also has many redevelopment services and tools available to provide more certainty to parties interested in purchasing or reusing Superfund sites.

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Step 3: Consider Future Use Possibilities of the Site

While you may have an idea of how you would like to reuse the site, you may also want to review examples of other Superfund sites that have successfully been reused both in Region 9 and nationally.

In addition, EPA makes available a limited number of technical reports that explain special issues regarding the redevelopment of Superfund sites for specific uses.

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Step 4: Identify Potential Barriers to Reuse

Another step in successfully redeveloping a site is to understand whether site-related barriers may prevent certain types of development activity. For instance, many sites are subject to institutional controls, such as restrictive covenants, which frequently restrict residential uses. In other instances, the design of a physical remedy, such as a landfill cap, may prohibit the placement of all or certain types of structures.

EPA or the appropriate state/local agency may more easily assist you in addressing potential barriers if it is aware of your plans for reusing the site in the early stages of the cleanup of the site. Learn more about potential reuse barriers by reviewing the site’s "Progress Profile" accessible through EPA's CERCLIS database, or by contacting EPA Region 9 or the appropriate state/local agency.

EPA - through its Return to Use (RTU) Initiative - also helps to facilitate reuse of Superfund sites that have already been cleaned up but remain vacant. There are over 40 RTU demonstration projects nationwide, including four in Region 9.

Contact the Superfund Redevelopment Coordinator in Region 9 to learn more about the RTU Initiative.

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Step 5: Address Potential Lender Concerns about Financing

Lender concerns about financing the redevelopment of contaminated properties are diminishing for several reasons, and EPA's willingness to work with buyers and their lenders makes the acquisition of Superfund properties easier. EPA has several tools to help alleviate potential lenders' concerns about financing contaminated properties, including:

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Step 6: Explore Options for Involving Community in Redevelopment

EPA's primary responsibility at Superfund sites is to ensure the protection of human health and the environment. However, with forethought and effective planning, communities can coordinate with EPA and return sites to productive use without jeopardizing the effectiveness of the remedy.

EPA provides support in four areas that can assist communities in the Superfund cleanup and redevelopment process including:

  • Community Advisory Groups.
  • Regional Ombudsman.
  • Technical Assistance Grants.
  • Technical Outreach Services for Communities.

EPA Headquarters also provides:

  • Research and analysis services.
  • Partnership support.
  • Community involvement support.

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Contact the Superfund Redevelopment Coordinator in Region 9 to learn more.

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