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EDISON, NJ-In May, Gov. Corzine signed into law the Site Remediation Reform Act, which introduces sweeping changes to the administration of site cleanups in New Jersey. Among other changes to existing environmental laws, the Act–as it’s known in New Jersey–introduced a licensed site remediation professional program, which was a point of focus during NAIOP’s “Regulatory Update,” held here at the Pines Manor on Tuesday.

Newly appointed DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello kicked off the discussion by outlining the department’s future goals, all within a strict budget. Staff cuts, among other pullbacks, have hurt the department over the past 10 years, he said, noting that in 1999 DEP employees numbered 4,000 as compared to today’s 3,000-person staff. The department currently has a three-year hiring freeze in place. “Starting with priorities for 2010, things have changed a lot since December,” Mauriello said. “We’re trying to get through the budget, which will hopefully happen this week.”

In terms of DEP initiatives, “we have a new office of climate and energy and the global warming response act sets some pretty ambitious goals from solar installations across the state to studies of offshore environments for a wind farm in southern New Jersey,” Mauriello said. He went on to add that the Site Remediation Reform Act is also moving quickly. “By November, licensed professionals will be available to do work throughout the state,” said Mauriello, who took over as commissioner six months ago following the departure of Lisa Jackson, who left to serve as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, under President Barack Obama.

The DEP has also been working to implement the recommendations of its permit efficiency task force. According to Mauriello, the recommendations are strictly process-oriented. To date, one-quarter of the recommendations have been implemented including IT upgrades, which means migrating into electronic permitting and reporting. “People ask: ‘what took you so long?’ Well, we’re a big, bureaucratic agency,” he joked. “That’s why it’s taken so long.”

One of the department’s top priorities has been modifying and amending outdated waste water management plants. “Since municipality plans and maps were outdated, developers plans were getting rejected,” Mauriello said, adding that now sewer service mapping will actually reflect constraints on the ground. Above all else, he noted, dialogue between departments and the public is key for future success. To that end, COAH and the DEP have been collaborating on early screening for potential affordable housing sites. “We’re also looking to prioritize permits,” Mauriello explained, “and affordable housing is one of the projects we’re assigning more weight, along with environmental developments. The feeling is that we should be trying to move more quickly on those projects that provide for greater public good or agency benefit. We approved a permit for the Turnpike widening. It took about four months and consists of 35 miles of widening and 125 acres of wetlands fill.”

Above all else, he urged the audience to contact the DEP with any questions or concerns. “At least make sure you have the benefit of the details and the information,” he said. “I’m blue in the face telling this to the environmental groups who go right to the press with a comment about a DEP program they don’t understand. I’m happy to talk to them. It’s always important that we’re open and we have that dialogue.”

Following Mauriello’s remarks, Genova, Burns & Vernoia partner William Harrison lead the planning panel in a discussion on wastewater management. Panel members included Larry Baier, DEP director of the division of watershed management; Anthony DiLodovico, vice president and regulatory compliance and permitting department manager with CMX; Dianne Brake, president of PlanSmart NJ; and Christine Marion, an assistant planning director with the Morris County Planning Board. The group first tackled the DEP’s rule, effective July of 2008, which appointed counties as the wastewater management planning agencies and gave them until July 7, 2009 to complete a county-wide wastewater management plan. According to Baier, there is a provision that the department shall withdraw a sewer service area from any plan that does not come in on schedule. While many counties are admittedly running behind schedule, the DEP is issuing extensions to those that have asked.

Of course, the real question developers want to know is: how does this affect my project? “The rule also sets forth environmental criteria for areas that should not be in a sewer service area,” Baier explained. “In order for this to work, we, as the department, had to become partners with our wastewater management planning agencies. We couldn’t deal effectively with the existing structure. So we took the existing sewer service areas and these environmental features, we overlaid them on the sewer service area and we attempted the first redraw of the sewer service area.” This was critical in large part so the counties weren’t left to guess at what was important to the DEP. But despite all this, “we knew we didn’t have it right,” Baier admitted. “We used the best information available to us last summer, which was 2002 aerial photography. We knew a lot of things had happened in the past seven years. So we asked the counties to take that draft line and go to their municipalities and then form the line. Tell us where we got it wrong and what has been built, etc.”

From the county side, Marion added that the process of working hand-in-hand with the DEP was relatively smooth. While DiLodovico agreed that the department is making a concerted effort to work collaboratively, “we need to keep working.” He then outlined a number of concerns–not the least of which was the fact the draft sewer service area map was taken from 2002 data. “All of this combined creates some uncertainty,” DiLodovico said, adding that all of the counties are already running behind on their wastewater management plans. “What does this mean going forward? And how long will extensions continue to be granted?”

But perhaps the biggest critic was Brake, who thanked the committee for involving “an agitator such as myself with no practical experience of the things you go through everyday.” Representing the land use planning perspective, she added, “Mapping helps to help understand the geography of where we want development and conservation in New Jersey.” But according to Brake, two things are missing. “One is that data does not make a plan. Data is information. The second thing is that other agencies have not mapped what’s important to them.” In short, there is no overall plan that explains where affordable housing needs to go or where the economy needs to grow. “And unlike a number of other Smart Growth advocates, I don’t believe all of our growth can be shoehorned into the nine urban areas that have been identified,” she added. Ultimately what Brake would like to see is a shared vision among all state agencies touted by a Governor who leads all of these agencies, which includes the following: jobs, housing, transportation, open space, water and improving the social/racial/economic integration of [local] communities and reducing disparities.

The second panel was all about site remediation. Moderator Dennis Toft, a partner with Wolff & Samson, noted that one of the key objectives of the LSRP is to streamline the regulatory closure process for the more than 20,000 known contaminated sites across New Jersey by allowing LSRP’s, instead of the DEP, to oversee site cleanups. Panelists Len Romino, assistant director in the DEP’s site remediation program; Andrew Robbins, an attorney with Giordano, Halleran Ciesla; and Dr. Jorge Berkowitz, in charge of the environmental component of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services’ Trenton office discussed everything from mandatory timeframes and LSRP duties to conflicts of interest between LSRPs and their clients. Toft emphasized, “With few exceptions, by Sept. 2, 2009, all persons responsible for conducting a remediation must provide enhanced notification and outreach for new and ongoing remedial work conducted at contaminated sites. And failure to comply with the notice requirements could result in penalties of up to $8,000 daily.” However, Romino explained that it will be three years before everyone must be using LSRPs.

There was a general consensus among the panelists that the program is sorely needed in the state. However, there are some drawbacks. For instance, the act imposes a myriad of reporting obligations upon LSRPs that will likely create tensions between LSRPs and their clients. According to Berkowitz, the dual role of an LSRP as both a client advocate and a DEP police officer will most likely affect the client-consultant relationship. He also sited concerns about how committed the DEP is to the bill. “There are some who are very committed, but then there are those who I think would like to see the bill fail and could even try to sabotage the process.” According to Berkowitz, we should look for a certain amount of conservatism. “Consulting companies will most likely default to standards and guidelines when they should be thinking creatively,” he said, adding that consultants should also expect costs to go up thanks to extensive documentation. But despite the detractions, he concluded, “The program can save a lot of time and is ultimately essential to keep up with the DEP caseload.”

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