1998 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@igc.apc.org>
Date: Wed, 08 Apr 1998 13:15:47 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: Developers and Public Participation


I've been following the discussion over developers' attitudes toward
public involvement with great interest. I take part in various
committees that are proposing, as we did for federal facilities,
improvements in the public participation processes that cover
environmental responses at Brownfields sites.

Federal facilities - even closing military bases - have distinct issues
that set them apart from the typical Brownfields project, but there are
still numerous lessons that can be drawn from out extensive experience
at those sites. In a second memo I lay out some of my proposals based on
that experience. 

While it is true that Brownfields developers and the communities that
live on or near Brownfields sites often have different interests, those
interests are not necessarily incompatible. That is, it may be possible
to accelerate property turnover in a way that meets the neighbors
expectations of cleanup and/or the creation of jobs and local business
opportunity. Creating such a "win-win" situation requires an early,
continuing exchange of information and ideas. 

I don't believe, at the typical (non-Superfund) Brownfields sites, that
the cost of cleanup, even to highly protective standards, is
prohibitive. Rather, development is discouraged by the owners' lack of
familiarity with environmental issues and requirements. Properties are
often underutilized, despite the obvious net benefits of cleanup and
redevelopment, because of the cost or difficulty of getting started -
what my daughter's chemistry text calls the "activation energy." A good
public participation program can help owners and developers get over
that hump.

Projects are also held up by uncertainty about actual cleanup
requirements. I've talked to developers who prefer stringent, pre-set
standards to a drawn-out process of study, comment, and re-study. "Time
is money," particularly where the cleanup represents a small fraction of
the overall project cost. Again, early public support for a project can
reduce uncertainty.

Many developers are "gun-shy" because most of their interactions with
the public have been negative, and there is of course no guarantee that
even under the best of processes that problems won't emerge. I believe,
however, based on our experience at Defense Department facilities, that
conflict can be greatly reduced by moving from a "decide-announce-defend" 
model of public involvement to the "early and often" approach. Military 
officials - and the small number of private responsible parties who have 
chosen to work with the public - have been confounded by the constructive 
attitudes taken (in most, but not all situations) by community members.

Other developers are concerned that they might be subject to
"one-size-fits-all" public participation requirements. Obviously, at
many - particularly small, simple ones - the neighboring community has
no intense interest. Even where there is concern, no single set of
bureaucratic hoops can assure the public that it is being heard. That's
why I suggest flexibility, and where many Brownfields or other hazardous
waste sites lie in the same area, I propose the formation of area-wide
environmental advisory groups.

Finally, no one should be naive enough to expect that a good public
participation process will (or should) eliminate conflict. Rather, it
should eliminate misunderstandings and provide a framework for debating
differences. Our local experience at Moffett Field shows that it's even
possible for multiple constituencies to cooperate closely on cleanup
issues while fighting over the future use of the property.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight (AKA SFSU
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

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