Many businesses that buy, sell or redevelop a property in New Jersey are likely to wind up dealing with an environmental cleanup. These can be lengthy, complicated, costly processes. That’s where a licensed site remediation professional (LSRP) comes in: negotiating the maze of regulations and handling the cleanup to get the work done more quickly and more efficiently.
LSRPs are certified professionals charged with overseeing the investigation and cleanup of environmental contamination in the state. They are able to speed up the work because they typically do not have to wait for approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) before commencing a cleanup action. The Site Remediation Reform Act, signed by Gov. Jon Corzine on May 7, 2009, created the position and fundamentally changed the way cleanups are done. LSRPs follow all state regulations involving cleanups.
The DEP phased in the program, but since May 2012, the hundreds of LSRPs in the state have been responsible for initiating and completing most remediation projects. Now businesses, developers and municipal officials must hire a LSRP when undertaking a remediation project, cleaning up a discharge, closing a regulated storage tank, filing a deed notice regarding a declaration of environmental restrictions, or selling or closing a business and complying with the Industrial Site Recovery Act (ISRA). The increasing emphasis on reclaiming Brownfield sites has made the LSRP program even more vital in ensuring that remediation and redevelopment can be done as quickly and safely as possible.
As of last October, there were 579 LSRPs licensed in the state. They were responsible for about three quarters of nearly 14,000 cases pending in the DEP’s Site Remediation Program, state data shows.
LSRPs must stay current in their fields by fulfilling continuing education requirements – 36 hours for every licensing period – and being re-licensed every three years. The law created a state Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board to certify the professionals and investigate any complaints brought against LSRPs. According to its website (www.nj.gov/lsrpboard/index.html), the board has so far audited 144 professionals and handled 17 complaints, only four of which did not result in a withdrawal or dismissal of a complaint.
“We have to abide by a strict code of conduct,” says Dan Toder, a vice president at Hatch Mott MacDonald and the chair of the continuing education committee of the New Jersey Licensed Site Remediation Professionals Association (LSRPA).
DEP officials continue to have a role in site remediation. LSRPs must submit documents for review to the state throughout the cleanup process so officials can pick up any problems that might arise. The state audits 10 percent of the professionals each year.
While the remedial process has been streamlined, that has not detracted from what both state officials and the professionals themselves consider to be their most important mission: the protection of the environment and the health and safety of the public.
DEP rules set up very specific requirements (at NJSA 58:10b-1.3, www.nj.gov/dep/srp/srra/njsa58_10b_1_3.htm) for the remediation of a hazardous discharge. The very first of these is that anyone who begins a contaminated site cleanup must hire a LSRP to do the work, and the second is to tell the DEP the name and license information of the LSRP who was hired.
The other rules companies and LSRPs must adhere to include:
The regulations that give LSRPs oversight over most cleanups have helped speed the clean up process. Under the former system, there was a lot of back and forth, typically in the form of letters, between DEP officials and a property owner over what needed to be done and what was being done and why, and there was a need for the state to sign off at certain points. Today, the LSRP has the authority to move forward with a remediation, touching base with DEP officials when necessary, but eliminating a lot of the tedious back and forth that used to hold up work.
“It was not unusual for cleanups to go on for 5 or 10 years,” says Steve Posten, a vice president at AMEC Foster Wheeler and current president of the state LSRPA. “There were so many active cases, that many got backlogged. … There was a recognition [by the DEP] that there had to be a better way. It decided to let licensed professionals, who have the education and experience, do the work. The DEP would monitor them … It’s gone very well.”
The numbers tell the story: Last October, 144 new LSRP cases were initiated and 141 cases were closed, according to DEP statistics. The department received 57 applications for permits and issued 55. On average, it takes about 26 days for an LSRP submission to be deemed administratively complete and then some 63 days for the DEP to process it.
Mark Pedersen, state assistant commissioner of the DEP’s Site Remediation Program, lauded the success of the LSRP program as he addressed the LSRPA’s annual meeting last January. He recited a number of statistics:
“For the first time, I see the backlog going down; for the first time, we are getting ahead of what’s coming in,” Pedersen said. “You are the ones doing the work. It’s working,” he told the audience.
Posten agreed: “I think it’s a fantastic record.”