ENVIRONMENTAL SITE ASSESSMENTS
Potential liability concerns related to environmental hazards have impacted many business transactions. Due to these liability issues, environmental assessments and audits have become a necessity in commercial property transactions and zoning issues in order to evaluate potential environmental concerns. Real estate developers are being asked to provide environmental assessments to lending institutions to ensure that they are not incurring unwanted liability.
ENW’s Environmental Assessment Division has performed numerous Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments to ASTM standards on commercial, industrial, undeveloped, and residential real estate properties throughout Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho.
Real Estate Transaction Screens adhere to the American Society of Testing & Material (ASTM) Standard ASTM E-1528 (the industry standard). While these screens are limited in nature and no longer meet the regulations required for the "innocent landowner's defense", some lending institutions still use these reports to assess environmental risk for a low-risk property prior to underwriting a loan. Although Transaction Screens are similar to Phase I ESAs, they involve a much limited scope of historical research at a lower cost. While a Transaction Screen should not be used in place of a Phase I ESA, it may be a very useful tool in providing some environmental protection on properties where no environmental assessment would otherwise be performed.
Phase I ESAs are completed to satisfy the requirements of the Innocent Landowner Defense to liability imposed by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and are generally completed for businesses which are involved in the sale, purchase or lease of industrial, commercial and agricultural properties. Phase I ESAs often also are required by lenders in order to assure that properties do not possess environmental conditions that could diminish the value of the property, the ability of the borrower to repay, or to establish baselines to allocate responsibility for clean-up costs.
CERCLA requires that "appropriate inquiry" be completed to invoke a defense to liability. The statute states, "to establish that the defendant had no reason to know ['that any hazardous substance that is the subject of a release or threatened release was disposed of on, in or at the facility'] the defendant must have undertaken, at the time of acquisition, all appropriate inquiry into the previous ownership and uses of the property consistent with good commercial or customary practice in an effort to minimize liability. . ." A Phase I ESA (as described in the ASTM E 1527 Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process) is designed to meet the CERCLA threshold for due diligence. Therefore, Phase I ESAs are completed for over 500,000 commercial, industrial, and agricultural property transactions per year in the United States.
ENW utilizes a number of controls to ensure that Phase I ESAs are completed in a uniform and professional manner. ENW Phase I ESAs are completed using the ASTM E 1527 Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process.
Phase II ESAs work involves collecting additional data from a site where recognized environmental condition(s) were identified in the Phase I ESA that poses a potential environmental risk or liability. Phase II ESA work is specific to the problem identified and can vary considerably. The objective is to determine if existing site conditions require further environmental action such as remediation, monitoring or further assessment.
Proposed Hospital Facility Clark County, Washington
ENW performed a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment investigation for the proposed hospital facility in Washington. The investigation included backhoe investigation, soil sampling, and other historical artifact assessment.
Oregon Health & Sciences University Portland, Oregon
In preparation for the demolition of existing hospital facilities and construction of new medical facilities, ENW performed Phase I Site Assessments for two areas of the OHSU campus in Portland, Oregon.
Former Tire Facility Mid-Willamette Valley, Oregon
ENW was hired by a national commercial auto parts chain to perform both Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments for a former tire and automobile service/repair facility partially demolished by fire. The site had a previously documented release from a hydraulic lift system that was located in the fire-damaged structure of the site. After the Phase I assessment, ENW performed a geophysical survey to identify any remaining artifacts of potential environmental concern below the site, and conducted sampling of soil and ground water in test pits excavated at the property.
Convent Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon
A large convent was redeveloped to incorporate a new Senior’s residential complex. The Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments identified a former dumpsite and several UST locations with associated petroleum releases. One of the releases included bunker fuel from a tank associated with a boiler building, submerged below the water table. The tank was decommissioned and the site was granted regulatory closure.