Environmental act in need of an update: Editorial
The economic history of Connecticut can be told in its abandoned factories and crumbling downtown buildings. Once a center of American manufacturing, the state was hit harder than most by offshoring and corporate downsizing, and the shift to a service- and knowledge-based economy has left some of our once-thriving municipal centers searching for a second chance.
If a nascent plan to bring such properties back into productive use takes hold, those same properties could be the key to Connecticut’s economic future.
A working group met this past week for the first time trying to work toward that goal, with representatives from the business, real estate, legislative and environmental communities on hand with a goal of clarifying the Connecticut Property Transfer Act, which was adopted in 1985 to encourage the cleanup of environmentally challenged properties.
According to critics, the legislation is impeding economic growth and has failed to produce the desired environmental outcomes. With the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection short-staffed when it comes to clearing properties that fall under the Transfer Act, economic activity can grind to a halt over what can amount to what would otherwise be a minor environmental issue.
The properties in question are far from Superfund sites, where the worst environmental contamination prompts a response from the federal government, and they may not even qualify as brownfields, which are defined as sites that have real or perceived environmental problems that could limit their economic potential. As backers of the new process put it, properties in question under the Transfer Act may have only minor concerns that nonetheless serve to slow or transfer a sale.
Those properties are not just in cities, but could be in any town or village in the state. There is no part of Connecticut in a position to turn down economic growth, and it’s in everyone’s interest to see the Transfer Act revised for modern times.
Under current regulations, DEEP has to verify the findings of a licensed environmental professional that cleanup standards have been met for a given property before a developer can begin using it. While no one wants to see environmental standards watered down, it’s important to make clear exactly what kind of hazards are at play in a given situation. It’s not possible to eliminate all risk, and the state needs to do a better job of balancing potential danger with the benefits of new development.
Connecticut is one of only two states with a Transfer Act, and it does not make sense, as some participants have suggested, to scrap the law completely. The legacy of environmental contamination is real, and standards for waste disposal in years past are not up to current levels. We need to be sure that the places we live, work and shop are not hazardous to our health.
But there are ways to expedite the process. The working group has until Feb. 1 to make recommendations to the legislature, and what they come up with could provide a boost to towns and cities across the state.