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Public-Private Vision Drives Pa. Multi-Faceted Destination

By Brett Cox , John Lushis

The 1,600-acre Bethlehem Steel site in Bethlehem, Penn. is to the brownfields industry what the Drake Oil well in Titusville, Penn. is to the oil industry.

The Bethlehem Steel site story is one of firsts, firsts that have impacted the region, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the nation and the brownfields movement. It supports thousands of jobs with multiple uses from light industry, warehousing, transportation, entertainment, and retail. It has attracted more than a billion dollars in investment, becoming an anchor of economic development and optimism for the Lehigh Valley Region.

It also has generated very substantial tax revenues. Moreover, the regulatory framework and technical approaches derived from this project are foundational to the success of current brownfield projects.

In 1994, when Bethlehem Steel commenced the redevelopment of the site, the legal, technical and economic frameworks for brownfields redevelopment did not exist. The status quo was a headwind to such projects. The project team had to develop the framework for the project to succeed economically while protecting human health and the environment.

The success of the redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site—which today is a multi-faceted combination of retail, casino, hotel, performing arts, warehousing, rail/truck intermodal, light industrial and public spaces—is as much about the diverse project team and what they accomplished for the brownfields movement, as it is about the site itself. The project started as a vision of Bethlehem Steel's executive leadership, who wanted to ensure that the Corporation left a positive legacy at its flagship location.

Bethlehem Steel reached out to myriad of stakeholders who proved to be critical to the success of the project, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Bethlehem and the Federal government.

The first-of-its-kind collaborative team was formed to address the seemingly overwhelming environmental challenges. The team included the US EPA and PADEP, Bethlehem's Steel's environmental and legal staff and outside consultants. The team's purpose was clear—to facilitate redevelopment while protecting human health and the environment.

From a regulatory perspective, the team worked closely with the Pennsylvania legislature to support the development of Pennsylvania's Act 2 brownfields law (1995), the first of-its-kind in the nation and the model for similar laws in other states.

As a result, some of the liability and economic barriers to redevelopment were reduced. In addition, due in part to the project team's contributions, the Act 2 regulations and technical guidance manual that were established created a framework for the development of scientific, engineering and institutional based approaches to address human health and environmental challenges.

As approaches were developed, they were often incorporated into the Act 2 technical guidance for use on other projects. The project team was at the forefront of developing and employing innovative approaches, such as engineering and institutional controls that are commonly crucial to successful brownfields projects today.

In addition, because of the participation of US EPA, an "outside-in" approach was developed to address RCRA challenges. This was crucial given that the site had over 140 Solid Waste Management Units.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

This approach was subsequently refined into the EPA's Environmental Indicator approach, now used by the EPA on most RCRA sites. Additionally, due EPA's confidence in the Act 2 program, and PADEPs regulators, EPA issued the first-of-its-kind Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allows RCRA requirements to be addressed via the ACT 2 program.

This MOU streamlined administrative and reporting aspects while providing investors and lenders with more comfort. As a result, the site now enjoys the benefit of releases of liability both under federal and state laws.

While the success of brownfields projects are measured on a "before and after" basis, the success of the Bethlehem Steel site stands out as a pivotal "before and after" illustration for the entire brownfields movement.

Brett Cox is Practice Leader/Senior Client Service Manager for TRC, Lowell, Mass., an engineering, environmental consulting and construction management firm, John Lushis is an attorney with Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, a mid-sized, regional law firm that serves the legal needs of businesses and families in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

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