As the primary author of the VAP Study, I have the dubious honor of reducing thousands of pages of data and documentation into a five-minute statement.
The consensus of all stakeholders is that the VAP is broken. But why? It is because this living and breathing program must serve three masters—economic redevelopment, job creation, and to protect the public’s health and the environment. It is also trying to serve three very diverse interest groups: industry, government, and environmentalists. Imagine trying to serve three different bosses, or make three different husbands or wives happy.
During the course of the study, we found sites that made us question whether a good balance was struck among the three masters. I want to highlight two particular sites that complied with the law and administrative rules of the VAP to obtain Covenants:
The Northcliff Shopping Center site, in Brooklyn, had soil and groundwater contamination problems. The Deaconess Hospital is on the northern property boundary, and a residential area is on the western border. Concrete, landscaping, and fences were used to limit human exposure to lead and super-volatile organic compounds. A deed restriction prohibits single family residences on the site. We found no evidence that offsite contamination was investigated at the hospital and the neighboring homes. The site chose to cover up the contamination, rather than clean it up. A Covenant was issued in December 1996.
The Highland Ridge Shopping Plaza, in Cincinnati, had soil contamination problems. The contamination was so pervasive that construction workers were given a written advisory of potential cancer risks associated with exposure to the soil. Additional soil and a paved parking lot were used to limit human exposure to the contamination. Again, investigation of offsite contamination was not found. The contamination was covered up, not cleaned up. A Covenant was granted in December 1998.
We know the VAP is broken. Let me provide you with some key details from our study:
- The VAP does not meet US EPA criteria for brownfields redevelopment programs.
- Based on information from former Governor Voinovich’s 1998 VAP report, $5.8 million in outstanding public grants, loans, and tax incentives was awarded to sites that have not yet completed the VAP process.
- $29,242,669.21 in tax credit authority was lost on July 1, 1999 because it expired. Imagine what environmental justice communities could have done with that money to clean up and revitalize contaminated industrial sites in their neighborhoods.
- Fifty percent of the 57 sites granted Covenants had errors and deficiencies in their investigations.
Based on our findings and a review of the 11 sites that have entered the program, the Green Environmental Coalition has the following recommendations for VAP reform:
1) Eliminate the secrecy provisions of the VAP and directly
involve the Ohio EPA in cleanups so the federal government approves the
2) Train and test the professionals that work with the VAP.
3) Ensure that financial incentives are limited to those sites that need it most. End corporate welfare and make Environmental Justice a key component of the program.
4) Enforce the law where offsite contamination has occurred. The state cannot continue to trample on private property rights by allowing polluters to contaminate their neighbors' homes with impunity.
5) Increase resources of Ohio EPA so they can do their job.
The findings and recommendations from this study are intended to be used by the General Assembly, Ohio EPA, and other stakeholders to truly reform the VAP. The need for reforms is quite real for the next two persons, who have immediate economic and public health/environmental concerns.