Statement of Jack Shaner, Public Affairs Manager

January 22, 2001

Seven years ago, the General Assembly promised Ohio a brave new, voluntary clean-up program for old industrial sites:  the Voluntary Action Program. 

The year was 1994, and if ever a state needed an effective brownfield clean up program, it was Ohio.  Hundreds of sites with known or suspected contamination dotted its landscape.  At the least, they were an eyesore.  At worst, they posed potential human health threats and possible contamination of land and groundwater.  And for sure, they were strangling economic development, particularly in the inner city.

It is now 2001.  One-hundred and eleven sites have entered the VAP program at the completion of this study; only 57 have received covenants not to sue.  Meanwhile, more than 1,800 sites with known or suspected contamination dot Ohio’s landscape.  At this pace, it will take the VAP 97 years for all 1,800 sites to enter the VAP…and then, only half of them would be certified as “clean.”  And, as you are about to learn, there are serious questions as to whether “clean” really means clean.

Today, we are unveiling an exhaustive, file-by-file review of the VAP.  After today, some of the mystery and secrecy that has shrouded this program should be lifted…and its actual results unveiled.

As you are about to hear, the VAP is a failed investment. 

But, as you are also about to hear, we are here today to help reform the VAP, not simply indict it.  We are interested in finding results, not just culprits.  We want to offer solutions, not just more recriminations

We are at a critical juncture in time.  Ohio is poised to infuse $200 million in public funds into a new brownfield clean-up program.  Ohio’s leaders owe it to the state’s investors, the taxpayers, to learn what went wrong with the VAP…and how can it be salvaged.  How can we design an effective brownfield clean up program that both protects our health and environment and encourages owners of contaminated sites to voluntarily clean up and return their sites to productive use?  Taking an honest, objective look at the VAP, both its failures and its success, is a good place to start.  It’s just smart business.  And that’s what this comprehensive study does.   

We have four speakers who will make brief remarks and then take your questions.  First, we will hear from the report’s authors:  Bruce Cornett, Director of the Green Environmental Coalition, and Lisa Beams, a GEC member and most recently a captain of the U.S. Air Force.  Next we’ll hear from two citizens who live next door to contaminated sites:  Suzanne Patterson of Yellow Springs, Ohio, in Greene County whose farm straddles a plume of groundwater laced with cancer-causing chemicals from a neighboring site currently enrolled in the VAP, and Terry Malone of Alexandria, Ohio in Licking County whose property is across the road from a site where some 600-55 gallon drums of toxic solvents have just been removed from two of five suspected dump sites on that property.