By Steve Dwyer
The Partnership’s Fall 2021 Annual Meeting saw outgoing President Ernie Rossano stating that “this is the last time I get to do this.” One centerpiece item on the meeting’s agenda was the pending legislation regarding the continuation of the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program —plus Partnership efforts to support the environmental section of New York state bar association on the continuation and improvement of the current BCP legislation.
One meeting highlight was recognizing David J. Freeman, Esq., Gibbons P. C., as the 2021 NYCBP Distinguished Service Award recipient. Freeman told the group: “I’ve enjoyed very much working with all of you, and I’ve enjoyed learning from you and your camaraderie. Last but not least, I have enjoyed the enrichment of the [Partnership] programming, because, we do very important programming that allows all of us to understand better the very complex area that we’re practicing in.”
Freeman has worked over several decades to represent buyers, sellers and developers of contaminated properties as well as both plaintiffs and defendants on Superfund sites. He was recently responsible for the formation of the New York State Bar Association’s environmental law section of the Federal Environmental Policy Task Force.
What follows are some of the pertinent meeting highlights:
Championing Minority & Women Business Development. In addition to noting that the Partnership’s 2022 Executive Team members are all women who have risen through the Partnership’s committee structure, Kevin McCarty, with GEI Consultants, said that “one thing the Partnership has been involved in since its inception is working very closely with the City of New York. And one of the goals is to award a significant increase of contracting opportunities [in the billions of dollars] to MWBE [Minority & Women Business Development] by the year 2025, which is pretty much right around the corner. Our opportunity is to try to take the Partnership ‘vehicle’, the exposure and the connections, and expand our knowledge and understanding of how to work within the city system, so we can bring in opportunity for smaller minority and woman-owned business firms.”
McCarty said this would be “a big lift.” Creating connections via community-based organizations in something the Partnership is seeking to cultivate as much as we can. The goal will be to identify and bring in smaller firms that don’t have the same level of marketing and business development departments [that the Partnership larger-size members have]. “Contracting is a complicated effort for those of us that do it a lot.” He added that one achievement would be to expand on the Partnership’s pro bono counseling effort.
Pro bono counseling initiative. Gary Rozmus, also with GEI Consultants, shed light on the Partnership’s pro bono committee, where the goal is providing free assistance of up to five hours of brownfield-related consultation. “We stand ready to assist people in answering these questions. Part of what we do is to provide and refresh a referral list, maintaining this list of people who are willing to provide pro bono services. And, set up a waiver that insulates the committee from issues surrounding liability. We don’t provide written documentation but meet and listen to people, perhaps review reports they might have and then we'll give them verbal guidance and advice.”
Often, the process simply means offering consultation on the phone for those seeking counsel, and explaining certain aspects of the brownfield cleanup program—how to navigate the program and the differences and interactions between the City and State programs.
To generate more involvement and beef up the referral list, Rozmus encourages people to email him to express interest email@example.com.
Social media. New board member Mari Cate Conlon said that 2021 was “another really strong year with the expansion of social media. It’s great to see that we’re continuing on a path of strengthening this presence,” which prior to 2020 had needed to be capitalized upon. The result has been doubling the number of followers on LinkedIn from this time last year, with most of the followers [about 75%] located in the New York City area. “We have also reach with Philadelphia, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, the greater Boston area and Maryland.”
The committee is making a concerted effort to post relevant information on various brownfield-related trends and developments that occur on a regular basis. “We continue to work hard on our LinkedIn presence, and are looking to increase our marketing efforts in the next year. I think that a lot is probably going to come from the outreach we do on social media.”
Evolution of NYC/NYS cleanup program. Freeman made a compelling point when he said: “I have seen the NYC brownfield cleanup program grow from a dream in [Dr.] Dan Walsh’s eye to the vibrant and important organization that it is today.” (Walsh was founding Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation, the nation’s first municipal brownfield cleanup program.)
“It’s really quite important for people, particularly new people, to understand the background and the context because this is all part of an overall continuing saga of brownfields development in New York,” he said.
Freeman spoke about the studies that have been executed over time and prepared by the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate—done with funding by the Partnership. The third study in the series was completed recently. Citing two earlier studies—one tracing back to 2012 and another to 2015—saw each result in a “snapshot of where brownfields in New York are. The Partnership funded studies are the only actual tracking of the progress of this program over time,” says Freeman. “There’s very little independent evaluation of whether it’s working. It’s important, obviously, for all of us and our clients but it’s also important when we go to the legislature to extend and improve the program.”
That’s because the State legislature will inevitably ask, “‘well, how do we know it’s working?’ All we have are the stories about major developments that received a significant level of brownfield credits which generated an even more significant level of investment. “You have to fight people’s biases, and you only can fight them with data. These studies have really been important in the Brownfield redevelopment realm.” Freeman believes one of the most significant things that the Partnership has done has been putting funding dollars behind these results-driven studies.
Renewal of the BCP would, in the short term, extend the deadlines for both entry into the program and for securing tax credits: Currently, sites have to be accepted by December 31, 2022. The proposed bill would extend this for 10 years, to December 2032, and would extend the time for an applicant to obtain their COC from March 2026 to December 2036. An applicant would add an additional five years to claim tangibles from 10 to 15 years after the [certificate of completion] COC is issued.
The legislation would also extend the BCP to what Freeman called “very important additional areas, including environmental justice. This would be a significant expansion of the number of sites to now qualify for benefits, and would expand the ability for brownfield opportunity area (BOA) sites to qualify for credits. Additionally, it would increase incentives for renewable energy, “which is crucial now,” he said.
Freeman also broached the topic of “underutilized sites.” The Partnership has “fought for two years over what constitutes an “underutilized site.” Defining what those sites are is “almost impossible to follow,” says Freeman. “I think only three sites in the last six years, in the entire five boroughs, qualified as ‘underutilized.’ So we would expand the definition to [include] what we think the legislature probably intended.”