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Greenbelt Bank Meeting, December 7

A presentation on environmental liability
Approving the Application form for Grants
Warwick Jones

Covering today's meeting of the Greenbelt Bank (GB) board is a challenge. The first part of the meeting was a presentation on Environmental Liability by a legal expert, and was largely over our head. The remainder of the meeting was a discussion of the Application Form for rural grants. And although scrutiny and comments were appropriate and necessary, they don't make thrilling copy.

"All Appropriate Inquiry" to limit liability for new buyers of contaminated sites
The contents of the presentation "Environmental Law and the new AA" were new to us, though not to some members who had the advantage of being lawyers or bankers. The presentation was given by a member of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough and who is an expert in these matters. We understand that Federal regulations relating to contaminated sites have created difficulties for would-be-purchasers of land in that the liability could be both unknown and onerous. To clarify and ease the situation, the EPA has introduced new regulations that apply from the beginning of last month and which introduces "All Appropriate Inquiry" (AAI). The legislation defines AAI and the experience and qualification of those who conduct the Inquiry.

Bona fide prospective purchasers who buy property after January 11 2002 who perform All Appropriate Inquiry prior to purchase of contaminated property may buy knowing, or having reason to know, of contamination on the property and still enjoy the limitation of liability provided by the new definition. N, M, R & S.

And what is an AAI? All AAI's must include an opinion not only about whether the inquiry has identified conditions indicative of releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances but also on opinion about the date gaps in the inquiry and the effect of such gaps on the assessment. N, M, R & S.

From question and comments, it is likely that applicants for Greenbelt Funds will need to have an AAI. And a rough estimate of the cost is about $4,000. Further, under the new rules and regulations, new owners of contaminated property will need to do certain things including taking "reasonable steps" in regards to hazardous substances. As the attorney said, "reasonable steps" have not been defined and it will be up to the courts to do so.

Application form approved with few changes
The application form, to be used for Rural Grants, was approved with few changes. It was created by Staff who drew heavily on the application form used by the SC Conservation Bank, and recommendations of the Greenbelt Advisory Committee. The ordinance that created the Greenbelt Bank was also used but this was shaped also from the SC Conservation Bank. The result was a lengthy application form, and as Chairman Cooper suggested, applications in their final form will be very weighty.

The Chairman (who was a member of the GAB) also noted that the GAB had discussed at length what could be financed by greenbelt funds. Funds needed to be directed largely to land purchases or easements. Acceptable "ancillary expenditures" therefore had been closely defined. He also noted the high score that had been given to "leverage" in the prioritization criteria. The GAB had been mindful of the limited funds available and looked also to other sources for funding.

There was also some discussion as to who could be an applicant - should it be only a conservation group or could it include individuals? Yes, it could include individuals, but we suspect applications will be predominantly from conservation groups.

Staff would look at all applications and make the first evaluation and scoring. The applications would then go to the GB board which would make its own assessment though presumably with input from staff. Staff had originally proposed that applications be submitted within a definite time frame - January 15 to March 30, 2007 for the first batch. But members disagreed and opted for no defined period.

The next meeting of the Board, on January 4, 2007, should be very full. Members of Conservation Groups will be presenting and commenting on the application process. As well, a member of the SC Conservation Bank is due to also speak.

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