2005 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 4 Jan 2005 21:56:20 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Base Closure Environmental Assessment
Center for Public Environmental Oversight
January, 2005

In preparation for the upcoming 2005 round of military base closures,
the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) convening a series
of Roundtable discussions to discuss the lessons learned from previous
rounds about the cleanup, transfer, and reuse of closing installations.
CPEO organized the Roundtables because there is a general sense, among
experts from all stakeholder groups, that the process is long and
cumbersome, yet it still fails to meet all necessary objectives. This
paper is based upon Roundtable discussions held in late 2003 and early
2004. Please note that it is CPEO's interpretation of those discussions,
not a consensus report of the people who took part. We offer it to
stimulate discussion among policy-makers responsible for the cleanup and
disposition of closing bases, no matter which entities end up taking
responsibility for preparing properties for reuse.

At closing military bases, the standards for site characterization form
the foundation for cleanup, transfer, and reuse. Many Roundtable
participants believe these standards are not sufficient. We believe it
is possible to create a new, interactive standard that serves the
interests of all stakeholder groups that will be involved in the next
round of military base conversions.

Site characterization lays the foundation for:

1. protecting public health and the environment 
2. projecting Defense Department budgetary requirements
3. estimating non-Defense financial requirements
4. determining the legal suitability for transfer
5. negotiating early transfer and fixed-price cleanup contracts
6. determining or adjusting future land use

Within the base closure process, the Environmental Baseline Survey (EBS)
required by the Comprehensive Environmental Response Facilitation Act
(CERFA) is the principal site characterization tool. There may be
facilities where the EBS goes beyond the statutory floor, but generally
EBS documents have not served their purposes well. Particularly at large
or complex facilities, the EBS provides incomplete information that does
not adequately support the above objectives.

For example, in the absence of an acknowledged regulatory driver, the
military contends that it is not required to conduct sampling. In most
cases, the Defense Department does not sample for perchlorate except in
limited circumstances, because there is not yet a promulgated cleanup
standard for perchlorate in groundwater. Thus, the typical EBS contains
no information about perchlorate releases. 

The EBS tool was not developed for the complexities of the military base
closure process. Instead, it's based on ASTM's 1527 standard for Phase
One site assessments. The primary purpose of the ASTM standard is to
bolster the liability defense of prospective purchasers in private
property transactions. That is, the party that conducts a Phase One
hopes to conclude, "I looked, using reasonable methods, and I didn't
find anything." 

The EBS has a number of shortcomings. It does not say what to do if
there is not enough data to determine whether there is contamination. It
does not call for sampling. It does not require a complete operational
history. It only applies to hazardous substances, as defined by CERCLA
(the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act), and petroleum products. And there is no requirement that the
Defense component (armed service or Defense agency) performing the EBS
consult with the surrounding community or potential property transferee.

Furthermore, under the EBS standard, the examination of contamination
source areas stops at the property fenceline. This has created confusion
and inefficiencies at closing bases where similar problems exist on
portions of the facility closed earlier-parcels now categorized as
Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS). Those are either addressed under an
entirely different remediation program or even worse, ignored.

Incomplete site characterization generally costs time and money because
it is difficult to coordinate reuse planning and cleanup without a clear
picture of contamination. Moreover, when new contamination or pathways
are discovered after redevelopment occurs, cleanup is even more
expensive, inviting battles over responsibility and liability. The
unresolved issue of asbestos at the former Lowry Air Force Base is a
case in point.

The EBS is not the only game in town, however. Unlike the situation
during early base closure rounds, most contaminated military properties
have undergone detailed characterization under CERCLA or the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act's Corrective Action provisions. Those
investigations tend to be more complete, and they have generally been
conducted with some level of community oversight. Still, they often do
not address all forms of environmental contamination that may be found
at military bases, such as unexploded ordnance, depleted uranium,
mercury, arsenic, and asbestos. Furthermore, most have been conducted
with the assumption that the military use of the property will continue
indefinitely. Such studies generally do not provide adequate
facility-wide data to support major changes of use.

In view of these shortcomings, we propose the creation of a new Base
Closure Environmental Assessment (BCEA) standard. While it may be more
costly than the EBS in the short run, it should save time and money in
the long run. In fact, if constructed carefully, the BCEA could benefit
all parties because a more thorough assessment would reduce the
uncertainty about the extent and severity of site contamination .
Environmental problems are the major source of delay in property
conversion, and such delays create substantial costs for both the
military and transferees. 

We suggest that the BCEA consist of two stages, both of which should be
conducted by the original owner-that is, the Defense component.

Stage One

Stage One would begin with a scoping exercise, in which members of the
surrounding community, the appropriate planning jurisdiction, and if
identifiable, likely transferees, if known, would be asked to propose
general land use alternatives for the closing bases. For example, a
community representative might suggest: "Half the property should be
redeveloped as housing, with another quarter as recreational open
space." The combined suggestions from participants should help structure
the first stage of the Base Closure Environmental Assessment; the
assessment would attempt to determine if and how the land use objectives
might be achieved through characterization and remediation.

It's important, however, not to let land use assumptions or predictions
stand in the way of fundamental site characterization. Often soil
contamination must be investigated and possibly remediated, not because
of pathways associated with land use, but because it serves as a
continuing source of groundwater pollution. That is, land use
projections may influence characterization, but there are essential
minimum steps that should be taken to assess property regardless of its
eventual use. 

We believe that the BCEA, like EPA's Consensus Proposed Rule on All
Appropriate Inquiry, should be performance-based. This draft Rule,
called for by the new Brownfields law, will supplant the ASTM Phase One.
(ASTM and U.S. EPA are taking steps to harmonize ASTM's more detailed
guidance with EPA's draft Rule.) That is, the BCEA might list essential
data collection methods, but the principal measure of the Assessment
would be whether it has fulfilled the objectives defined for the
process-that is, establishing a complete operational history and
determining whether any contaminants are likely to have been released.
If the investigation answers questions quickly, then less work is
required. If the data gaps are difficult to resolve, further research
will be necessary.

First and foremost, the Assessment must compile a complete operational
history for the facility, with a standard BCEA template outlining the
types of information required. This history is essential to evaluate the
likelihood of releases of hazardous substances or petroleum products, as
well as the presence of other environmental conditions. For example,
were radioactive planes or ships washed down on the property? Is there a
record of munitions disposal practices? Where were industrial wastes
dumped fifty years ago? When were the walls painted? Were depleted
uranium weapons fired at the facility? What other agencies or private
organizations used the property? If the operational history is
incomplete, then a higher level of sampling will be necessary to
complete the BCEA.

Classified information poses a particular problem. There are numerous
sites across the country where Defense Department cleanup teams were (or
may still be) unaware of past classified activity at the installations
they were investigating. Most, but not all, of these involved
radioactive substances. There are procedures for clearing people so they
can review known classified records, but there is no process in place to
let current staff know that those records exist in the first place. To
overcome this obstacle, the Armed Services could conduct systematic
reviews of past classified programs with potential environmental
impacts. This is what the Air Force is doing at airfields where planes
that flew through nuclear test clouds were based. Or, the government
could make it clear to retired personnel that they would not be
violating their security oaths if they came forward with environmental
information associated with programs that were classified several
decades ago.

Second, the Assessment should consider the impact of potential changes
of use on the need for cleanup or other environmental activities. Will
post-transfer standards for lead paint exposure be more stringent than
the military's? If a runway or parking lot is removed, will people be
exposed to residual contamination? It is important that potential
transferees receive this information as early as possible, so they may
weigh such requirements as they draw their reuse maps. It's also
necessary to meet the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP)
Management Guidance mandate that feasibility studies evaluate remedial
alternatives that do not require institutional controls-that is, for
unlimited access and unrestricted use.

Unlike the ASTM Phase One or EPA's proposed All Appropriate Inquiry
standards, the BCEA would be conducted by the current owner of the
property. Thus, it's possible to better link the proposed Stage One to
future investigations. In particular, should site research run up
against data gaps that would prevent those conducting the study from
identifying potential environmental conditions, they should either
conduct intrusive sampling as part of the Stage One study or recommend a
sampling plan for Stage Two. However, requiring the Defense component to
conduct such investigations should not preclude complementary studies by
potential transferees. 

Stage Two

Before formally launching Stage Two field planning, the Defense
component owning the property should once again consult with the
transferee/potential transferee and the public. This time they should be
asked, what are specific land use plan options rather than just land use
visions as determined in Stage One? The transferee should come to the
table with not just one map, but a mix of possible plans so that
additional sampling, including soil and water sampling, can determine
how future use might be influenced by the environmental condition of the
land, water, and improvements. The transferee is not obligated to plan
reuse to match the easiest or cheapest remedial alternative, but there
are likely to be situations in which the transferee can achieve its
objectives more rapidly if it considers the environmental challenges up
front. That is, if two land use scenarios provide the same use options
in different locations, but one is simpler environmentally, the
transferee, as well as the military, might benefit from such a simpler
choice. Still the sampling should be extensive enough to meet the DERP
requirement of weighing the potential for cleanup allowing unlimited
access and unrestricted use.

In the current process, the Defense Department's Office of Economic
Adjustment funds non-federal transferees to conduct land use planning.
It may actually save Defense money in the long run if that authority
were expanded to fund transferees' limited independent environmental
investigations to support that land use planning. In the absence of
independent data, the local reuse authority or its counterpart is likely
to be reluctant to reach practical compromises, for fear that it will be
saddled with significant environmental liabilities.

A Stage Two BCEA is likely to be comparable to ASTM's Phase Two site
assessment, which is typically required for property purchases where
there are indications of environmental contamination. The Stage Two
assessment may use CERCLA characterization studies as a starting point,
but it should be recognized that the CERCLA documents may have missed
non-CERCLA environmental conditions or failed to consider potential
changes of use. Stage Two, therefore, should evaluate human health or
ecological health risk based upon all contaminants and unrestricted land

We are not suggesting, however, that a lengthy, voluminous quantitative
risk assessment, as is normally conducted in support of remedy
selection, is necessary. A shorter, quicker, qualitative risk evaluation
should be sufficient to support property transfer. Still, since
groundwater is often at risk, the investigation should be robust enough
to determine whether long-term remediation is likely to be necessary,
without determining the nature and extent of the remedies. 

In other words, the two-fold purpose of Stage Two is to map the
contamination or other environmental conditions on the property, and
then to describe the relationship of those conditions to potential land
use scenarios. If possible, Stage Two results should provide the basis
for realistic cost estimates, estimates which can be compared against
funding allocation requests.

Cooperative Approach

To be successful at most sites, including those that are large,
seriously contaminated, and complex, both stages of the assessment
should be conducted cooperatively. That is, all parties-not just the
military but regulatory agencies, transferees, future developers, and
the affected public-should work together from the beginning to maximize
the likelihood that the results will have credibility and impact. 

In the absence of a cooperative process, it is likely that the Defense
component will not adequately address the concerns or proposals of the
transferees and neighbors, and that it will not find widespread support
for its assessment findings. In past base closure rounds, this was all
too often the case. The other parties have been driven to conduct their
own, complete, independent assessments, duplicating the expenditure of
resources and inviting more confrontation down the line. Limited
redundancy may be necessary, but the assessment will be more
comprehensive, more reliable, and more acceptable-by all parties-if
conducted cooperatively.

In general, there are two cooperative models, scoping and partnership,
that can either be implemented independently or together

1) Scoping. Before both stages the Component conducting the assessment
should seek external comment from the other parties. The steps entailed
in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) may serve as a model for
this approach. Under NEPA, the agency conducting an environmental review
may hold a public scoping meeting-and otherwise seek comment-before
undertaking its studies. This notifies the other parties what is likely
to happen, and it gives them an opportunity to have input into the
process from the beginning. The results of Stage One would be offered
for public comment, like a draft Environmental Assessment or draft
Environmental Impact Statement under NEPA, before Stage Two begins.

2) Partnership. If possible, the BCEA should draw upon the success of
the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Cleanup Teams (BCTs), in which
the Defense component, Regulatory Agencies, and often the transferee
(local reuse authority or other federal agency) work in partnership to
develop plans for characterization and cleanup. President Clinton
established BCTs as part of his 1993 Five-Point Plan for base
revitalization, and more often than not they significantly improve the
process for all parties. That is, if a BCT works well, it does not
necessarily eliminate differences, but it establishes an environment
where they can be resolved. 

Of course, for the BCT approach to work, participants must have the
attitude, resources, training, time, and on-site authority to perform
their respective functions. That is, it is generally preferable, but it
might not work in all situations.

In conclusion, the proposed Base Closure Environmental Assessment will
cost more money than a typical Environmental Baseline Survey. But at
most closing bases, it is likely to reduce the cost of iterative
characterization, re-cleanup, and delayed reuse. Furthermore, it should
help overcome the adversarial atmosphere and consequent political
problems associated with many base closure transfers. Thus, a Base
Closure Environmental Assessment that fairly draws a complete picture of
the property early enough to enable smart, cooperative decisions may
therefore be a win-win solution.

To download a formatted version of this paper, go to


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918
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