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The Office of Environmental Remediation (“OER”) is part of the New York City Mayor’s Office. This team of scientists and engineers create municipal programs to addresses issues with cleanup and development of vacant, contaminated land in New York City. It has over 30 programs, including the New York City Voluntary Cleanup Program (“VCP”), which is the United States’ only municipally run land cleanup program.

OER was created in 2009 to remediate and redevelop “brownfields.” A brownfield is any real property that must be investigated or remediated. A state or federal agency must supervise or approve a brownfield’s remediation or investigation. 

The 2009 Brownfield Law

Local Law 27 of 2009 is commonly referred to as the “NYC Brownfield Law.” It created the Office of Environmental Remediation. OER is now a standing part of the city government, and it runs all of the programs associated with the NYC Brownfield Law. It also created standards by which brownfields must be cleaned and maintained. The law also specifically designed a grant program that uses tax funds to stimulate and encourage developers and others to clean and revitalized brownfield properties. 

New York’s brownfield laws run in conjunction with federal laws related to brownfields. Specifically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) Brownfield Program. This program provides federal funding and technical assistance to communities, states, tribes, and others to clean up brownfields so that they may be sustainably reused.  

What Does OER Do?

OER has many programs that focus on redevelopment and cleanup throughout New York City. Its emphasis is on transforming contaminated properties into safe places to work and live. Decreasing negative health impacts of vacant areas is high on its priority list. 

Some examples of things OER does include:

  • Run programs that encourage the revitalization of vacant land by engaging nearby communities
  • Serve environmental functions within city government
  • Create programs for redevelopment and sustainable growth throughout New York City
  • Addressing issues related to contaminated soil, groundwater, and soil vapor
  • Liability protection to property owners and developers who own or want to develop sites with moderate levels of contamination
  • Facilitate community planning where there are clusters of brownfields that should be addressed 

The OER’s programs are somewhat broad, but they all have a similar theme—encourage the cleanup of contaminated areas.

Need-to-Know OER Programs the Benefit Builders

While the goal of OER is to clean up contaminated sites, many of their programs have been specifically designed to encourage development, which, in turn, benefits builders as well. 

The Clean Soil Bank Program

Previously, clean soil that was excavated from deep, private construction projects would be shipped to New Jersey for disposal. Now, under OER’s Clean Soil Bank program, the soil is instead redirected to other construction sites right in New York City. 

Since 2013, this program has provided transportation from the dig out site to the receiving site at no cost, except the cost of physically trucking the soil from one location to another. The result has been to save a significant amount of money for both parties involved—the generator site can have their soil moved at a much cheaper cost, and the receiver site gets clean soil at no charge. 

To date, the program has included more than 90 transfers, with more than 430,000 tons of clean soil. 

The NYC Voluntary Cleanup Program

The Voluntary Cleanup Program (“VCP”) is an environmental remediation program that is run and managed by OER. It helps ensure that vacant properties with moderate contamination can be cleaned up to required New York State standards. It provides government support to encourage development. 

The VCP provides liability protection to developers who are willing to develop these vacant lots, which decreases the risk for builders. It also ensures that the State or City government will not require any additional action than what has already been done once the property is developed to remediate the lot. 

The program also has low or no-cost soil recycling, grants to offset some of the cleanup costs, waivers for certain taxes, and a formal city certification of completion that shows others that these locations are some of the safest areas of the City. Businesses and residential properties can proudly display a plaque in or on their building so that others know that their area has been successfully cleaned to meet OER’s standards. These plaques are also available to those who complete the New York States Brownfield Cleanup Program or the NYC E-Designation program as well. 

VCP was developed in 2011, and it has completed over 500 projects on over 1,200 tax lots. It is one of the most productive environmental remediation programs in the United States.

The NYC Brownfield Incentive Grant (“BIG”)

OER also has a grant program to help builders with the costs of remediation to encourage redevelopment. Both developers and property owners can take advantage of this grant. These can apply to both industrial projects and affordable housing as well. 

Jumpstart grants assist with the costs of investigating potential contamination and the cleanup costs associated with participating in the state Brownfield Cleanup Program. Pre-development grants are available to community brownfield organizations that want to redevelop vacant sites in their local neighborhoods as well. 

Asphalt Millings Bank

The NYC Asphalt Millings Bank provides asphalt that has been milled from city streets as a low-cost building material that can be used in place of sand, gravel, or stone at construction sites. They can be used for projects such as behind foundation walls or as base layers for parking lots, basements, or sidewalks. 

The program reduces waste and decreases construction costs. The only cost to those who want to use the Asphalt Millings Bank is to send their trucks to a DOT stockpile. The vehicles are then loaded by DOT personnel—the asphalt itself is free. 

New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program

The State of New York also has its own separate program dealing with brownfields. Like NYC’s program, it also encourages private-sector cleanups of brownfields to promote development and improve the environment. It attempts to remove some of the barriers to redeveloping these areas and provides tax incentives to encourage development.

To participate in the program, the parties will create and sign a Brownfield Cleanup Agreement, which states that the builder will undertake remedial activities with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s oversight. The obligations under this agreement will vary, but often involve taking proper steps to dispose of hazardous materials, waste, or other debris.

Learn More and Get Your Application Started

All of OER’s projects require an application and approval process. Approvall can help you take the first steps toward revitalizing a brownfield. Contact our team to learn how we can be an asset as you start your new build.