March 15, 2011

Barry from Granite Falls, Minnesota asks the following question:

Question: I read an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune where you were quoted as to the use of the “contamination tax” to clean up old sites. In my business I plotted the location of rural roads and bridges and often found the need to avoid old town, city and rural dump sites. These sites were often man made or natural depressions, depleted gravel pits and sloughs were often favored. Before the 1960s these sites were collecting solids (glass, tin cans, etc.) but over time chemicals of one form or another (farm chemicals or transformers) were rumored to have ended up in these dumps. Dead men don’t talk, but these small rural dump sites had no gates or attendants posted in those days.

Many of these sites are located near the edge of town. How can they be identified, appraised and cleaned up? Our grand and great-grandchildren expect us to clean up after ourselves. Is there any chance these sites could be redeveloped? Many are paying very low taxes and with redevelopment there is great potential for jobs, and expanded tax base. Could the “contamination tax” help with reuse or cleanup of these dump sites?

Response: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and question. Although we do not have an attorney client relationship, I am happy to respond to your question in a general way. As explained below in our disclaimer, we do not represent anyone who contacts this website or responds to this blog.

You are very correct to observe that past practices permitted dumping and that are many old dumps across the State of Minnesota in urban and rural areas.

Since you are from Granite Falls, Minnesota I will answer your question based on Minnesota law. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began permitting dumps in the late 1970s. These permitted dumps took large quantities of waste and their location and use is fairly well known. Before that time, there were hundreds perhaps thousands of dumps across the state. In many cases waste that was dumped was burned. In other instances, discarded materials were buried. The MPCA and some counties have conducted inventories of old dumps. Some of these sites have been identified but, as you note, due to the passage of time and fading memories many dumps have been covered or built over. You can learn more about the location of landfills and dumps on the MPCA’s website including the assessment study of old dumps. Here is a link:http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/waste/waste-and-cleanup/cleanup-programs-and-topics/cleanup-programs/landfills-and-dumps/landfills/dumps-in-minnesota.html

If environmental investigations are completed on a specific piece of property, the past use of a site as a dump may be revealed. A dump of any kind may contain materials that could impact groundwater. Obviously building a structure over a dump may raise concerns about the suitability and load bearing capacity of the underlying materials. Testing on a site may reveal dumped materials and groundwater contamination. As precipitation filters through the soil, it is possible that dumped materials may break down or leach chemicals into nearby groundwater. This contaminated groundwater could flow off-site and impact drinking water wells. There could be additional concerns about vapor migration that could affect structures on the site or nearby. If a site is going to be redeveloped, it may qualify for a cleanup grant administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) or other agency. After a problem is discovered, it may be possible for a property owner to also avail themselves of the contamination tax and receive a reduction in the amount of property tax paid. If a cleanup plan is approved by the MPCA, a further reduction in property taxes is available for the duration of the cleanup.

As was mentioned in the article in the February 27, 2011 Minneapolis Star Tribune, there are many thousands of sites where cleanups have occurred and many more where past use and disposal of materials – in a dump or otherwise – still needs to be addressed. To see the newspaper story, please see: http://www.startribune.com/business/116954893.html. Because the cost of investigating and cleaning up a dump site can be quite large, local economic development agencies are often involved in the seeking the cleanup grants. I am not aware of specific activity in Granite Falls. You may want to contact local officials who may be interested in working on that issue. By the way, the DEED grant monies are available for use on old and abandoned industrial sites as well.

Thanks for your inquiry. I hope this information is responsive to your questions. If you are involved with the pre-purchase investigation of a site or live near a site that was used as a dump, you should consider consulting a qualified attorney to discuss environmental liability concerns that may arise. At Hessian & McKasy’s Environmental Law Attorney Practice Group we offer innovative legal services packages to our clients. For more information about these services, please see:http://www.enviroattorney.net/sample-price-list.php.

The views contained within this entry and on this website are my own and do not constitute those of Hessian & McKasy, a Professional Association.

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