Environmental Consulting – Commercial Property Environmental Site Assessments

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Environmental Consulting – Commercial Property Environmental Site Assessments

Environmental Consulting – Commercial Property Environmental Site Assessments

Environmental issues can get very complicated. When checking for environmental problems, especially on commercial properties, many real estate attorneys advise their clients to have what is called a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment conducted. During a Phase I Environmental Assessment, an environmental professional will do a property search and often visit the site to check for environmental problems.

During the property search, the environmental professional will review what are called Sanborn maps. These maps are really just historical plat maps that show many of the previous owners and uses of the property. They are dated by year and can be found at the courthouse or public library. If you are reviewing a property and find potential signs of environmental contamination, or suspect the area was once used for something that could have caused environmental contamination, you should probably consult with an expert or avoid the property.

During a Phase I Environmental Assessment, environmental professionals review topographic maps, county maps, and geologic maps, as well as call state professionals familiar with the area, to learn about area groundwater, soil conditions and any nearby contaminated sites. As part of their assessment, they scan for many of the same things discussed above to determine if there is any reason to suspect the property has current environmental contamination or could become contaminated in the future.

After doing the Phase I Environmental Assessment, a report is prepared. If potential environmental problems are found, the buyer either walks away from the real estate deal or he/she may ask the owner of the property to perform a Phase II Environmental Assessment. During a Phase II Environmental Assessment, samples of soil and possibly groundwater from the site are often collected and the samples are sent to a laboratory to determine if environmental contaminants above regulatory levels are present on the property. Working as an environmental professional for over 15 years, I have personally done many Phase I and II investigations. In most cases, I have found that common sense prevails during these investigations. Always remember the following:

If you would not want to live in or near the property for any reason, do not buy it or bid on it. Look on topographic maps and county maps for nearby undesirable neighbors like landfills or waste sites. Drive by the property to see what the neighbors look like. Any nearby commercial or government properties should be scrutinized carefully. Look for obvious signs of contamination on or near the property using the above guidelines.

Flooding is a very common environmental problem that can impair or, in some cases, ruin a real estate investment. In most situations, the government does not allow builders to construct homes in any areas that have been designated a flood plain. However, even these areas are chosen based on educated guesses of how large an area will flood every 50 to 100 years, so if a real deluge occurs, all bets can be off. To find evidence of flooding, look for dark staining on structures that appears to end at the same place. Also, look for debris on small trees, again hanging at roughly the same elevation across an area. Find soils that appear cracked and dry, like they have been through many wet and dry cycles. You can also look at topographic maps and find areas where the contour lines are lower in elevation than anywhere else. These maps may also show dotted areas that are wet during periods of the year.

When the ground settles after a structure has been built on it, the structure may fail. Repair of settlement problems can be very expensive. Severely cracked basements and foundations are often easy to spot. Look for concrete structures that are cracked or not level. Clay soils settle a lot more than sand or rock.

Earthquake zones, steep cliffs or strongly sloping property, heavy rail traffic, unfavorable soil conditions and polluted groundwater represent situations that may be unique to certain areas. This is why it is very important that you have some understanding of the area before you invest.

 

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