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Brownfields to gold mines? Possible – but be careful

If one man’s trash is another’s treasure, then the 21st century equivalent makeover could be the transformation of environmental wastelands into thriving properties.

If one man’s trash is another’s treasure, then the 21st century equivalent makeover could be the transformation of environmental wastelands into thriving properties.

At the Sands Casino in Bethlehem last week, area professionals gathered to hear about the smart reclaiming of environmentally toxic properties and how reusing industrial real estate makes good business sense.

The former Bethlehem Steel Foundry complex, the largest brownfield site in the United States, provided a fitting backdrop for the free seminar.

“We absolutely chose this site to host the seminar, because it is a [former brownfield] success story,” said Cady Darago, marketing coordinator for Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus P.A., a law firm with offices in Allentown.

In its heyday, Bethlehem Steel provided thousands of jobs and manufactured countless tons of iron used to create steel to build bridges and skyscrapers. After its closure in 1995, the landscape would lie fallow until enough support and cash gathered to re-create the site as the SteelStacks and ArtsQuest complex for arts, music, entertainment and the home of the Sands Casino complex.

“Don’t cry over spilled oil: understanding environmental risks can create opportunities” was hosted by Norris McLaughlin & Marcus P.A., along with a professional panel with representatives from Lehigh Valley Land Recycling, an initiative of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. and Moonstone Environmental, based in Allentown.

Topics discussed at the seminar included site remediation, buyer due diligence whether or not property is involved in the sale, identifying environmental liabilities, managing liability, commercial loan agreements, public and private partnerships, environmental site assessments and federal and state law implications.

“Environmentally challenged sites should be viewed not as problems but as opportunities,” said Jeff Casaletto, an environmental lawyer with Norris, McLaughlin.

Casaletto stressed the importance of identifying both liabilities and risks with a purchase – whether or not a property was involved.

“You don’t want environmental surprises. Successor liability [meaning new owners] can be hit with previous owner or operator compliance issues,” Casaletto said.

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