28 LAW Navigating the landscape of environmental contamination can be messy business Q BY JOSUE CRUZ Clean Up Your Act The District on the Southbank Riverwalk Revitalizing harmful toxic waste sites requires knowledge, patience and money. There are plenty of viable and strategically located plots of land in Northeast Florida suffering from contamination. Some have laid fallow for decades, burdened by dumping practices outlawed well over a century ago. Recent proposed land developments in Jack-sonville, such as The Shipyards in Downtown, have raised both questions and hopes about reviving land once thought useless. While Florida, in concert with the nation as a whole, has implemented practices and poli-cies which protect lands and owners, knowing what to do when faced with contaminated land can still be a messy situation. The vital first step is securing appropriate counsel. Cleaning up contaminated land is an intricate negotiation between the land owners, the state and federal government agencies. Cities and municipalities, specifically in Florida, play a lesser role depending on the type of con-taminant being addressed on the polluted site. The Florida Department of Environmental Pro-tection (FLDEP) is the lead agency, as it is fo-cused on the management and stewardship of Florida’s lands. The FLDEP follows the Re-source Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), developed on a national scale by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provides the authority to control haz-ardous waste from the "cradle-to-grave." Duval County, as an example, has an agreement in place with the FLDEP to solely handle any petroleum-related contaminant issues within its borders. Wayne Flowers, shareholder at Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A., focuses on areas of environmental, land use and governmental law. He clarifies that if a discharge of a regulated substance occurs, the responsible party needs to contact the FLDEP in order to take immediate action. Examples of regulated substances in-clude petroleum, dry-cleaning abrasives and paint thinners. These harmful pollutants can have a devastating effect on human health, with risks of neurological and neuromuscular dam-age, respiratory ailments and eye or skin irrita-tion being the most common. “Under EPA pollution laws, one of the first steps undertaken is to identify the responsible party, or more clearly, the persons or entities responsible for the original discharge,” Flowers says. It takes a great deal of detective work in some cases, because lands may have changed hands under false pretenses or subterfuge, to as-sign responsibility for pollution which may have occurred many years ago. “An innocent pur-chaser is not responsible for remedying the pol-lution problem on land purchased, but proving innocence is not always easy,” Flowers says. Purchasing parties are responsible for perform-ing an adequate inquiry on potential land pur-chases. “If there are oil barrels lying about on a site for sale, proving innocence is not really going to fly.” Once identified, the responsible party is required to develop a plan for remediation.