Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) is in Crisis

Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) is in crisis mode because of budget cuts and staff attrition. As a result, assignment of a Ecology project manager for your cleanup and issuance of an opinion will take six months to one year, instead of the customary 90 days. Further, complex cleanup sites that had been allowed to enter the VCP must now enter into a formal agreement , such as an agreed order or consent decree, with Ecology. Examples of these kind of sites include sites with surface water and sediment contamination, sites with a mixture of contaminants or commingled plumes and sites with multiple parcels affected or multiple aquifers affected. Ecology to be out of this crisis with funding in the 2017-2019 biennium. Until that happens, plan accordingly and expect long delays in cleaning up a site through the VCP, especially if the site is located in the Northwest Region extending from the Seattle metro area to the Canadian border, which has the largest backlog of sites in the VCP. Below are Ecology’s FAQs about this issue.

Volunteer Cleanup Program (VCP) Workshop Bellevue, WA – July 27, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions

·Why set up a wait list now?

Ecology had a record number of requests for VCP opinions last year. In 2015, there were 493 requests statewide. Contrast this with the 380 requests we saw just five years ago, in 2011. The clear trend is an increasing need for these services. We have also seen a record number of new sites come in – 401 in 2015. Over 200 of these ended up in the VCP, and we believe these will continue to trickle into the program. Compounding the challenge, we are also down a number of staff and have limited ability to rehire. Because of the revenue constraints, we are holding vacancies at twice the normal rate. Essentially, the workload has increased and continues to trend upward while our staff resources are doing the opposite. Ecology sees the wait list as a temporary mechanism as we try to figure out a viable path forward.

·How will Ecology prioritize working on wait listed sites?

Our first priority is sites already in the VCP. A number of these sites have no site manager because that person either retired or resigned. These sites will be reassigned to a new site manager, and sorted by when we received their request for an opinion. Please fill out that form, as it determines your place in line. Our next priority is to assign new sites that want to come into the VCP. New VCP sites will be sorted by the date we accept their application.

·How long will until my site is worked on?

The VCP has a 90-day performance metric. This means we endeavor to respond with our opinion within a three-month timeframe. Given the challenges described above, it’s likely that

timeframe may double to six months, especially in our busiest office (Bellevue). Please sign up for our LISTSERV so that you receive regular communication about your site.

·I have a client who I know will need an Ecology opinion. Given how long it may be until you are able to get to new projects, should I enter the VCP now to reserve my place in line?

No. Please wait until you need something specific from us before submitting a VCP application.

·I have an existing VCP project on the wait list. My client wants to move forward. By the time Ecology is ready to provide a review, we have completed another phase of the cleanup (e.g., needed RI reviewed, but now FS is complete). Would Ecology review that report as well and provide an opinion?

Yes. If that is what you want. Ecology understands environmental investigation and cleanup work will continue to move forward. When you are assigned a site manager, they will contact you to ensure you still want an advisory opinion from us.

·Can Ecology prioritize work already completed (e.g., all cleanup complete, waiting for NFA) versus reviews of work plans?

Not at this time. Right now, it’s easiest and fairest to simply sort by date. Note that we expect the WAIT LIST to be a temporary measure.

·What about complex sites already in the VCP? Will they be kicked out?

Not necessarily. No new complex sites will be accepted in the VCP beginning August 1, 2016. Existing complex sites will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Some sites are very near NFA, and Ecology has invested significant time into the project.

·What report should I submit when summarizing years of investigation (and perhaps from another company) without re-doing the RI? How can I submit something that will meet the requirements of Ecology’s new checklists ?

Ecology does not expect you to prepare a new RI. However, we do expect a general summary of the site with relevant background information included. Figures and tables should include both historic and new data to allow for review. The report should meet the checklist requirements by including the information or referencing the report where the information can be easily found.

·Are Ecology’s new checklists being applied retroactively? If I submitted an application back in February, but Ecology hasn’t yet provided an opinion, would my report be rejected for not meeting the checklists?

No. The checklist requirements were effective June 1, 2016. Therefore, Ecology will only ask for resubmittals of incomplete reports received after June 1. Ecology will review reports and provide an opinion on reports received prior to that date. However, you may receive a further action opinion letter that closely follows and even includes the checklist. This is meant to be helpful, as the checklists reflect MTCA requirements.

·When are these changes effective?

The checklists have been in effect since June 1. Complex sites will not be accepted into VCP beginning August 1. The wait list and accompanying LISTSERV will likely begin in September. We will keep you updated on their availability.

·How do model remedies fit into all this?

Ecology strongly encourages the use of model remedies. Sites using model remedies will come in through the VCP, although they will not be charged any fees for our review. We expect that consultants will note the use of model remedies in their transmittals to us so we can ensure those reviews are prioritized.

·Will Ecology still provide a response within 10 days of receiving an application?

Ecology will communicate to the applicant (via email or mailed letter) about the status of their application. Although we will try to respond within 10 days, it’s not guaranteed.

·Some of your other offices have no wait list—why can’t they work on my site?

Ecology takes workload demands into consideration when assigning regional staff. Having local staff to readily conduct site visits is important. They are also well-versed in issues affecting their community. The increased demand for VCP services is happening primarily on the west side, and those are the regions under stress. Eastern regions are working at capacity. Flux in workload is typically offset by using HQ resources (three staff positions at this time). However, even that measure is not enough to handle the incoming workload.

·What should I do if I need an NFA to get my loan or permit approval?

Please let Ecology know if there are urgent time constraints we should be aware of. We will do our best to keep the wait list moving forward.

·If I have ideas about how to improve VCP, who should I contact?

Please contact Valerie Bound, Interim VCP Coordinator, at valerie.bound@ecy.wa.gov or 509- 454-7886. She will compile ideas about program improvement.

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