Storage tank and brownfields clean-up funds depleted

TRENTON – The state funds to remove underground storage tanks and clean up brownfields are seriously depleted,  state environmental officials told a senate committee Thursday.

As  a result, applications for new brownfields work either are not being accepted or applications already in the pipeline are being held up due to the funding problems, members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee were told.

Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp and N.J. Economic Development Authority CEO Caren Franzini told the committee that the funds have been depleted due to the great amount of work already done, plus the fact that down through the years the constitutionally dedicated funds were redirected to other uses through Legislative or voter action.

“The program is not dead,” Kropp said, “we just can’t finance what’s in the queue right now.”

For removal of underground tanks and related cleanup there are approximately $33 million worth of applications in-house, Kropp said, with about $16 million worth of applications that are approved and in the hands of EDA.

Last year, they processed about $40 million worth of tank funds, the committee was told.

Leaky tanks are more of a problem and can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 to deal with, while non-leaking tanks are more standard and can cost about $3,000, Kropp said.

But for now, going forward,  they will still take and process applications for about $16 million a year’s worth of projects.

The money, which comes from corporate business taxes, will be divided up differently now, with about 55 percent of the funds going toward the underground tank program as it has dipped below $20 million.

The rest goes to the brownfields effort, whose costs are usually much larger, according to Franzini.  She said there are about $71 million worth of applications in house for that program but they are not accepting any new applications for brownfields work at this time.

In fact, they are de-obligating, or taking back funds, from municipalities that have not spent funds in order to use them where needed as projects are prioritized.

Part of the reason for their testimony was to generate discussion among the various stakeholders, including getting insurers back to the table, or possibly seeking increased budget appropriations in future fiscal years. Kropp said it is probably too late to get a referendum on November’s ballot.

But the officials also want to get the word out, in particular for the homeowners looking to remove underground tanks, if they can’t afford to do it on their own and wait for the reimbursement, they should not move forward.

The officials emphasized they prioritize problems of leaking tanks.