What’s the Difference? Transect v. Phase I ESA

One of the common questions we get at Transect is whether our reports are the same as a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). The short answer: NOPE. While a Phase 1 ESA may be a box you have to check as part of an acquisition process, the information you get from a Transect report saves you boatloads of time, money, and headaches in all project phases – siting, acquisition, development, and ongoing operations and maintenance.

A Phase I ESA Searches for Potential Contamination Liabilities

In the 1980s, the US courts determined that a buyer, lessor, or lender could be held responsible for the cleanup (or remediation) of hazardous substances found of their land, even if that contamination occurred before they were involved with the property. However, the court noted, this liability could be mitigated if the buyer, lessor, or lender had a Phase I ESA performed which determined there was no hazardous material present at the time of the sale – known as the “safe harbor” or “Innocent Landowner Defense.” In 1998, as part of the Superfund Cleanup Act, Congress took things a step further, by requiring all commercial property purchasers to conduct a Phase I ESA.

A Phase I ESA is time-consuming and relatively costly, as it involves a thorough investigation of the past and present property use by an environmental professional (usually a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) or Professional Geologist (PG)). As part of a Phase I, this professional reviews records, conducts a site inspection, and interviews owners, occupants, neighbors and local government officials about the property’s history. They may also take water and soil samples, although these are not required. Ultimately, a Phase I ESA provides details about potential site contamination by hazardous materials, and if they are found or suspected, will trigger the more in-depth “Phase II” inspection under the same laws. A contaminated property may require costly remediation before it can be developed, and while some grant funds may be available to help with remediation efforts, a contaminated property obviously poses numerous challenges and risks for a buyer.

Transect is an Environmental Permitting Roadmap

There are a number of ways that a Transect Report differs from a Phase I ESA. First, the information covered in our reports is completely different from what you find in a Phase I ESA. Instead of focusing on local contamination covered under CERCLA, Transect Reports reveal risks from threatened and endangered species, jurisdictional waterways and wetlands, protected areas, flood hazards, and many more – any one of which could result in liability or limited use under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and other environmental regulations well beyond CERCLA. In fact, each report covers dozens of state and federal environmental rules based on the project’s unique location and geographic features. For example, Transect reports can alert you to nearby critical habitat that could be expanded in the future to include your parcel under the Endangered Species Act. An event like this could significantly limit your ability to develop the land now or in the future.

Second, unlike a Phase I, which takes time to schedule and must be conducted by a professional, our reports are generated on demand within minutes. Users access a comprehensive collection of publicly-available and proprietary natural resources data online within minutes and use interactive tools to make the data more meaningful than ever before.

Finally, Transect gives you the information you need in a format that makes it easy to take the next steps – and every report is reviewed by our in-house environmental professionals for quality assurance. We provide federal and state regulatory summaries, a permit and authorization matrix, and permitting timelines that help you get the permissions you need to move forward with your project quickly. Based on our findings, we may also suggest additional field studies such as wetlands delineations, protected species habitat assessments, or cultural resources studies that you might not otherwise know you needed.

When You Know Everything, You Can Build Anything

A Phase I ESA only covers your liability under CERLA. With Transect, you get a complete picture of your project so you can protect your project from the dozens of environmental and cultural influences that could impede your project or your profitability down the line.

To learn more about your project’s lurking environmental issues, upload your project today.