HRE Calls Cleanup Program Too Strict

An official of Harvard's real estate branch last week blasted a set of state environmental clean-up guidelines that took effect yesterday, saying they would hinder development.

A new Department of Environmental Quality Engineering (DEQE) clean-up program could end real-estate development in the state, according to Harvard Real Estate's (HRE) Vice President of Property Operations David A. Zewinski.

The program, dubbed the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP), will force companies to follow strict new procedures for disposing of hazardous waste.

"Once the MCP is implemented development could come to a screeching halt," said Zewinski.

The new program will add 460 employees to the state agency, said Katie Stimmel, spokesman for the DEQE. She said the department has been understaffed for years and that the new workers will help it monitor businesses and contractors more carefully.

While the intent of the new guidelines is good, Zewinski said, manpower shortages and bureacratic procedures within the state agency could cause "horrific delays."

Stimmel said that environmental clean-ups can "sometimes take a number of years."

The passage of a binding statewide referendum in 1986 earmarked money for the program and required the DEQE to carry it out. The measure passed by a record 74 percent of the popular vote.

Until yesterday, developers were allowed to proceed with environmental clean-up at their own pace. Now, developers must remove waste according to a schedule of tasks and deadlines, unless they receive special waivers.

Harvard is among the developers about to try out the new system. The University may not replace the Gulf station across the street from the Freshman Union with a hotel until it works with the state agency to remove several leaky gas tanks and contaminated earth.

Zewinski said the waste levels that the DEQE considered hazardous were too low for urban areas.

"It has been expressed by geotechnical engineers to me that some of the levels are no different than what you'd get anywhere in an urban area," he said.

"Their goal is below any soil sample you could take in an urban environment," he said, describing their standards as "a serious problem."

"The DEQE needs to set more realistic clean-up goals."

But environmentalists have said the new program is crucial to the cleanup of the environment and to the health of Massachusetts' citizens.

"Fifty years from now people will think of drinking ground water like we think of drinking water out of the Charles," said Stephen J. LeBlanc, environmental policy analyst for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), which supported the referendum campaign two years ago. "We've got to get the sites cleaned up."

HRE should be concerned with safety and "not their own profit motive," said the co-chairmen of the Phillip Brooks House's Harvard Environmental Action, Michael E. Wall '90.

While Zewinski said the DEQE is too strict, environmentalists criticize the state agency for not moving fast enough on the clean-up program.

"It took a lot longer than it should have," LeBlanc said. "It was stuck in a bureaucratic rigor mortis."