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Purchasing a Commercial Property - Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

Commercial lot - Phase I Environmental Site Assessment

By: Christine Manhart, PG

So you’re a prospective purchaser of commercial property and your realtor or banker recommends you retain an Environmental Professional to prepare a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment. As the soft costs add up, you are probably asking yourself whether this additional step is worth your while. After all, aren’t the previous owner’s problems just that? Why should you care about what happened at the site under previous ownership?


Historical uses could affect a new buyer - Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA)

It turns out that you should care. Past activities can come back to haunt current owners. State and Federal environmental protection agencies have the discretion to deem new owners responsible for past acts in the interest of protecting the environment. Furthermore, your actions as the new owner of a contaminated property could exacerbate the problem making you partially responsible. 


Under Federal Law, there are some liability protections for a prospective purchaser so long as due care is taken prior to purchase. But while so-called “third party defenses” can provide protections in federal cases, the State of California has the ability to bring a case against anyone deemed to be either an owner or user of a property. Environmental laws impose “strict, joint and several” liability, meaning that anyone deemed liable either in whole or in part can be responsible for the entire cleanup regardless of how many potentially responsible parties may be identified. In addition, liability may be applied retroactively for acts that happened in the past. 


The Phase I process, or “All Appropriate Inquires” is a way to demonstrate due care and ASTM E1587 provides a standardized framework for the assessment. During a Phase I, we examine the historical and current uses of a property in order to assess the likelihood of a recognized environmental condition. We look at the historical uses of both the property and its neighbors as well as their current conditions. Then we prepare a report documenting our findings and making recommendations for whether, in our opinion, additional investigation is recommended. We do not make those recommendations lightly. Our clients’ concerns are foremost in our minds as we try to bridge the divide between your budgetary concerns and minimizing risks you might incur.


 Save Time, Save Money - get a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment before you purchase a commercial propertyAnd that opinion is the linchpin of this process. You need your environmental professional to have the experience required by the ASTM standard so that you can trust they’ve accurately described the level of risk you might be facing. If you perform a Phase I that does not meet the All Appropriate Inquiries standard it will not protect you from liability. If a property winds up in environmental litigation, a substandard Phase I provides no protection whatsoever. The qualifications of your environmental professional are critical to reducing your risk. You need to have confidence in their ability to decipher the sometimes subtle and vague signs and to accurately evaluate their relative importance. Taking this additional step, could save you many thousands of dollars.


Let the Phase I be one step in realizing your goals for your new property. LACO can package planning services for permitting and zoning changes, civil engineering for land development, and geological services for geohazard analysis or septic design. For further information, or to schedule a meeting with us to discuss your next steps, please contact Christine Manhart at (707) 443-5054 or [email protected]. We serve Northern California from Sonoma County to Del Norte County.



 About Christine Manhart, PG

Christine Manhart, PG

Mrs. Christine Manhart leads the Eureka geologists and environmental professionals in providing sound field data necessary to move projects forward. In her professional career, she has prepared numerous Phase I/Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) for large industrial/manufacturing facilities used in industries such as textile milling, furniture manufacturing, chemical processing, and tire remanufacturing, and for small commercial properties such as gas stations, print shops, and lumber facilities. 
 Mrs. Manhart has investigated, monitored, and remediated numerous impacted properties with a variety of constituents of concern. Property types included underground storage tank sites primarily impacted with petroleum hydrocarbons and municipal landfills with a wide range of COCs including petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals.
 Mrs. Manhart has abundant experience in contaminated site investigation and remediation; as well as, environmental due diligence for commercial property transactions. She is also experienced in the presentation of results to stakeholders and through professional presentations. 
Photos captured during Phase I ESAs
Site Photo captured during site assessment for Phase I ESASite Photo captured during site assessment for Phase I ESA
Site Photo captured during site assessment for Phase I ESASite Photo captured during site assessment for Phase I ESA
Site Photo captured during site assessment for Phase I ESA