Government Regulation of Special Land Types

Instructor: Eileen Cappelloni

Eileen worked for the Orange County Asssociation of Realtors for 31 years. She has written real estate courses and exams for other publishing companies

This lesson on governmental regulation will discuss environmental hazards, cover special land types, explain the different governmental agencies' roles and will include definitions of the different flood zones and wetlands regulations.

Environmental Hazards

In 1976, a townhouse community was built about 60 miles northwest of New York City. There were about 180 units constructed and they all used oil for heat. Many young couples bought houses in this community and they were thrilled that despite high-interest rates, they were able to purchase a home that they could afford.

Unfortunately, the oil tanks were all placed underground, which at the time, was thought to be an advantage, since the ugly oil tanks would not be an eyesore. All the homeowners there were happy with their home until one day, one an oil tank under a home began to leak oil into the soil.

You cannot repair an oil tank leak. Once the ground has been affected, the oil tank must be removed and the soil must be cleaned or 'remediated'. All oil tank leaks are reported to the state's environmental protection agency and in some cases, the groundwater is impacted along with the surrounding soils.

Can this be fixed? Yes, for a price. The basic remediation is the excavation, transportation and disposal of contaminated soils along with the pumping, treatment, and disposal of groundwater.

Outdoor hazards, such as improper septic tanks, toxic waste in the soil, chemical contamination and leaking underground storage tanks may have a more extensive impact including contaminating the water supply.

History of Land Regulation

Unfortunately, over the years, we have learned that poor planning and little regulation can adversely affect the soil, animals and people. Sometimes, it can even leave an area uninhabitable.

Love Canal, for example, in 1978 was a quaint working-class neighborhood with hundreds of houses and a school. Unfortunately, the area was developed on top of 21,000 tons of toxic industrial waste that had been buried underground decades earlier. People became ill, some died, and hundreds of houses were abandoned. As a result, the federal Superfund program was created to oversee the remediation of hazardous waste sites.

Since 1970, court cases regarding land use and subsequent damages have risen dramatically. Why? Problems with land are not always easily observed, for one, and it may take years before a serious situation presents itself. And unfortunately, it's not always correctable or affordable.

The history of land use regulation in the United States has evolved for many years to protect not only the land and the people that live on it, but also people that live on neighboring parcels and in the general area.

Wetlands and the Clean Water Act

Wetlands are those areas where the frequent and prolonged presence of water near the soil surface affects the soil, plants, and wildlife communities that need it for their survival. Swamps, marshes and bogs are all types of wetlands.

Our Federal Government provides incentives and regulates and manages wetland resources to protect them from degradation and destruction. Other mechanisms for wetland protection include acquisition, planning, mitigation, discouragement to convert wetlands to other land uses, technical assistance, education, and research.

The value of a wetland to humans concerns the relationship between the wetland and the other ecosystems in the watershed. A goal of federal regulations for wetlands is to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of our country's waters. A specific federal goal hopes to accomplish 'No Net Loss' of wetlands by first avoiding, then minimizing, and finally compensating for any impacts to water resources caused by the discharge of dredge or fill material into waters of the U.S.

The Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) established the basic structure for regulating discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters and regulates quality standards for surface waters. Under this act, the Environmental Protection Agency has set wastewater standards for companies and industries.

The EPA has also developed national water quality criteria recommendations for pollutants in surface waters. Compliance monitoring covers a range of techniques, from Discharge Monitoring Report reviews, to on-site compliance evaluations, as well as providing assistance to help industries adhere to permit requirements. The objective is to address the most significant problems and to promote compliance among the regulated community.

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