Beyond the Build


New EPA Regulations Usher in Construction Stewardship

If it has not already, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will eventually impact us all. The environment and the livelihoods of many are at stake. The tragedy is a “wake up call” reminder that we only have one earth, and we all have a stake in pollution control.

Environmental responsibility has always hit home with us. Construction activities that disturb large areas of soil have the ability to pollute, and while the impact maybe not on the scale of the Gulf oil crisis, the total effects can have a far-reaching impact. For us, proper management has always been paramount.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has some new standards going into effect with the Final Effluent Guidelines which will impact construction grading.

Effective February 2010, this initiative is designed to save our creeks, rivers and lakes from about 4 billion pounds of sediment which presently flows into them annually.

Under the new law, all construction site owners and contractors will be responsible for implementing best management practices.

While the new rules are designed to be flexible, accommodating site-specific conditions, they also include a required discharge report for rain events. The water quality report measures turbidity, or the suspended solids in a liquid that make it hazy. In many states a background test is performed before construction begins, and sites may not add more than 50 parts per million to effected water. This would be the expected change during a normal rain event at a natural site.

The EPA is phasing in the new law to allow local authorities, other governmental agencies, owners and contractors to adjust to the new regulations. Starting in mid-2011, any site that disturbs 20 acres or more will be required to comply. The regulations will apply to 10-acre sites starting in 2014. Where states have issued their own construction storm water permits in the past, the new rule must be incorporated into any permits issued after the effective date.

While these new regulations will obviously impact cost, to me, it is better than the alternative.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.