Daniel Walsh, Director of the Mayor's Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) in New York City, has been named recipient of the 2013 Brownfield Renewal Person of the Year Award.
Dr. Daniel Walsh is the Director of the Mayor's Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) in New York City. He is an outspoken advocate for municipal governance of remedial action programs by U.S. cities-a role traditionally played by state government—as a means to heighten attainment of local economic development, public health protection and community development goals. Appointed as OER's founding director by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2008, he established the New York City Voluntary Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP), the nation's first municipally-run brownfield cleanup program. Working closely with gifted government environmental veterans Shaminder Chawla, Mark McIntyre and Lee Ilan, they shepherded the NYC Brownfield Law to authorize creation of the NYC BCP, which was passed unanimously by the City Council in 2009, and negotiated a landmark agreement with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that provides state liability protection for developers that use the NYC BCP. The NYC BCP was launched in 2011 and has become one of the most prolific cleanup programs in the country. Led by OER’s highly talented staff of environmental scientists and engineers, it is known for its high quality cleanups, predictability and efficiency of navigation. In its first 32 months of operation, OER has approved cleanup plans for more than 160 brownfield projects, enabling over $4.5 billion in new development of more than 13 million square feet of building space-40% of which is job-producing retail, commercial and office space—and producing over 4,500 permanent new jobs and 13,400 construction jobs, and generating more than $1.5 billion in new, long-term tax revenue for city and state government.
Working closely with local stakeholders, Walsh has established a series of progressive brownfield programs. The NYC Clean Soil Bank, believed to be the nation's first municipal clean soil exchange program, allows excess clean soil excavated for development purposes from beneath remediated brownfield sites to be delivered-with no transfer fees—to city construction sites and brownfield projects that need clean backfill. This program has enabled transfer of over 60,000 tons of soil in its first 6 months of operation and has saved brownfield developers and city government over $4 million in soil purchase and disposal costs. The New York City Green Property Certification was established to formally recognize the safety of land remediated in the NYC BCP. Issued by the Mayor's Office, the certification demonstrates the City's confidence in the environmental safety of new buildings on remediated brownfield properties and, like LEED certification, has become a valuable marketing tool for brownfield developers. The Searchable Property Environmental Electronic Database (SPEED) is an award-winning GIS-based real estate search engine for government environmental data, historical maps and aerial photographs that has become an essential tool for environmental research of land in NYC. Established in 2010, SPEED (www.nyc.gov/speed) has had more than 5 million visitors and is one of NYC government's most popular websites. NYC Brownfield Incentive Grants (BIG) provide funding to offset brownfield cleanup costs and support brownfield planning by community based organizations. This award-winning program directs most grant dollars toward underserved communities where brownfield impacts are greatest. To improve quality of cleanup plans and shorten approval times, Walsh also established TurboTraining, an intensive training program that has certified 177 environmental professionals since its launch in 2012.
Brownfields usually cluster in low-income neighborhoods and Walsh believes strongly that cities should work at the grass-roots level with community-based organizations to develop and implement brownfield plans. OER collaborates closely with community based organizations and all brownfield programs are designed to achieve community-based brownfield goals. For instance, City-funded cleanup grants give community organizations the power to increase grant awards for projects that they support and encourage brownfield developers to work more closely with community organizations when designing their projects. Results have been striking, with over 70% of all NYC BCP projects originating in historically underserved neighborhoods, enabling development of over 2,200 new units of affordable housing that constitute over 20% of the total building space developed under the program. To help citizens learn more about brownfield investigation and cleanup, OER produced four videos in the Cleaning Up NYC series. A series of new programs are now being developed including a program to provide city residents enrolled in workforce development programs with technical training opportunities on local brownfield cleanup projects.
Walsh has long sought to unlock the potential of the environmental industry to perform community service in NYC. In 2008, he founded the NYC Brownfield Partnership, an association of more than 60 environmental businesses and community based organizations dedicated to delivering community services. The Partnership is thriving and now operates a variety of programs including pro bono community environmental counseling, college scholarships and internships, and an annual brownfield award program.
Walsh and his team of scientists and engineers at OER play many other roles to serve NYC residents. After Hurricane Sandy, they secured the approvals that enabled recycling of 200,000 cubic yards of beach sand washed ashore in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Implemented with the NYC Parks Department, New York State DEC, US EPA, FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, sand recycling saved taxpayers over $60 million in disposal costs and enabled the construction of a one mile-long, 12-foot high coastal flood protection berm that now provides a front-line defense for coastal communities against future storm surges. This work was part of a broader hurricane debris recycling effort that earned the United Nation’s 2013 Green Star Award.
Daniel Walsh lives in New York with his wife Jeanne, a registered nurse specializing in diabetes treatment, and son Zachary, a gifted high school student. He is proud to have worked exclusively in NYC throughout his 30-year environmental career. He formerly served as director of many New York State Department of Environmental Conservation environmental quality programs in NYC including Superfund, Brownfield Cleanup, RCRA, Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste. On September 11, 2001 he was appointed Chief of Operations leading New York State’s civilian environmental response to the World Trade Center disaster and served the full 11-month duration of that effort. He holds a Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and since 1999 has been an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and the Columbia Earth Institute where he performs research on environmental history of NYC and forensic interpretation of environmental pollution patterns. He was recently honored with the American Bar Association’s 2013 Environment and Energy Resources Stewardship Award for his environmental work in NYC.
Thanks to everyone who submitted nominations and voted in our Person of the Year program!