Profiles in Leadership Series: Part 2

Profiles in Leadership Series
Mark Giesfeldt, Bureau Director, Remediation and Redevelopment, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

This series outlines the experience, ideas, and advice learned over considerable time devoted to environmental progress in our nation. Our second column features Mark Giesfeldt, Director of the Bureau for Remediation and Redevelopment at Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. After three decades in state government, Mark was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Medal by the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials in 2008.

A Career in Wisconsin

Mark began his career with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1978. A college professor recommended that he try state government, and Mark started out working on remediation of former Uniroyal clean up sites in 1982. In 1984, Wisconsin founded its first official cleanup program, and Mark’s career trajectory has paralleled the growth of that program ever since.

Experience To Date

In Mark’s view, the hallmark of the program has been its emphasis on outreach. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the program was subject to criticism by the petroleum marketers over state reimbursement of cleanup expenditures. As a result of this controversy, the state decided to undertake a broader cleanup rule effort, forming a fifty-plus person advisory group (which later, a smaller sub group of the rule advisory group became established by the Legislature as the Brownfields Study Group). In 1995, the state pioneered the “One Cleanup Program” concept, in which all of the state cleanup programs (underground tanks, Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and voluntary cleanups) were managed by a single bureau within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Mark became the Bureau Director of the program. As a result of that experience and transition, Mark was able to form longstanding relationships with the advisory board members and other regulators that became the basis of a successful outreach track record.

Mark views the excellent workplace rapport as critical to that success. By way of example, he cites the challenge of grappling with petroleum cleanups and EPA’s use of Risk-Based Corrective Action (RBCA) to make site specific aquifer determinations during the 1990s as historically controversial (viewing underground tank cleanups as something different and meriting risk-based cleanup). As a result of the lack of understanding by the Region of Wisconsin’s approach to cleanups, Mark successfully advocated for the federal agency to form the Senior Cleanup Council in 1998 to address some of these issues in a broader, cross-programmatic context. In Mark’s view, the ability to look across bureaucratic lines and focus on what would most benefit the community has allowed the state program to be nimble.

Top Issues

Going forward, Mark views the economy and bankruptcy as one of the top issues facing the Wisconsin DNR. The bureau has created a whole structure to work within that state at identifying possibly insolvent companies, extending a helping hand, and helping to streamline cleanup and reuse of the properties. When the economy was flourishing, there was plenty of opportunity for creativity in fostering brownfields innovation; with the slowing economy, the pace of reuse has become more challenging.

Vapor intrusion is another top issue for the state. Chlorinated organic chemicals, such as those from dry cleaners, are very persistent and raise questions with respect to future sources. The state has sent letters to consultants and active sites trying to get a handle on the issue, and is adding a section to the state regulations in February. The vastness of the problem is still being worked on. Should EPA formally direct that vapor intrusion become part of the Hazard Ranking System under Superfund, that will hopefully open up Preliminary Assessment/Site Investigation funding in order to use pre-remedial funds to better address the scope of the problem. The good news is notwithstanding the direct public health impact, a radon-type mitigation system has become a key solution in dealing with homes and businesses.

Evolution of the State-Federal Relationship

Looking back, Mark cites a number of key state, EPA, and external stakeholders with whom he has developed very personal and productive relationships over the years. He observes that some newer staff are more risk averse and not as open to a variety of options to solve issues. Mark notes that his program has a history of being a response program, not a strict or traditional regulatory program – focused more on cleanup results, not on process.

What to Expect in the Future

Looking forward, expect even more funding opportunities for cleanup and redevelopment as the economy improves and expertise levels grow, in Mark’s view. By challenging the status quo, the state was able to leverage other sources of funding, such as Great Lakes Legacy Act dollars, toward the larger revitalization and cleanup of Wisconsin sites with sediment issues. Mark advises newer staff to ask questions, keep trying to pursue redevelopment as part of any remedy, and understand how both EPA and the state work and try to improve relationships. Honest, candid discussions have resulted in demonstrable improvements to the state’s cleanup programs. In Mark’s view, this is the reason why the Brownfields Study Group has been instrumental in the program’s success.