A strange thing happened last week at the Rockefeller’s luxurious Pocantico estate in Tarrytown. Environmentalists, businessmen and bureaucrats spent two days talking about brownfields. And they liked each other.
“It’s been pretty civil,” said Allen Zerkin, one of the roundtable’s facilitators. “There’s been a few flashpoints, but people have been very respectful of each other.”
That usually isn’t the case when the topic is brownfields–contaminated parcels of industrial land that are often abandoned. While everybody wants to see the properties clean and occupied by new factories, fights over expensive liability issues and clean-up standards have scuttled legislation in Albany for years, leaving most brownfields in the state polluted and empty.
This spring, a coalition of foundations created the Pocantico roundtable in the hope of finding common ground. Shunning publicity, the group has held meetings since October that culminated in last week’s retreat. Representatives came from all of the state’s big cities, some of New York’s largest environmental groups, and business and legal organizations.
What’s unique about the project is that it is committed to consensus. In other words, every one of the 28 participants–ranging from the Real Estate Board to the Citizen’s Environmental Coalition–has the power to veto the final plan.
And, not surprisingly, details on a brownfields plan have yet to be ironed out. Zerkin said the group wants to have a plan ready by February that could include everything from public health issues to financial clean-up incentives.
“Everyone thinks things are on track,” said Ken Pokalsky of the Business Council of New York State. “If it wasn’t going well, I’m not sure people would still be involved with it.”