What is a Community Relations Plan?
A Community Relations Plan (CRP) helps facilitate communication between the Remedial Applicant (RA) in the Illinois EPA Site Remediation Program (SRP) and interested and affected individuals and groups. CRPs promote public participation by sharing timely and accurate information among all concerned parties, and when possible, by incorporating community concerns into site investigations and remedial action plans. Some SRP sites may require a considerable amount of effort to conduct community relations activities. However, at many sites, the only community relations activity necessary may be to notify adjacent property owners that an investigation or cleanup is to occur or about contamination that may affect their properties.
Is a Community Relations Plan Needed?
Any of the following site-related conditions indicate a probable need for community relations activities: (1) an actual, perceived, or imminent threat to the public or the environment, (2) nearby residential areas, schools, parks, day care facilities, senior citizen centers, churches, or other areas where there are community functions, (3) a contaminant release into a forest preserve, park, river, lake, or other public property, or (4) a history of accidental spills, fire, explosion, complaints from the community, or regulatory violations. The Illinois EPA can provide assistance in determining when community outreach is necessary and guidance to those who are developing and implementing CRPs. The Illinois EPA can also provide information about appropriate contacts. In many areas of Illinois, the Illinois EPA has local contacts and working relationships with community groups and environmental organizations.
Additionally, a CRP is sometimes required pursuant to the Right-to-Know. Public Act 094-0314 (Title VI-D: Right-to-Know) requires the Illinois EPA or the RA to notify property owners and elected officials when contamination extends beyond the boundary of a site where a release has occurred. The Office of Community Relations has compiled information on the 2006 Right-to-Know law along with other related documents. The Right-to-Know regulations include the standards and requirements for CRPs. An example of a CRP is provided at the end of these regulations.
Why should a Community Relations Plan be Developed?
Initiating a CRP will (1) facilitate obtaining property access agreements, if needed, and provide for successful negotiations with adjacent property owners and local governments, and (2) alert the RA to community concerns and problems with the site, and may even provide factual information about the site not readily available. Delaying community relations activities until later in the investigative process can allow community concerns to grow, and can even be costly in terms of misplaced investigative efforts that could have been avoided with the input of the community. The likelihood of liability and litigation from third-party lawsuits may be reduced when the remediation process is open and transparent for all to understand. RAs who distance themselves from the public create mistrust and often encounter resentment in their community.
Who Develops a Community Relations Plan?
The CRP may be developed by the RA, its environmental contractor, a community relations contractor experienced in environmental issues, or the Illinois EPA. The type of CRP needed will depend on site conditions and community factors. A written CRP makes it easy for all concerned parties to understand what is being done at a site.
What are the Components of a Community Relations Plan?
This section of the CRP should provide an overview of the site including information about previous land uses, details regarding any soil, soil gas, or groundwater contamination, the extent of contamination known at the time, and potential or known risks to public health and the environment. A map of the site and surrounding area showing streets, homes, businesses, and geographic features should be included. The site description will be useful when responding to inquiries, particularly from the news media, and will provide concise background information needed if preparing fact sheets and news releases.
Community Issues and Concerns:
This section of the CRP should include a list of community issues and concerns collected from affected, potentially affected, and interested persons, including demographics of the neighborhood and how the community has reacted to activities at the site. Key community concerns should be described in detail and can be organized by population segment (e.g., nearby residents, elected officials, environmental groups) or topic (e.g., public risks, environmental concerns, property values).
Community Relations Program:
This section of the CRP should provide the elements of community outreach, methods for maintaining a dialogue with affected, potentially affected, and interested persons, and a schedule for activities and objectives. A contact person for the RA should also be identified. The contact person will handle community calls, specify the location of convenient information repositories, and explain how the public will be notified of meetings and issued fact sheets and news releases.
A contact list should provide the name, title, mailing address, email address, and telephone number of any affected, potentially affected, or interested person. The contact list should include, for example: owners of offsite/nearby properties; owners and operators of nearby community water system wells; local, state, and federal elected officials; news media (print and electronic); government organizations; environmental or community groups; interested businesses; applicable Illinois EPA staff; and concerned citizens. Concerned populations may include schools, hospitals, and nearby day care and senior facilities. The publicly available contact list may not necessarily include the names and addresses of adjacent property owners and concerned citizens due to privacy concerns. The contact list provides a reference that saves time when calling or mailing. Having this list documented and properly maintained reduces the chance of key groups or individuals being inadvertently overlooked.
Who Should I Contact for More Information?