According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), there are more than 425,000 hazardous waste sites in the United States. Largely the byproducts of aggressive industrialization of the last century, these sites are in dire need of waste cleanup. In the late 1980s, the U.S. Federal Government passed legislation that resulted in the passage of the "Superfund," a program managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although the Superfund is designed to address such hazardous sites, it suffers from high costs, litigation, economic damage, and a general slowing of the cleanup process. The City of Wichita and the State of Kansas have jointly launched a new, innovative environmental cleanup program that seeks to address these issues. The cleanup is taking place on what is referred to as the Gilbert-Mosley site in Wichita.
The site covers six square miles in the city including the Central Business District with over 8,000 parcels of land, 500 businesses, and hundreds of homeowners. One of the key features of the program is the formation of public-private partnerships to tackle an environmental challenge. Federal, state, and county authorities along with local businesses and residential property owners have forged a coalition to host both environmental and economic activity. City officials, through this coalition, have achieved remarkable progress in a short time: 1) a local manufacturer has accepted responsibility for the costs of aquifer cleanup; 2) seven banks serving Wichita have agreed to resume lending in the contaminated area in exchange for release of groundwater cleanup liability; 3) the City has accepted responsibility for polluter identification and recovery of cleanup expenses; and 4) the coalition has lobbied successfully in the Kansas State Legislature for the passage of Tax Increment Financing, which is a secondary method of financing groundwater cleanup. The net result has been a program that shows environmental and economic interests can be congruent rather than conflicting and dramatically accelerates the cleanup process than would otherwise be the case through Superfunds.
Compared to other cleanup programs across the country, the Wichita's program entails local government managing the leadership and financial liability of an environmental project through involvement of area businesses and the general public. It seeks to improve upon the bureaucratic, sequential Superfund process (that often takes up to ten years to complete) by decentralizing authority and integrating disparate elements into an organized and efficient cleanup project. Additionally, it reduces cleanup costs for the government by delegating them to responsible parties. In an age where environmental problems seemed to be critically linked to fiscal solvency for local government, Wichita's model is noteworthy for its financial responsibility. The replication of the program at other sites within the United States depends on several factors such as local leadership, nature of funding sources, and the type and location of the environmental pollution. However, the program seems to be an excellent alternative to the EPA's approach to hazardous waste.