In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) recently announced the availability of a process for requesting temporary suspensions of environmental permitting and regulatory compliance obligations.  Regulated entities experiencing difficulties due to COVID-19 in meeting the terms and conditions of their environmental permits or complying with environmental regulatory provisions should consider submitting a form request to PADEP for relief.  Completed forms must be submitted to RA-EPCOVID19SuspReq@pa.gov.  While PADEP’s offices remain closed, program staff continue to work remotely to process submitted requests.

Unless a temporary suspension is granted
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**UPDATED 3/21/2020**

Governor Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses throughout Pennsylvania to physically close their operations by 8 p.m. on March 19, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Enforcement begins at 8:00 a.m., Monday, March 23.  With the Order, the Commonwealth issued a list of life-sustaining and non-life-sustaining businesses.  Residential and commercial construction were on the list of businesses that must close, absent a waiver from the Order.  The Commonwealth’s list is intended to be consistent with the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response, also released March 19, 2020.  For developers and builders who may be in critical stages of construction or who have environmental responsibilities under permits (such as the PAG-02 or individual permit for discharges of stormwater associated with construction activities), an immediate shutdown simply cannot be achieved.  So what are you to do?
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Overview of Force Majeure
With COVID-19 headlines dominating the news cycle, and with no end in sight to the uncertainty that the virus brings, affected businesses are wise to consider whether the current pandemic qualifies as a “force majeure.”  In the last few weeks, the Chinese government has issued “force majeure certificates” to domestic businesses as a way of shielding companies from breach of contract claims, American businesses are sending mass e-mails to customers explaining that the virus prevents the company’s performance or operations, and businesses in an array of industries have sent formal inquiries to their service providers seeking confirmation of continued performance.

What is “Force Majeure”
The defense of force majeure will excuse a party’s performance under a contract if
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Please see below regarding the Governor’s order from our Government Relations and Labor & Employment Groups.  Do not hesitate to contact anyone at McNees with questions, including how this order might apply to your job site, project approvals or your office.  McNees is a full service law firm that remains operational, remotely and in compliance with the Governor’s order.  We are ready and able to continue to support our clients’ needs during this trying time.

UPDATE: Latest on Gov. Wolf’s Closure Order amid COVID-19 Outbreak

 As detailed in a special edition of Capitol Buzz sent on Thursday evening, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses throughout Pennsylvania to physically close their operations in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The new directive, which went into effect at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening, contains the threat of enforcement action
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**Updated 2/26/2020**

On December 7, 2019, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) reissued the general permit for stormwater associated with construction activities (PAG-02).  This general permit is routinely utilized in most real estate developments, solar farm installations, construction projects and other earth disturbance projects in the Commonwealth.  With the permit package, PADEP made substantial changes to the terms and conditions of the permit as well as the eligibility requirements to qualify for coverage under the general permit.  Importantly, the new permit automatically replaces any existing PAG-02 permit, however PADEP is requiring that permittees covered under a PAG-02 issued prior to December 7, 2019 certify whether they “remain eligible for and are able to comply with the terms and conditions of the reissued PAG-02 General Permit” in order to maintain coverage.  The acknowledgment is to be made electronically on or before March 9, 2020, and the form can be found here.

Permittees who are unable to certify that they remain eligible and able to comply with the new PAG-02 must nevertheless certify to that effect and submit an application for an individual NPDES permit on or before March 9, in which case general permit coverage under the new PAG-02 will continue until the individual permit is issued.  Failure to provide timely acknowledgement will result in termination of the permit coverage as of March 9, 2020.  Therefore it is critical that the acknowledgment be completed for all outstanding permits, or earthmoving activities will have to cease until a new permit is obtained.

The acknowledgment has raised many questions regarding
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Sometimes, the storm hits years after a development is complete. Indeed, stormwater runoff can give rise to liability against a developer long after stormwater management facilities are constructed according to an approved final plan. Accordingly, it is important for developers to understand (1) how trespass is applied in the stormwater context and (2) that they might never be fully insulated from such claims.

Pennsylvania follows the “common-enemy rule” with respect to stormwater runoff. Under the Rule, an “upper” landowner may discharge its stormwater on the land of a “lower” landowner. However, water artificially diverted from its natural channel across a “lower” landowner’s property can be considered a trespass. In that case,
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Real estate developers, construction businesses, engineers, and others involved in development projects are subject to numerous permitting and approval requirements under local, state, and federal regulatory programs.  For example, development projects in Pennsylvania involving earthmoving of more than one acre (i.e. most projects) must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit for construction-related stormwater discharges, also known as PAG-02.  The current PAG-02 expires on December 7, 2019.  Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) announced the availability of supporting documents, such as an updated Fact Sheet, and a comment period on the draft revised PAG-02.  The comment period is open until only September 16, 2019.

Anyone engaged in construction, real estate development, or similar operations should review the draft revised PAG-02 permit and supporting documents, and should consider submitting comments to PADEP.   PADEP anticipates the revised PAG-02 having an effective date of December 8, 2019.
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Recently, one forward thinking Pennsylvania grocery retailer opened a new Ecommerce hub facility at the site of one of its former, traditional grocery store buildings in a mixed-use neighborhood. Rather than demolishing the existing “brick and mortar” building, it is adaptively reusing the building by converting it to a new “click and mortar” facility.

For many retailers, the traditional retail approach includes a commercial building with a significant retail display and sales area directly accessible by customers selecting and purchasing their goods onsite.  But new approaches are popping up every day.  The new approach referenced above allows customers to place orders online using their electronic devices or onsite using tablets located in the building’s vestibule area.  Orders are processed and fulfilled onsite and either picked up by customers or delivered to customers via a delivery service.

This local retailer is just one example of an emerging business trend whereby “shopping fulfillment centers” are occupying vacant, former retail store buildings located in close proximity to customers.
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Late last spring we discussed how the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) negatively affected development by increasing the costs incurred by developers to install water and wastewater infrastructure (Part I and Part II). Effective January 1, 2018, the TCJA required that water companies include advances for construction (“Advances”) and Contributions in Aid of Construction (“CIAC”) in taxable income. Of course, water companies do not want to incur the tax directly, so it is passed on to developers thereby making their cost to install water and wastewater infrastructure even higher.

On February 28, 2019 the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) granted Pennsylvania American Water’s (“PAW”) Petition for Reconsideration of its order in Docket Nos. R-2018-3002502/R-2018-3002504. The order requires developers or builders to pay for the TCJA-imposed tax on CIAC and Advances. As a result of the PUC’s grant of reconsideration, there was a cautiously optimistic sigh of relief that the PUC might take a broader and deeper look at the positive impact of new development on the entire base of customers and spread the tax to all customers, not just the developer that installed the improvements.
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In our first two posts (Part 1 and Part 2), we discussed current approaches used by many communities to regulate parking, factors contributing to those approaches, and how those approaches are not sustainable because they consume large amounts of space and money.  Great anecdotal evidence of what we described is provided annually in a post from “Strong Towns” titled “The Best of #BlackFridayParking.”  It is worth a look.

In this, our third and final post, we discuss a few solutions communities, especially those seeking to encourage and support mixed use reuse, infill and redevelopment projects, may wish to consider when “right-sizing” their parking regulations.  In order to gauge impacts and determine the success of the parking solutions, we suggest limiting the following solutions by area (e.g., parcels, blocks or neighborhoods) or zoning district:
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