By Steve Dwyer
David Foss has worked to bring people together for more than two decades -- now, the newly appointed Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast (BCONE) Board Member is eager to become one more “new voice” within BCONE to help shape and refine the organization’s ambitious agenda led by its executives, who are also new to the group this year.
Late 2022 proved to be a transitional time for the veteran environmental consultant, who joined MassDEP as Statewide Brownfields Coordinator in October and subsequently became affiliated with BCONE.
Now, Foss is eager to integrate his skills and knowledge into the group, serving on the regulatory committee. One of his core tenets is this: “You can go fast alone; but if you want to go far, you go far together.’ You need people working together towards a common goal,” Foss revealed to me in late June.
An environmental consultant on the private side for 25-plus years (CPG and LSP), Foss has worked both with and for municipalities and regional planning commissions, including more than 40 cities and towns in Massachusetts, with an emphasis on best-practices of brownfield redevelopment.
A career shift occurred last fall when Foss accepted the position as Statewide Brownfields Coordinator for MassDEP. “My approach now, within the public-side capacity, is that I treat all Massachusetts communities as ‘clients’ -- as if I’m their consultant, advising them on everything, from the front-end identification and assessment of sites to helping identify funding streams and financial incentives.”
When Foss joined the MassDEP team, his association with BCONE effectively commenced as well. As is the case with many BCONE private-corporate or public-governmental affiliates, employees are encouraged to get involved -- all to lend a voice to enhance the brownfield redevelopment narrative in the Northeast.
Enter Foss, who has made quick work of things -- becoming BCONE-affiliated and now Board member within the regulatory committee. What he has long mastered -- and BCONE can expect to reap in return -- is a prioritization of communication and collaboration.
Brings People Together
Foss’s first event as a representative of BCONE occurred last fall during the September 2022 Northeast Sustainable Community Workshop (NSCW) conference in Connecticut. (See upcoming BCONE Events). “I arrived and announced myself as the new Statewide Brownfield Coordinator. I enjoy bringing people together to get projects done, acting as a translator/communicator, which has been honed over my years as a consultant. Two parties, such as the private-public partnership, have to be on the same page to make projects a reality -- from assessment to the cleanup phase to the final redevelopment,” he says.
Speaking about some front-burner issues he is eager to champion this year and next within BCONE -- all to move the needle forward on best-practices brownfield redevelopment -- Foss cited several issues.
Speaking about some front-burner issues, he is eager to champion this year and next within BCONE -- all to move the needle forward on best-practices brownfield redevelopment. Foss has long believed that enhancing community engagement can’t be underestimated, from hosting public meetings to talking about pertinent issues and gathering input from neighbors and residents in Brownfields communities. That speaks to the engagement needed to win over local residents when it comes to setting straight their perceptions, and reconciling their misconceptions, about brownfield remediation and end use development. In short, highlight that projects in their communities are intended to work for them and not against them.
Foss draws on experiences he’s had when state regulators and private-side developers sat down to discuss projects at the front end of the process. Within that, Foss worked to help foster the “common” to build the “ground.” “I have long worked to bring many entities together,” he says.
On community engagement, Foss strives to create a working environment that’s “friendly and open,” and, of course, results-driven. Environmental justice is a topic that most BCONE participants have on their front burners, and Foss is in lock-step with that critical topic. “We can’t just ‘check a box’ and obtain feedback from local residents,” but understand that it is mission critical to make sure locals get a seat at the table, and that residents reap end-use benefits.
A third key platform Foss advocates for is the green energy movement, across wind, solar, anerobic digestion, geo-thermal and more. Matching green energy components such as a solar array where it’s most amenable as an end use -- think solar on contaminated land or a landfill. “We have great opportunities in Massachusetts to promote solar on previously-used properties and prioritize these parcels rather than clearing a forest. I am always working to get creative and identify the practical incentives that can promote green energy,” he says.
A fourth goal is branching out to academia -- getting students stoked about brownfield redevelopment careers in the environmental industry. “I have spoken to Earth Science classes at UMass-Amhurst and Northeastern University to promote environmental science careers,” says Foss, a Colgate University grad. “I’m happy to show environmental or engineering students that there’s a pathway in this industry that can lead to great career satisfaction. We get to make a real difference in peoples’ lives.”
Looking ahead to his work with BCONE, Foss says “one interesting aspect of being in the private sector for so long is that I worked on projects in multiple states and crossed paths with counterparts in New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and more.” Translated, that means that while he operates in Massachusetts, Foss doesn’t operate in a silo, having broadened his geographic horizons over the years.
In singling out relationships he has forged with BCONE board members John Gross in Pennsylvania and Mark Lewis in Connecticut, Foss is also eager to establish a rapport with Regulatory Committee colleagues Karen Cahill and Mike Deely, who also recently became BCONE Board members. “I’m eager to get started, to offer my vision and a fresh perspective.”
Collaboration is the “water that I swim in, and frankly I enjoy meaningful engagement with people. For brownfield redevelopment to work, particularly for the types of projects that face hurdles, you need to get out in front of the process. Get people in the room, at the table early—make it so it’s very organic and productive.”
Posted July 5, 2023