Environmental hazards are a growing concern for trust and private bankers in New Jersey, as evidenced by a lively how-to discussion at a trade group meeting in Princeton last week.
The session at the New Jersey Bankers Association's annual trust conference focused on the liability issues banks face concerning the environmental contamination of real estate.
The association said it decided to put an environmental session back on the program after it noted that real estate values are on the rise in New Jersey and properties have once again become a popular investment.
"Trustees are looking for different kinds of investments, including real estate, in their portfolios," said Kurt E. Schaub, the association's director of communications. "But, in doing so they are perhaps catching up with what lenders had to deal with a few years ago."
Mr. Schaub added that, anecdotally, he was familiar with more instances of a bank refusing to take a property into a trust to manage than was the case five years ago, indicating that some trust officers are more careful about real estate.
Among those sharing notes on how to avoid losses - whether on an investment made for a beneficiary or a loan made to a private client - was Stephen O. Noble, a vice president at PNC Bank Corp.
Mr. Noble, who worked for six years at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection before becoming a lender, authored his bank's environmental risk assessment survey.
The survey gained immediate favor with Donald A. Fox, an attorney in PNC's private bank. Now all private lenders and trust managers working for PNC in New Jersey must fill out the survey the first time they lay eyes on a property.
Yet even Mr. Noble, who is an engineer, warns against getting too confident about handling environmental issues, and suggests getting second and third opinions from environmental consultants.
"The days of backyard mechanics are gone. Know the experts and who will or will not take advantage of your ignorance," Mr. Noble said.
While values on properties may be on the rise, the Garden State is still ripe with potential clean-up sites, according to an attorney who focuses on environmental law.
"In New Jersey there is a lot of contaminated property because of the industrial history of the state," said Virginia G. White, a partner of Stryker, Tams & Dill, a Newark law firm.
"Many farms (there) are Superfund sites because farmers let out the back 40 to industries," she added.