"What's good for the environment can be good for the bottom line," he said.
It's the EPA's equivalent of turning a sow's ear into a silk purse. And it will be a model for cleanups and redevelopments around the country.
No small task. But the players are in place in Park City for the extreme makeover planned to turn the old 16-acre Daly Mine dump into the 50,000-square-foot Montage Hotel & Resort, where lodging could go to $2,000 a night - or more.
According to Phoenix-based Athens Group development firm, the Montage will sport 94 residences and 178 guest rooms and suites. The project, constructed under "green" guidelines, breaks ground this summer, said Jeff Morgan, senior vice president.
It's part of Toronto-based Talisker Corp.'s development plans that include some 900 units in various condo projects and lodges in Empire Canyon.
ER3 stands for Environmentally Responsible Redevelopment & Reuse, Johnson told a small crowd at Deer Valley's Empire Lodge that overlooks the Daly Mine. He was joined by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Park City Mayor Dana Williams, among a host of local, state and federal dignitaries.
The pilot program is based on cooperation between EPA, developers, local governments and citizens. It's described as a turnabout for the agency's hard-nosed days in the mid-1980s when it threatened to place Park City's Prospector Square neighborhood on the dreaded Superfund cleanup list of hazardous sites.
Under ER3, a developer or community agrees to remediate a waste site in exchange for "liability relief" - the federal government won't sue if the area is cleaned up using green building standards and landscaping, said EPA project manager Kathryn Hernandez.
"We really believe this [Daly Mine] site is uniquely situated for the pilot project," she said.
The EPA's announcement made for a bittersweet day for Williams, who had "major concerns" about development in the canyon that extends south and west from Old Town's Daly Avenue. As a vocal member of Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth (CARG) before he was elected mayor, he sought to pressure Park City and United Park City Mines to reduce development plans for the area.
"For me, this has been a 15-year process," Williams said. "I certainly get concerned about large amounts of [housing] density. But that has been vastly reduced, and we get large amounts of land protected."
Several years ago, Talisker Corp. purchased United Park City Mines after the mining company's 1999 agreement with the city that inked annexation and outlined development in Empire Canyon.
Williams said original plans for 3,000 units in the canyon had been reduced to 900. In addition, the city got the company to set aside 3,700 acres in permanent open space and 125 units of affordable housing. Further, Talisker agreed to mitigate traffic with a park-and-ride lot east of Park City with shuttles to Empire Canyon lodges.
The mayor applauded the Montage resort developers for using building standards set forth by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEEDS), even though Park City ordinances don't demand them.
"It's not like we lost a pristine area. This was a mine site," Williams said. "This is a case where when it's all said and done, it's a win-win."