Two highly contaminated former industrial properties in Riverview, Trenton and Wyandotte were visited by federal, state and local officials on Wednesday to get updates on efforts to clean them up and return them to productive use.
U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) was joined by Debra Shore, Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 administrator, and Liesl Clark, who is director of the Department of the Environment, Major Michigan Lakes and Energy, to inspect former Arkema property, most of which is in Riverview but also extends to Wyandotte; as well as the large McLouth Steel site in Trenton.
Arkema is a remediation site, while McLouth is an EPA Superfund site.
The former Arkema chemical plant, located at Pennsylvania Road and West Jefferson, was run by Taminco Higher Amines when it closed for good some 13 years ago. Taminco’s main business was the manufacture of chemical amines. The main products of the Riverview plant were alcanola mines.
When the plant’s impending closure was announced in 2008, a company official told the News-Herald that a corporate decision had been made to close the Riverview site as the company sought to make a major investment in another plant. The decision was made to expand operations to St. Gabriel, Louisiana.
If the Taminco name doesn’t sound familiar to most Downriver residents, that’s because it didn’t exist long before the factory closed. However, the factory itself had been there for over a century.
According to former Riverview Mayor Tim Durand, the company was established in 1898 as Sharples Chemicals and went through several ownership and name changes over the years. It was also known as Pennsalt, Pennwalt, Ato-fina and Arkema.
At the time of the closure, Riverview officials said they were aware that due to what were believed to be significant contamination issues on the property which had been manufacturing chemicals for more than 100 years, there was little likely that the property will be reallocated anytime soon.
More than a decade later, their expectations have come true.
According to Dingell’s office, in 1989 the EPA and Arkema entered into an administrative consent order under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The order requires Arkema to investigate the nature and extent of contamination from historical releases and propose cleanup solutions to prevent unacceptable exposure to contamination of people and the environment.
For the investigation, Arkema collected soil and groundwater samples on its property, as well as offshore sediments along the Detroit River (Upper Trenton Channel). Soil samples were used to assess the risk to future industrial and commercial workers at the site.
Based on the risk assessment, Arkema carried out a remediation study which identified areas of the property requiring rehabilitation based on risk. The CMS evaluated different ways to clean up the site.
A Dingell spokeswoman said offshore sediment contamination should be cleaned up as part of the Great Lakes Legacy Act Upper Trenton Channel Sediment Dredging Project, which is funded by GLLA and private partners.
The GLLA is a voluntary partnership program administered by the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office. Arkema is one of the partners in the GLLA UTC sediment dredging project. GLNPO and its partners plan to remediate segments of UTC between the BASF Northworks facility in Wyandotte and the former Bridgestone/Firestone facility in Riverview. Work is expected to start in 2022 or 2023.
It is planned to temporarily use the Arkema East Plant property as a dredged sediment treatment area for approximately two to three years. Measures will be put in place to prevent dredged material and water from contaminating the site or returning to the river.
Water flowing from the sediments will be treated (cleaned) on site and returned to the river under a permit, or sent to the municipal sewage treatment plant under a permit for final treatment.
As for the McLouth property in Trenton, which is better known, that’s a whole other story.
The property is divided into two sections. The northern section is subject to a corrective action consent order and the southern section is listed as a Superfund.
In 2017, Wayne County acquired 183 acres of the 197-acre southern portion through a tax foreclosure. The county then entered into a purchase and development agreement with Crown Enterprises.
MSC Land Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Crown, is listed as the current owner of the property.
In 2019, the former McLouth site was added to a property class making part of it eligible for federal funding. Dingell said she remains engaged with EGLE, the EPA and other stakeholders to ensure the McLouth site is cleaned up for future development.
MSC Land Co. LLC has completed a multi-million dollar cleanup of the southern portion of the site. City of Trenton officials say the property was purchased for about $4 million as part of the foreclosure process and a total of $36.2 million was spent cleaning it up, with more to come. come.
Although listed as a Superfund site, Trenton City Administrator Dean Creech said his understanding was that the majority of cleanup costs were paid for by the landlord, not government funds.
According to Creech, the company that bought the McLouth property is under the aegis of the Maroun family, best known for owning the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.
Although the family has come under much criticism over the years, particularly for how vehemently they have fought plans for the Gordie Howe International Bridge currently under construction in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood, Creech said the he company had kept its promise to clean up the McLouth site.
“The EPA and EGLE have done a great job working with the Maroun family regarding the cleanup,” he said. “The Maroun family did more than they said they would to clean up the property.”
He said the deadlines had not been met, but that was expected due to the shutdown posed by the COVID pandemic.
Approximately 45 structures were demolished and prior to demolition, asbestos-containing materials, containerized waste and materials containing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were removed from the structures.
All that remains is a fence along the property to keep intruders out.
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James Wagner, who is chairman of the Downriver Community Conference Brownfield Board, gave a brief presentation in the parking lot of Sibley Gardens, a restaurant across from the McLouth site, to officials who stopped there to inspect the property.
Wagner served as the city of Trenton’s trustee from 2011 to 2018, so he has first-hand knowledge of the problems McLouth’s closure caused the city. He is also a former mayor of Wyandotte who has dealt extensively with brownfield issues in that city.
Wagner said he believes parts of the property will become suitable for building, although they will never be suitable for residential development. It would require such extensive cleaning that it would not be a financially feasible project.
Creech said bringing in national and regional leaders to get an “overview” of various projects and areas of concern was a good idea. He said it helps highlight the significant challenges faced by downstream communities along the river and its importance to the regional economy.
Although many area residents have spoken of possible passive or recreational uses for at least part of the property, Creech said he believes anything is possible, but added that it doesn’t seem likely that the owners would spend so much money to clean up the property. and not wanting to make it a profitable business.
Creech said the most credible estimates he’s seen indicate an additional $80 million to $120 million in cleanup work still needs to be done before anything can be developed on the property.
The property is currently zoned for waterfront revitalization, which has numerous industrial allocations. Creech said industrial zoning often means “anything goes,” but said waterfront revitalization imposes significantly more restrictions.
Contrary to rumors that have circulated, the use of intermodal transport is not a foregone conclusion. While it hasn’t been ruled out, Creech said no such plan has been presented to the city’s planning commission.
Officials who took part in the property tour urged area residents to consider attending the upcoming Downstream Economic and Environmental Summit to be held Sept. 8 at Wayne County Community College District’s Downstream Campus, 21000 North Line Road, Taylor.
Sponsored by DTE, Dingell will be among the guest speakers, along with the Destination Downriver Coalition, the Detroit Regional Partnership, the Downriver Community Conference and many others.
The program begins at 8:00 a.m. with a continental breakfast and ends at noon.
Registration is required at SWCRC.com/DownriverSummit2022.
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