By Scott Sullivan
Douglas took a giant leap forward in its efforts to repurpose the former Haworth plant site May 12 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency apprised city leaders their cleanup grant application has been accepted.
The city, turned down by the EPA in 2021, late last year razed the eight-years-vacant 150,300-square-foot former factory on 7.18 acres at 200 Blue Star Hwy. hoping what turned out to be its $117,000 investment to do so — not to mention $100,000 more to acquire the site in 2019 from Haworth — would show the EPA it had enough skin in the game to secure this year’s $500,000 application to complete PCB cleanup there.
Brownfields and Land Revitalization director David Lloyd apprised Douglas May 12 the EPA had chosen it one of the entities to begin negotiations to award a cooperative grant agreement.
“That means,” said city manager Rich LaBombard, “we will work together with the EPA and our consultant PM Environmental to quantify the remediation need based on Brownfield studies underway for months.
“I’m confident we will receive the full $500,000 We just need to learn more how to best deploy it.”
Work won’t start right away. The study, due June 10, precedes approval to come no sooner than Oct. 1, the start of the next federal fiscal year. Once the grant is awarded the city, which has until Sept. 30, 2025 to expend the awarded funds, will bid out work.
Still, learning money will come is a big step towards rehabilitating an eyesore near the southern gateway to the city as part of larger hopes to create a possible mixed-use development that includes commercial and provides affordable housing options in the area.
The city in 2018 signed a nonbinding memo of understanding with developer Dave Barker, who controls the 50.34-acre former Miro site west and north of the ex-Haworth site plus 16.68 city-owned acres west fronting Wiley Road into such a complex, a particular prospect that has cooled but may still be a possibility.
Last year’s grant application, said LaBombard, drew feedback the EPA wanted more details about volume and concentration of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, largely left by past site occupant Chase Manufacturing, and associated removal costs. Most were found in the northern section of the now-razed building including the cement foundation, soil and northerly concrete block wall.
Still working with the EPA’s Region 5 Targeted Brownfield Assessment group, Douglas plans to take more PCB site samples and develop a work plan to meet Toxic Substance Control Act Subpart D Cleanup Standards.
LaBombard hopes to submit the TSCA cleanup plan and develop bid specifications for contractor selection by spring next year. The city will also work with the Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) department to address state-regulated substances including Trichlorethylene (TCE) known to be on the site.
PM Environmental’s successful 10-page application for this year’s grant cycle noted efforts to attract a site developer have been stalled due to known on-site contamination.
“With respect to the target property’s location and size,” it went on, “its cleanup and redevelopment has the potential to attract additional ‘spin-off’ developments to the Blue Star corridor and achieve the city’s objectives to attract new developments that provide diverse housing options, new commercial mixed-use retail developments, create jobs and generate new tax revenues …
“By 1938,” the application wemt on, the site “was developed as a fallow orchard with two small structures. By the 1940s, the property was redeveloped into its current configuration, which consists of two utility buildings and a 150,300-square-foot, single-story industrial building with approximately 15 truck bays facing Blue Star Highway.
“From the 1940s through mid-1970s the property’s extensive history included plating, buffing, zinc die casting, metal forming, stamping, phosphatizing and painting metal parts.
“Between 1976 and 2014, it was owned and occupied by Haworth Inc. (formerly Haworth Manufacturing), which used the facility to manufacture furniture. (Haworth was Douglas’s largest employer then.)
“Since 2014, the vacancy of the massive metal warehouse-like structure is one of the first sights that greet those traveling into the city from the south.
“After seven years of vacancy, the property is an eyesore as it remains unutilized, is not contributing to tax revenues and is an environmental risk. In addition to the overall cost associated with redeveloping the target property, the added expense of addressing the contamination has made redevelopment of the property financially prohibitive.
“To assist in leveraging funding opportunities for cleanup and redevelopment, the city acquired the target property in 2019. (Douglas paid Haworth $100,000, well below the site’s estimated value, but agreed to assume its cleanup responsibilities.)
“In 2015, Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments were conducted to review previous assessments and investigate contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) beneath the building, as well as evaluate pathways related to vapor intrusion.
“Sampling conducted in the former die cast pit area (eastern portion of the building) identified concentrations of PCBs above one part per million (ppm).
“Analytical data also suggests that the TCE contamination exceeding Michigan’s Residential and Nonresidential Drinking Water, Groundwater Surface Water Interface, and Groundwater Volatilization to Indoor Air cleanup criteria, has migrated approximately 1,600 feet north-northwest of the target property, offsite …
“A cleanup strategy was prepared that involves addressing the contamination from the source areas on the target property by first addressing the PCB contamination. This approach will assist in eliminating one of the concerns identified and as a result, in conjunction with other leveraged sources, to better position the property to be marketed for redevelopment.
“Before cleanup of the PCB cleanup activities takes place, it is necessary to demolish the building to access the PCB-contaminated areas and implement cleanup activities.”
This was achieved late last year with an added complication. Contractor Melching Demolition needed $39,200 more than its fall 2021 low $77,800 bid to raze the plant on finding added PCB concentrations in the plant’s north wall. Since-leveled concrete blocks there were sealed in plastic, studied further and now have been carted off.
It has been a complex, circuitous journey not yet over. But last week’s announcement was a major step on the way.
By Scott Sullivan