DEQ Investigating Pioneer Construction

May 22, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is investigating allegations that Pioneer Construction Inc. illegally removed contaminated soil from the Berkey & Gay Building at 940 Monroe Ave. NW and dumped the soil at sites not designated to hold such materials.

At least two Monroe North District businessmen have informed the DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they witnessed soil being removed from the Berkey & Gay site last August and September, and they allege that truckloads of the contaminated soil were dumped at the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant located north of Leonard Street.

One of the men also alleges that the soil could have possibly been dumped at the Pettis Avenue gravel pit on the city’s northeast side.

An executive with Pioneer denied the allegation and said the matter is all but settled.

An environmental baseline assessment conducted by Superior Environmental Corp. for Pioneer last year found that the Berkey & Gay soil contained polynuclear aromatics and metals in amounts that exceed the DEQ’s Generic Residential Cleanup Criteria.

“We have looked into it. We’ve met with the company, Pioneer. We’ve asked them for information. They did provide some information to us. We didn’t feel it was adequate. We asked them for additional information, and they have provided that. And we are in the process of reviewing that currently,” said Gerard Heyt, district director of the DEQ Environmental Response Unit.

Heyt told the Business Journal that his department was evaluating the material from Pioneer in order to determine whether or not the information accounts for all the soil that was removed during construction. Pioneer told the DEQ that it kept most all of the soil dug up during construction on the Berkey & Gay property, which isn’t a violation. The firm said just a few truckloads were mistakenly removed from the site, but the soil was returned shortly after learning of the mistake.

“The company suggests, and what we’re really looking into is whether or not we agree with it, that the soils that were excavated from below the building were actually relocated to the south end of the building where the parking garage is located,” said Heyt.

“That’s OK because basically what was in the soil was somewhat ubiquitous to the area. In other words, it’s historical fill type material. We just want to be sure that it all makes sense and the soil did in fact go there as opposed to some place else,” he added.

Heyt said he wasn’t sure how long it would take the agency to finish its analysis, but he estimated that it would likely go on for a few more weeks.

Jim Czanko of Pioneer told the Business Journal that all the concerns have been pretty much decided and that there really isn’t much of an issue left.

“We’ve done everything that the DEQ has requested and I feel that we have met our obligations. Unfortunately, inadvertently some soil was removed but has been brought back and all of the issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of everybody at this point,” said Czanko.

“The issue in itself has been resolved. We have documentation indicating to that effect,” he added. “Again, I don’t think there is a story per se that warrants certainly any further issuance.”

Pioneer is turning the 400,000-square-foot Berkey & Gay into a loft apartment building with commercial and retail space on the first floor. The company recently learned that the renovated building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, a prestigious honor.

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