ERDs Review Clears Pioneer
GRAND RAPIDS — Executives at Pioneer Inc. were caught off-guard when they learned that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was still looking into how much contaminated soil the company removed from the Berkey & Gay Building. They thought the matter was settled a few months ago.
“I’m kind of surprised that this is even an issue,” said William J. Fisher, a partner at Fisher Dickinson and an attorney for Pioneer.
Then just two business days later Pioneer executives learned that the Environmental Response Division of the DEQ had finished its investigation and concluded that all the relocated contaminated soil had been accounted for on the B&G site.
“Based on the information we have right now, we don’t intend to pursue this any further,” said Bonnie White, ERD senior analyst and project manager for the inquiry. “If something comes up as a result of the Office of Criminal Investigation, where we need to do additional work, then we can revisit this.
“But at this point in time, based on the information that we’ve been provided, we’re satisfied,” she added.
OCI became involved because William Tingley III, general manager of Proto-Cam Inc., filed a complaint with that division. Proto-Cam is located near the B&G building.
“The complainant has also filed a complaint with the Department of the Attorney General. And, as a result of that, the Office of Criminal Investigation is looking into the allegation,” said White.
Fisher told the Business Journal that only about six truckloads of contaminated soil were inadvertently removed from the site at 940 Monroe Ave. NW and taken to the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW. But he added that the soil was quickly returned to the B&G property.
“They were told they couldn’t do that, and they went right back and they got it. They brought it back to the site and re-spread it underneath the building,” he said.
State law prohibits relocating contaminated soil to a site not designated for that purpose.
At the DEQ’s request last fall, Fisher said Pioneer provided the agency with documents stating that the soil was only taken to the filtration plant and was returned to the B&G site as soon as the company was aware of what happened. These documents, he added, included affidavits from the truck drivers who hauled the soil.
“It was then put underneath the (B&G) building. That is very lawful. I’m baffled why it has come up. I was pleased that we reacted as quickly and thoroughly as we did. I’m amazed that it (the review) is not concluded,” said Fisher just hours before the ERD made its decision.
Jim Czanko of Pioneer was also surprised. Czanko said he was puzzled as to why the inquiry was continuing. He said he thought the matter had been resolved and that the review was finished.
When the Business Journal checked with the ERD on March 1, it was told that the investigation was underway and would likely continue for a few more weeks. On March 5, however, the ERD completed its review.
The review did not include an examination of the property owned by Pettis & Associates, a firm which supplies crushed concrete to the construction industry from its yard at 1200 Pettis NE. A spokesperson for Pettis & Associates said the local ERD office cleared the yard of having any contaminated soil on it last August.
The complaint suggested that some of the contaminated dirt may have been dumped in a gravel pit on Pettis Avenue last Sept. 25. The site is near the Pettis & Associates property, but is not part of the concrete yard.
The allegation made by Tingley and another North Monroe businessman that Pioneer dumped contaminated soil at the filtration plant proved to be true. But they alleged that the transfer of soil involved more than a few truckloads, as the company claimed.
Dykema Excavating Inc. bought the filtration plant from the city and reportedly was filling some of the plant’s dozen underground water tanks with dirt. The other tanks are slated to be used for a proposed water research facility called Clearwater Plaza. The Global Enterprise for Water Technology, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Michigan State University, is trying to raise $21 million to renovate the plant.
City commissioners accepted Dykema’s offer of $400,000 for the plant on Feb. 9, 1999. In April 1997, the city listed the plant at $500,000, but had trouble finding a buyer at that price because it was estimated that it would cost $600,000 to fill the facility’s tanks. When Dykema made its offer, the city said the firm had 50,000 cubic yards of clean fill to drop into the tanks. The filtration plant is in the city’s Renaissance Zone.
A baseline environmental assessment showed that the B&G site was contaminated with levels of metals and polynuclear aromatics exceeding the DEQ’s residential criteria, not an unusual finding for a former industrial site. The report concluded that Pioneer was not responsible for polluting the site and that the firm could cap the property with concrete under the state’s Part 201 law.
According to a Nov. 17 memo from DEQ Director Russell Harding, the agency met with Pioneer and Dykema Excavators, which worked on the B&G project, in early November and the firms promised to provide documents that detailed the relocation and the return of the soil from the work site.
“The information was received and is currently being reviewed by ERD staff,” wrote Harding. “Once this information is reviewed, a determination will be made regarding whether or not any further action is warranted.”