DEQ Wraps Up Toxic Soil Inquiry

August 2, 2002
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LANSING — The Office of Criminal Investigation within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has completed its inquiry into the supposed removal and dumping of toxic soil, and did not find evidence to substantiate a criminal charge.

The complaint alleged that the soil was removed from the former Berkey & Gay site at 940 Monroe Ave. NW and taken to the old water filtration plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW. The soil reportedly held over a dozen contaminants, which were listed in a baseline environmental study that was done as part of the effort to renovate the former furniture factory into an apartment and office complex called the Boardwalk.

Local Area Watch Executive Director William Tingley III filed the complaint and accused developers of the Boardwalk of illegally removing and transporting 21,000 cubic yards of the soil to the former city-owned filtration plant in 2000. He also alleged that some of the dirt was taken to a gravel pit on the city’s northeast side.

“The investigation has, in fact, concluded, and the result of the investigation was that we could not come up with evidence that contaminated materials were taken off site to the gravel pit on Pettis Lake Road,” said Lt. Thomas Mitner of the OCI.

“We did confirm that some soils were taken there. But we sampled those soils and they all came back as clean, below residential criteria,” he added.

Tingley charged that the actions were in violation of Michigan’s environmental and hazardous waste laws, and asked the Attorney General’s office to look into the matter.

The AG’s office decided to review the charges in May 2001, and ordered the DEQ’s OCI division to investigate. But Tingley told the Business Journal that the inquiry never inspected the water tanks at the filtration plant, where he claimed most of the soil was stored.

“In the criminal case, we did not look into that,” said Mitner of the water tanks.

Mitner explained that the reason why OCI didn’t go to the filtration plant was that the Environmental Response Division of the DEQ had already ruled on that location.

“That was handled administratively by the ERD, and in that, apparently, they (the developers) took soils from the site to the water filtration plant,” he said. “Then they removed the soils from the water filtration plant that were taken there inappropriately, and put them back on site.

“But we addressed the complaints by Mr. Tingley through the Attorney General’s office that soils were removed from the site to this gravel pit on Pettis Avenue.”

ERD, also part of the DEQ, completed its inquiry in March of last year, a probe that came from a charge made by Proto-CAM Inc. Tingley is general manager of Proto-CAM, an auto parts supplier located at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW and just east of the construction site.

The gravel pit that was investigated is not part of the concrete yard owned and operated by Pettis & Associates, a supplier of crushed concrete to the construction industry.

The Boardwalk was developed by 900 Monroe LLC and 940 Monroe LLC. Pioneer Inc. President Thomas Beckering heads both limited liability companies. Attorneys for the developers, and the developers themselves, said they inadvertently removed about a half-dozen truckloads of the soil, but returned the dirt to the construction site once they realized what had happened.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Leffler, who leads the office’s environmental section, told the Business Journal that he didn’t expect his office would take any further action unless OCI reported it had found a violation.

“We have written a closure report that has been sent to the Environmental Response Division and to the OCI headquarters,” said Mitner.

“Of course, if we developed enough evidence to recommend charges we would refer it back to the Attorney General’s office. But in this case, there wasn’t enough evidence to substantiate a charge.”

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