DEQ Discovers A Different Dirt

June 11, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A zoning variance was granted for the project, a deed restriction was lifted from the property, a hearing date was set for a brownfield designation, and now the results of soil testing at the site have been released.

All those recent decisions involve the former Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW, a site from which engineers from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality collected soil samples in February to determine whether the dirt there matched the soil at the former Berkey & Gay factory at 940 Monroe Ave. NW.

No match. The soils were analytically different.

“The findings indicated that the soil that was sampled at the water filtration plant did not come from the Berkey & Gay plant,” said assistant attorney general Thomas Piotrowski.

“We were told specifically what area to sample from Mr. (William) Tingley. We received permission from the property owner to go out and take samples and they did not match up,” he added.

The soil testing was fueled by a complaint to the state from William Tingley III, general manager of auto parts supplier PROTO-Cam Inc. and the executive director of Local Area Watch, a nonprofit organization.

Tingley accused the developers that renovated the Berkey & Gay into The Boardwalk of using his company’s easement at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW to allegedly remove truckloads of toxic soil from the construction site to the filtration plant four years ago. At that time, Monroe Avenue was closed to through traffic.

The developers, 900 and 940 Monroe LLC, both headed by Thomas Beckering, said they inadvertently hauled about a half-dozen truckloads of dirt from the worksite to the plant. But once they realized what they had done, attorneys for the developers said the soil was collected at the plant and returned to the worksite.

A DEQ investigation into the matter in 2002 cleared the developers of any wrongdoing. An investigator admitted, however, that the agency never tested the soil at the plant back then when it announced its decision.

“My experts tell me that the samples don’t match up,” said Piotrowski.

That means it’s unlikely that contaminated dirt was hauled from the B&G site to the filtration plant.

Piotrowski told the Business Journal last week that the investigation remains on hold and could be taken up again. He added, though, the on-hold status is the normal standing for investigations like this one.

De Vries Development plans to renovate the 40,000-square-foot lower level of the plant into retail and office space. The firm also plans to build six apartments on the upper floor. In all, De Vries will invest close to $5 million in the renovation project.

The hearing before the City Commission on the developer’s request for brownfield status will be held on June 29. If commissioners approve the request, De Vries will earn a Single Business Tax Credit from the state equal to 10 percent of the company’s restoration cost.

The filtration plant is situated in the city’s Renaissance Zone, meaning most local and state taxes associated with the property are exempted for a few more years. De Vries bought the plant from Dykema Excavators, which purchased the property from the city.           

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