DEQ Testing Filtration Plant Soil

February 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality tested the soil at the former Monroe Avenue Water Filtration plant last week to determine whether toxic contaminants are present.

The plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW has been at the center of a nearly four-year-old allegation that the developers of The Boardwalk, once the old Berkey & Gay factory, illegally removed and transported 21,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the construction site to the filtration plant in late 2000.

As of early last week, the DEQ had collected soil samples from at least three locations on the plant’s property.

“Right now we’re taking some samples just to look to see what is there. But other than that, I can’t comment further,” said Lt. Thomas Mittner of the DEQ Office of Criminal Investigation (OCI).

Mittner said he couldn’t reveal how much sampling would be done and how long the process would take.

“No, I really can’t. We’re in the investigative phase right now and I’d just as soon leave it right there,” he added.

The OCI and the Environmental Response Division (ERD) of the DEQ cleared the developers of any wrongdoing in the summer of 2002 after an investigation ordered by the Attorney General’s office in May 2001.

But in doing so, the ERD also reported it never sampled the soil at the plant or in the water tanks for toxins. Instead, the agency tested a gravel pit on the far northeast side of the city and found that soil to be “below the residential criteria” of contamination.

As for the filtration plant, the ERD reviewed documents from the developers that said they inadvertently removed about a half-dozen truckloads of soil from the building site and unloaded those at the plant. But once they realized what had happened, they removed the soil from the plant and brought the black dirt back to the construction site.

“That was handled administratively by the ERD, and in that, apparently, they (the developers) took soils from the site to the water filtration plant. Then they removed the soils from the water filtration plant that were taken there inappropriately, and put them back on-site,” Mittner told the Business Journal in August 2002.

The investigation was fueled by complaints from William Tingley III, general manager of PROTO-Cam Inc. and executive director of the Local Area Watch.

PROTO-Cam, an automotive parts supplier, is located at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW and is just east of what was then the construction site. Tingley said the developers used the company’s easement to transport the soil along Ottawa Avenue to the filtration plant. Monroe Avenue was being rebuilt then and was closed to thru traffic.

Tingley said he videotaped 800 truckloads of soil being taken from the work site.

A baseline environmental analysis of the soil at the construction site revealed that the dirt contained more than a dozen toxins, including arsenic. The analysis recommended that the site be capped and that none be removed from it.

“Information came to the Attorney General’s office that it was incumbent upon the office and the DEQ to research the allegations that were contained in that information. An investigation did occur a couple of years ago and, perhaps, didn’t have all the information at that time,” said Thomas Piotrowski, an assistant attorney general.

“A couple of years go by, takes us to today and allegedly new information was brought to light, which caused us to re-open an investigation,” he added.

Piotrowski said the results from the sampling should be back within the month.

An environmental lawsuit filed by Tingley and others against the developers, builders and financial backers of The Boardwalk, a mixed-use renovation at 940 Monroe Ave. NW, was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell last summer.

In October, Bell fined the plaintiffs $152,000 for filing, what he felt, was a “frivolous” and “vexatious” lawsuit and ordered the plaintiffs to pay the defendants’ legal fees. The plaintiffs have appealed the judge’s ruling.

Tingley and the other plaintiffs named 900 Monroe LLC, 940 Monroe LLC, Pioneer Inc., Dykema Excavators, Fifth Third Bancorp, Prein & Newhof, Superior Environmental Corp., Dickinson Wright PLLC, Frank D. Marshall, William J. Fisher III, Thomas Beckering and John Logie as defendants in the environmental suit.

Bell also dismissed a civil rights suit filed by the plaintiffs against the city, local attorneys, and two Kent County Circuit Court judges.

Dykema Excavators bought the filtration plant from the city in 1999 for $400,000.           

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