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Environmental discussion: Cliffs Dow site work session to be held Monday

MARQUETTE — With plans in motion for a potential residential development on a portion of the former Cliffs-Dow site along Lakeshore Boulevard, the Marquette City Commission will receive an update on the environmental status of the site during a work session at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Marquette City Hall Commission Chambers.

“Our environmental (consultant) attorney does this periodically for the commission to give them and us an understanding of where we are in the remediation process as well as what’s expected from us in the future,” City Manager Mike Angeli said.

The presentation will also be delivered at the commission’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

The work session will provide a “better opportunity for more dialogue and interaction” about the issue, Angeli said. Area residents will have opportunities to make comments at the beginning and end of the work session.

The city purchased the former Cliffs Dow Chemical Co. property along Lakeshore Boulevard for $1 in 1997.

More than two decades after that, the commission in July began moving forward with preliminary steps in negotiating the sale of the center parcel to the Marquette-based developer Veridea Group, which plans to build up to 500 residences on the parcel.

Following the resolution of intent to sell, the parcel was approved for rezoning from municipal to mixed-use, contingent upon remaining exposure pathways being addressed and accounted for, a “no residential uses” deed restriction being lifted by the state and engineered controls being in place.

While many have expressed concerns about a residential development on the former industrial site due to groundwater contamination and the residential deed restriction from the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment, Angeli emphasized: “We’re not trying to create something where people are going to be exposed to environmental hazards. We’re going to mitigate all of that, this is going to explain to the commission how we’re going to do all of that.”

Angeli dismissed claims that the city isn’t doing its due diligence.

“That’s not the case, and this is an opportunity to ensure the commission and the public that’s not the case,” he said.

Due to the upcoming work session, Margaret Brumm — a longtime Marquette-area resident, patent attorney, chemical engineer and former employee of both Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and the Dow Chemical Company — gave a presentation at the Peter White Public Library Thursday night to educate area residents about the former industrial site.

It all started in 1903, Brumm said, when Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. began using the site to manufacture charcoal to produce pig iron. Its north edge was at Hawley Street, its east edge next to the lakeshore and Lakeshore Boulevard, its west edge was Presque Isle Avenue and its south edge near Fair Avenue.

In 1908, the company began extracting wood chemical derivatives from the charcoal manufacturing process. Wood tar — which Brumm said she believes remains a concern at the site — was a byproduct of these processes.

Notably, in 1916, “there was a massive explosion that completely destroyed the plant,” Brumm said.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, “the need for pig iron declined and the need for pelletized iron increased,” leading to the charcoal operation shutting down, she said. However, in 1935, the Cliffs Dow Chemical Co. was formed and began operating on the site.

In addition to charcoal, these other products were produced from wood at the site: methanol, propionic acid, guaiacol and creosol, acetic acid, creosote, maltol and methyl cyclopentenelone and creosote oils, Brumm said.

It was sold to the Royal Oak Charcoal Co. in 1968, Brumm said, with operations ending just a year after the sale.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1997, the city of Marquette purchased the location for $1, taking on environmental liability for the site, Brumm said.

It was divided into three parcels, with the northern section eventually housing BioLife Plasma services after a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup was completed. The southern section was purchased by Northern Michigan University, which was subject to a remedial action plan.

The center parcel, which includes the land that was rezoned and will potentially be sold, is still owned by the city, she said.

The city has monitored the site since 2009 as requested by the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment, hiring TriMedia Environmental and Engineering and a special counsel to obtain data by performing testing on the groundwater and soil.

The DEGLE denied the city’s request for a No Further Action determination at the site, city notes state, and local officials are evaluating “alternatives in order to address the deficiencies noted by the (DEGLE).” A “no residential uses deed” restriction is also in place, city officials have said.

The deed restriction is due to chemical contamination in groundwater roughly 60 feet under the site, Marquette Director of Community Development Dennis Stachewicz said at a September meeting of the planning commission.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal .net.

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