Cleanup of ex-GM sites in Lansing area could start next year

6:36 AM, Jun 7, 2013   |    comments
Lansing State Journal file photos of former GM sites
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LANSING, Mich. (The State Journal) -- The trust tasked in federal bankruptcy court with the decontamination and sale of former General Motors Corp. factories - including four near Lansing - says it expects to send the results of its pollution tests on the sites to the state this month.

RACER Trust, the holding entity of nearly 90 closed GM plants across the U.S. when it formed in 2011, intends to limit potential redevelopment of three sites in Lansing and Lansing Township to commercial or industrial uses and restrict new tenants from tapping into groundwater wells.

The plans, to be submitted to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, are in response to the discovery of contaminants - including heavy metals such as chromium and lead, volatile organic compounds and other solvents - in water and soil samples at the now-demolished plants.

Locally, they include Lansing Car Assembly, also known as Fisher Body, on Verlinden Street spanning Lansing and Lansing Township; and the Lansing Metal Center and Lansing Craft Centre on Saginaw Street in Lansing Township.

RACER obtained the closed factories after GM went through bankruptcy in 2009. The Detroit automaker closed Lansing Car Assembly in 2005. Lansing Craft Centre and Lansing Metal Center followed a year later.

The trust also holds a 25-acre industrial site in Delta Township that once housed an engine plant, but it is not included in the plans it will send to the DEQ. That property has no known environmental issues, said Grant Trigger, RACER Trust's Michigan-based cleanup manager.

Trust leaders say they anticipate a response from the DEQ about its findings by September. The timeline is accelerated, but reasonable, said Peter Quackenbush, a senior environmental engineer with the DEQ. RACER Trust also has to prepare a correction plan. Formal cleanup could begin in 2014.

About $18 million is budgeted for the Lansing work, Trigger said. Nationally, $500 million is set aside to fund cleanup in the 14 states in which RACER Trust has property. The state administers the money, which was part of a federal bankruptcy court settlement.

Both Trigger and Quackenbush say the scope of contamination issues at the three sites is less than would be expected at former auto manufacturing sites. But a previously undiscovered solvent, called 1,4-dioxane, was found at the Lansing Metal Center this spring and will require additional investigation to learn the depth of the problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the solvent a likely carcinogen.

Some polluted soil is expected to be covered to lessen exposure risk, Trigger said. Drinking water sources for city and township residents neighboring the sites have not been contaminated. Shallow groundwater contamination was found near the line separating the plants from residential neighborhoods.

RACER officials met with roughly 50 people Thursday who live near the facilities. Several neighbors asked about the properties' redevelopment prospects and the likelihood of their drinking water being impacted.

The trust will continue to monitor contamination "to make sure it stays where it is," Trigger said. "We will do whatever's necessary to make sure that doesn't become a problem."

The facilities all have redevelopment challenges. To date, prospective buyers have numbered close to 10, many in "green" energy or light industrial fields, said Patricia Spitzley, RACER Trust's deputy redevelopment manager. She said interest has been slow.

RACER Trust is obligated to fund cleanup for industrial or commercial uses, Trigger said.

That doesn't preclude possible mixed-use or housing developments, he added, but the cost of the additional environmental work to make the sites inhabitable for residents would be borne by developers.

By Lindsay VanHulle, Lansing State Journal staff writer

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