McLouth Steel site could get millions in federal funds for cleanup

worker_furnace175The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is recommending that the shuttered McLouth Steel site be added to the federal Superfund National Priorities List. The move would enable millions in federal funds toward cleanup of the site off West Jefferson Avenue, and would help resolve remaining pollution issues as the Moroun family seeks to acquire the property from Wayne County.

The Morouns propose a new transportation facility that would fit into the family’s vast shipping and trucking empire. Among the Morouns’ most prominent holdings are the Ambassador Bridge and, until its sale in June to Ford Motor Co. for a new headquarters, the Michigan Central Station.

The McLouth Steel factory operated in Trenton from 1950 until bankruptcy in 1995. In 2000, the company holding the 273-acre property, DSC Ltd., sold a 76-acre northern portion of the site to Moroun. DSC Ltd. tried unsuccessfully to resurrect steel manufacturing on the southern portion of the site in the late 1990s. In 1999, DSC entered into an environmental cleanup agreement with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, began cleanup work but never completed it, according to EPA documents.

On June 14, 2007, a fire broke out at the property in an open pond used to collect waste oil. Firefighters and the Downriver Emergency Response Team extinguished the fire. During a review of the scene, first responders identified hundreds of containers and drums of wastes. On Oct. 16, 2007, EPA and DEQ also discovered more than 3,700 PCB-containing transformers and capacitors stored in the upper rafters of one of the steel production buildings.

Between May and October 2009, EPA  removed and disposed of 3,744 PCB capacitors, 39,783 gallons of PCB oil and 1,877 containers of hazardous substances at the site. In September 2012, EPA stopped pursuing reimbursement of the approximately $2 million in cleanup costs incurred after it determined that DSC had no ability to pay. “EPA elected not to record a lien against the property after it determined that there were already significant tax liens in place that had priority over EPA’s potential lien,” agency documents state.

The EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and Michigan DEQ have negotiated a settlement agreement and covenant not to sue with the Morouns. It would require the family to do certain cleanup work on the property in exchange for assurances remaining cleanup will be handed by EPA, and that the Morouns won’t ever be sued related to contamination at the site. Among the activities required of the Morouns under the proposed agreement:

  • Install a fence around the property.
  • Demolish approximately 45 structures.
  • Remove asbestos-containing material, waste in containers and materials containing PCBs from all structures prior to demolition.
  • Remove contaminated water and sludge from 23 subsurface structures (pits, basements and lagoons), clean or remove the structures and, if the structures remain, fill them with clean fill materials.
  • Investigate five areas where PCBs may have been released.
  • Assess and report on options for stormwater management to eliminate uncontrolled flow to the Trenton Channel of the Detroit River.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, in a statement, said adding sites like McLouth Steel to the Superfund list is the agency carrying out a core responsibility.

“Cleaning up sites that pose risks to public health and the environment is a critical part of our mission and it provides significant health and economic benefits to communities across the country,” he said.

The end mission is returning a safe, remediated Superfund site to productive reuse, EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp said in a statement.

“Enabling responsible redevelopment of sites can transform underutilized sites that have long been considered eyesores or wastelands to become engines of revitalization,” she said.

The Morouns’ agreement with Wayne County to acquire the McLouth Steel site must be concluded by Oct. 1. A public comment period on the settlement agreement and covenant not to sue closes Thursday, leaving any EPA modifications to the deal as a result of public comments one of the lone remaining hurdles to concluding the transaction.

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