City may market Cliffs Dow parcels

MARQUETTE – The city of Marquette may look to section off and sell portions of the former Cliffs Dow property in the future.

The city commission heard that recommendation, and others, during a work session on the topic Monday evening.

For the last few years, the city has worked at the urging of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to remediate the industrial remnants on the lakeside property, located to the west of Lakeshore Boulevard and south of Hawley Street.

A series of wells stationed along the lakeshore have been used to test pollution levels in the groundwater-surface water interface – the point where the water table mixes with the lake water – and pollution levels at many of those points have remained low.

Rich Baron, an environmental attorney with Foley, Baron, Metzger & Juip, told the commission that the DEQ has expressed approval for the city’s continued monitoring and remediation efforts.

During the summer of 2011, the city excavated a portion of the site and uncovered cast iron piping, concrete footings, a wooden trench structure and concentrated pools of wood tar.

In total, the city moved more than 800 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the former industrial site to the Marquette County Landfill.

Baron said that work was informed by detailed exploratory data and the hope is that a good portion of the concentrated source material has been removed.

“We’re not at all proposing we go out and try to dig up everything on the site,” he said.

But the limited removal, he said, should not be considered a panacea and additional remediation work may have to be done on a portion of the property at some point.

Baron said the city hopes to hear from the DEQ that the municipal obligations have been met on certain parts of the land.

“That’s helpful in terms of, at least, freeing up some of the resources of the city and what might be done with some of those other pieces,” he said. “Let’s try to limit the focus as much as we can and as much as is supported with the data.”

Baron said the project team is planning to ask the DEQ for permission to reduce the scope of monitoring to focus only on the areas that are still showing increased pollution levels.

Additionally, the groups would like the DEQ to provide the city with a letter stating the agency has been pleased with the city’s actions to this point.

Finally, the city may parcel off the clean sections and would ask the DEQ to loosen some deed restrictions on those pieces of land, allowing Marquette to market the land as residential property if desired.

Steve Harrington, the DEQ project manager for the site, said the city has already approached the DEQ with some of those concerns.

“We’ve been having discussions on that for a while now,” he said. “They’ve been able to continue to focus on where the remaining problem exists, and where it doesn’t exist.”

He said the city is free to parcel off and sell the land, and the DEQ may be willing to assist with altering the deed restrictions at some point.

“Most of the property, I think, is generally usable for most purposes,” said Harrington, who added that the agency is “not striving for perfection.”

Commissioner Bob Niemi said that, after years of watching and waiting with regards to the site, he was impressed to see some movement.

“We’re finally hearing a plan for doing something,” he said.

The city first bought the 77-acre parcel for $1 from Marquette Properties II LLC – a partnership of the Dow Chemical Co., Georgia-Pacific Corp. and the former Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. – more than 15 years ago.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.