Quincy smelter site taken off toxic list

HOUGHTON – The federal Environmental Protection Agency created the Torch Lake Superfund site in 1986, and Wednesday local, state and federal representatives got together to celebrate the deletion of the Quincy Smelting Works site parcel from the Superfund National Priorities List.

Since 1986, various federal agencies have spent more than $12 million for toxic contaminant clean up, and about $2 million for the stabilization of several buildings on the site.

At a meeting of the people involved with the effort to rehabilitate the smelter site, Scott See, executive director of the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, began the event by giving a brief history of the smelter, which began operation by the Quincy Mining Company in 1898.

“The smelter was an integral part of the Quincy Mine Company until it closed in 1971,” he said.

See said now that the smelter site – which is one of 15 in the Torch Lake Superfund site – has been deleted from the NPL, it can be returned to use and possibly provide an economic boost to the area.

Talks are continuing with smelter site owners Franklin Township for the KNHP Advisory Commission to purchase the site with the intention of turning it over to the National Park Service, See said.

In October 2012, the Franklin Township Board of Trustees and the KNHP Advisory Commission came to an agreement for the sale of the site to the National Park Service for $335,000 plus the forgiveness of $11,437 in loans from the Advisory Commission to the township. The Advisory Commission made a down payment of $2,000 on Oct. 22, 2012. They have until Sept. 30, 2015, to pay off the $335,000 sale price. The Advisory Commission is currently working to raise funds to match a $100,000 donation for the purchase of the site.

After See spoke, he introduced Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, who spoke through the Skype online communication system.

Levin said its deletion from the Superfund is an important milestone because the smelter is a vital part of the KNHP.

“This clean up and preservation of the Quincy Smelter has truly been a community effort,” he said. “The Quincy Smelter is one of the most important historical structures within the (KNHP) boundaries.”

Following Levin was Susan Hedman, regional administrator for the EPA Region 5 in Chicago, who said EPA officials were pleased to be part of the clean up of the smelter site.

In 2001, Hedman said EPA officials began talks with local representatives about what the future uses of the site should be.

“We very quickly learned delisting the smelter from the Superfund was key to development,” she said.

Hedman outlined the EPA clean up efforts, including asbestos removal and the covering of stamp sands, and acknowledged the efforts of everyone involved with the rehabilitation of the site.

“We’ve come together to celebrate that and its new life as part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park,” she said.

“I look forward to coming back to see that transformation.”

Tom Hatfield, representative of U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, read from a letter the congressman wrote congratulating those involved with the smelter site rehabilitation, and acknowledging its historical significance.

“My family is deeply steeped in our mining heritage,” Benishek wrote.

Dan Lorenzetti, secretary of the Torch Lake Public Advisory Council, said the PAC members have been involved with the smelter site for 16 years.

“This has been a long, long road,” he said. “It meant a great deal to our Hancock and Houghton community and the (KNHP). We’re thrilled to death to see this as a new start for the park.”

The last to speak was Mike Pflaum, KNHP superintendent, who reiterated the effort to rehabilitate the site was a community effort.

Representatives of the National Park Service recognize how historically important the site is for the area, Pflaum said.

“The National Park Service has long held an interest in the preservation of the smelter,” he said.

The interest of the NPS includes the possible relocation of the headquarters for the Isle Royale National Park from Houghton across Portage Lake to the smelter site.

Pflaum said KNHP staff have been intensely involved with the smelter site recently, and they know it can be economically important for the area.

“Think what this special place might be five or 10 years down the road if we work together,” he said.