Redevelopment success story

MARQUETTE – Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant stopped in Marquette Friday during his Upper Peninsula tour, getting a glimpse of both the new and the old.

Wyant was on hand with city officials and other community members at an open house at the DEQ U.P. District Office at 1504 W. Washington St., which was relocated last November from K.I. Sawyer.

However, he made a stop earlier that morning at the Founders Landing Brownfield Redevelopment, a 20-acre site along Lake Superior that includes condominiums and the recently built Hampton Inn.

The city of Marquette and the DEQ have invested more than $2 million to clean up the fuel storage tanks that had contaminated the area.

“It’s a wonderful economic development opportunity for the city,” Wyant said. “It’s a draw for tourists because it’s bikeable and walkable, and the beautiful boardwalk access to the water makes, I think, Marquette such a more attractive place.”

He said it’s the DEQ’s goal to remediate such brownfields and turn them into a site that can be redeveloped.

“Here’s a classic example,” Wyant said. “This will be a model for us to use in other parts of the state.”

Natural features are important for such remediated sites for several reasons, he said.

“I think there’s environmental benefits to the natural features, so there’s shoreline protection, and that helps habitat, and at the same I think it helps the aesthetics,” Wyant said. “I think it really adds value to the area.”

Steve Harrington, DEQ environmental analyst at the Marquette office, said the Founders Landing site is the former location of a bulk fuel-storage complex, with some of the tanks there each containing millions of gallons of fuel.

“They were up to four stories tall and up to 100 feet in diameter, so they were pretty colossal,” Harrington said.

The area stored fuel for about half a century, he said, plus there was an associated railroad yard nearby.

“So there was a fair amount of contamination as a result of all that fuel storage,” Harrington said.

The state partnered with the city to acquire the frontage, with the city purchasing the property in 2001, he said.

The former contaminated site has a decidedly different look now, with the hotel and condominiums now at Founders Landing, as well as the city’s bike path weaving through the tract. There also is a mixed-use commercial development planned next to the Hampton Inn plus more condominiums are in the works.

The shoreline will be retained for public use, Harrington said.

“This area’s walkable now where before it was brush as tall as a person, and you had to fight your way through it, and there would be oil residues at the surface, and it was just an area people sought to avoid,” Harrington said. “Now it’s been transformed into a gathering place, and it’s just a tremendous difference when you enter the city of Marquette.”

Former industrialization of the shorelines in communities is not an unusual situation in Michigan, he acknowledged, and remediation is a positive consequence.

“The clean-up that the state was involved in is complete and really the site is reusable in almost any fashion,” Harrington said of the Founders Landing area.

Steve Casey is district coordinator at the new DEQ office in the city, which he said houses close to a dozen employees.

Cost savings and accessibility to Marquette residents were the reasons the office was moved from K.I. Sawyer, Casey said.

Programs managed through the office for the U.P. include air, clean-up, drinking water, environmental health, wastewater, wetlands and mining.

“Mining is a high profile issue in the Upper Peninsula right now,” Casey said. “But each and every day we have people, for example, who have projects they want to accomplish that involve affecting wetlands and inland streams and we process all those permits, right here at this office. It’s one of the most important programs that we have.”

The transition from the K.I. Sawyer office to the Washington Street facility has been smooth, Casey said.

“The space has been good to us and we’re really pleased to be here,” ” he said.

Mayor Robert Niemi also attended the open house and noted he was pleased with the DEQ’s move to the city.

“It adds to the vibrance of the city,” he said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.