Editor's note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.
GREILICKVILLE — Plans to cleanse Leelanau County's most polluted site remain uncertain as company officials determine what to do with a former fuel depot.
Marathon Petroleum Corp. LP closed its marine terminal just north of Traverse City along M-22 in Elmwood Township in May, ending eight decades of operations. The Ohio-based company emptied the tanks and is in the process of cleaning them, but officials have not decided what the future holds for the 45 acres and dock on West Grand Traverse Bay.
"We're still in the process of evaluating future opportunities for that site ... and I really can't speculate what those may or may not be at this point," said Shane Pochard, Marathon spokesman.
Township and county brownfield redevelopment officials said no one has approached them about the property.
The marine terminal's high level of pollution and nearness to surface water makes it the county's most contaminated site, based on a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality list of such sites.
More than a dozen reported fuel spills occurred at the site since 1969, the last in 1996. None occurred under Marathon's ownership, but free-floating gasoline still turns up in some monitoring wells that surround the property. Officials with Marathon and the DEQ don't know if the gasoline comes from a slow leak in one of the property's 23 tanks, or an old spill.
John Vanderhoof, a DEQ environmental analyst, said the next round of groundwater sampling may indicate if emptying the tanks will eliminate the gasoline. But it likely will take a couple years to know for sure, he said.
Marathon pumps out and treats the groundwater to keep the contamination from entering the bay, and recent testing shows pollution has not spread.
"They did a lot of additional new well sampling this summer and almost all of those came out clean," Vanderhoof said. "So there isn't a larger problem than what was already known."
Marathon won't make any decisions about removing the tanks or further cleanup efforts until after it decides what to do with the property, Pochard said. He offered no time line for a decision other than to say efforts are ongoing.
The closing also impacted how area fuel retailers operate because the depot used to supply much of the region's fuel.
But many gas stations already used downstate facilities supplied by pipelines, including a Marathon-owned depot in Muskegon.
"It was always cheaper to pick up product in Muskegon, but we had to look ... to see if the price difference would cover our freight," said Bill McCarthy, a vice president with Blarney Castle Oil Co.
Blarney Castle constructed its own storage facility to supply the small tankers it uses to deliver fuel to farms, marinas, and other commercial operations. It built a fleet station on Cass Road in Garfield Township after neighbors objected to bulk storage at a Blair Township site.