Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 20, 2013

More public cash for cleanup? Grand Traverse County pursues long-term fix for pollution in Warehouse District

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County is pursuing another $600,000 in taxpayer funds to clean cyanide-tainted groundwater beneath Traverse City’s Warehouse District, officials said.

Documents obtained by the Record-Eagle this week show groundwater pumped from the Hotel Indigo construction site, off Grandview Parkway in the Warehouse District, tested positive for cyanide through September, October and the first week of November.

Elevated levels of cyanide found in groundwater at the site this summer prompted some to voice concerns about the health of Grand Traverse Bay.

The most recent test results indicate cyanide levels decreased slightly from the summer, prompting optimism that the cleanup of the Hotel Indigo site is working.

“The totals are coming down a little bit,” said Jean Derenzy, leader of the Grand Traverse County Brownfield Development Authority.

Derenzy said county officials applied for $600,000 from the Michigan Land Bank for long-term groundwater cleanup throughout the Warehouse District. The county expects to learn this week if it will receive the money.

“It’s basically for remediation,” Derenzy said. “I’m hoping we can combine our efforts to address the overall area.”

The endeavor carries with it significant ramifications for Traverse City and the larger Grand Traverse region. A successful cleanup could spark more development in the Warehouse District, once a sprawling industrial complex that draws occasional interest from developers because of its views of Grand Traverse Bay.

That view played a role in Hotel Indigo development plans. The project represents a potential $15 million-plus structure on .83-acre east of the intersection of Hall Street and Grandview Parkway.

Indigo developers ran into snags during the summer, when groundwater pumped from the site during foundation work tested positive for higher-than-expected cyanide levels. Cyanide measurements came in as high as 1,200 parts per billion on June 21.

The scientific analysis of the environmental impact of cyanide on bodies of water is complex, but some experts consider the amounts at the Indigo to be more than 100 times higher than acceptable levels of environmental cleanup standards for aquatic health set by the state of Michigan.

The higher levels of cyanide at the Indigo site mandated on-site water treatment before disposal into the city’s wastewater treatment system. The water is now being treated on-site with bleach before disposal.

Tests this fall show the continued presence of cynaide at the Indigo construction site, but the amounts are significantly lower than the highest spikes measured this summer. On Sept. 10 the measurement was 426 parts per billion. On Oct. 8 the cyanide level was measured at 475 parts per billion. On Nov. 5 the measurement was at 401 parts per billion.

County brownfield officials previously secured a $1 million loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address Indigo’s on-site pollution. About $620,000 was allocated for soil disposal, transportation and dewatering. Derenzy said the $600,000 applied for from the Michigan Land Bank will target areas away from the Indigo.

The cyanide source officially hasn’t been pinpointed. Suspicion fell on a long-defunct coal gasification plant located across the street from the Indigo, but the property’s current owner contends it’s not the root of the contamination.

Hotel Indigo Developer Jeffrey Schmitz said he’s thankful for community assistance. The luxury hotel, he said, is expected to open in the Spring of 2015.

“We want the community to understand we are very much appreciative of all the help from the county, the state, the Environmental Protection Agency and (the Michigan) Department of Environmental Quality to make this project possible,” said Schmitz. “Without them, it probably wouldn’t be happening.

“It’s not the most highly lucrative project, but we are very thankful for helping us get through the hurdles,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz added the Indigo served to help cleanse the area, adding a long-term cleanup and the success of the Indigo “is huge for Traverse City.”