EGLE awards funding to help communities redevelop contaminated sites
As it stands today, 101 W. Huron Ave. is a vacant, green building that’s right up on the curb of the main Bad Axe intersection.
The property has been vacant since 2014, and previously operated as a gas station for 50 years until it closed in the 70s.
But with a $600,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, the building will see new life as a community hub.
Mackenzie Price-Sundblad is the executive director of the Huron County Community Foundation, which is leading the redevelopment efforts. She said there’s a lot of potential for the space to house new community resources and invest in the county.
“It's an incredibly, highly-traveled corner, and while the project is located in Bad Axe, people drive through that intersection on their way to every corner of the county,” Price-Sundblad said. “We want to send the message that investment is happening here, redevelopment is happening here and that we're vibrant and thriving in Huron County.”
In addition to housing the foundation, Price-Sundblad said the hub will provide a board room for community groups and office space for people to work remotely. The second floor will house four apartments in hopes of attracting new residents through corporate leases. Other features of the project will include a parklet and outdoor green space.
Price-Sundblad said the community foundation has been eyeing the property for a couple of years since drawing up their three strategic priorities in 2018. The strategies include: retaining/attracting talent, creating vibrant communities and cultivating an environment for business development.
“We settled on that property because it gave us the space to make a meaningful impact on all of those strategic priority areas and an opportunity to invest in downtown,” Price-Sundblad said.
Although the location was ideal for the foundation, the property’s history as a gas station, with “known or suspected contamination” made immediate development difficult.
Carl Osentoski is the executive director of the Huron County Economic Development Corporation. To push the project along, he said the EDC had applied for the EGLE brownfield grant, which is specifically designed to revitalize sites with potential contamination.
Osentoski said discussions had been ongoing for the last 6-8 months about the grant, but he had only officially learned that Bad Axe received the funding from the EGLE’s Tuesday press release.
“We're excited to see reinvestment in our communities and to take old buildings that have lived out their useful life and have them repurposed for new activities,” Osentoski said. “Now, we have the opportunity to clean up a site that has had some contamination issues.”
Without the grant, Price-Sundblad said the project would have been an even larger undertaking and far less likely to happen anytime soon. According to Price, the total cost of the project is approximately $1.8 million.
“It would have been incredibly challenging without the grant from EGLE and the support that they're able to provide with the environmental engineers,” Price-Sundblad said. “It definitely would have caused some additional conversations with the Community Foundation and our board about how to move forward with the project if those dollars weren't available.”
The EGLE grant will pay for additional environmental assessment of soil and groundwater and demolition activities. The grant will also cover installing a system to prevent underground fumes from seeping into the building and removing suspected underground storage tanks.
The Huron County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which is housed in the EDC, is receiving the funds and will oversee environmental remediation.
Osentoski said testing of the site for lead and asbestos is beginning this week. Environmental remediation will begin this fall, which will include the demolition of the existing 101 N Port Crescent Rd. property and a portion of the 101 W Huron Ave. property to make more room.
After demolition, site excavation will remove contaminated materials in the soil and prep for the actual building project. Osentoski said he’s excited, jokingly adding that he’s a bit stressed, too.
In the Tuesday press release, EGLE estimates the project will bring a capital investment of $1.2 million and create one new job.
EGLE is giving a total of $2.9 million in brownfield grants and loans to five communities -- including Bad Axe -- for redevelopment of contaminated properties in Mid- and Southeast Michigan.
Price-Sundblad said the grant has helped resolve contamination concerns and moved the foundation’s goals forward.
“I'm very grateful to EGLE and to the Brownfield authority for assisting us through this process to make sure those dollars are available for us to move forward and redevelop that corner,” Price-Sundblad said. “I think the positive impacts that we'll be able to have --not only with the community hub itself-- but just revitalizing that main corridor will hopefully have a huge ripple effect through the entire county.”
This story was produced as part of the Michigan News Group Internship. A collaboration between WCMU and eight community newspapers. Teresa is based at the Huron Daily Tribune.