News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Whitefish Township moves to take over, redevelop contaminated dump site

Lake Superior shoreline in Whitefish Township, MI.
Teresa Homsi
Lake Superior shoreline in Whitefish Township, MI.

An old dump on the coast of Lake Superior in Paradise has been in limbo for years. Calls to clean it up have gone nowhere, and the state has deemed it "low risk."

Now, Whitefish Township is looking to take over the contaminated property and fulfill a long-held dream of turning the site into a park.

During their Nov. 2 meeting, the township board unanimously voted in favor of acquiring the property and conducting an environmental assessment of the site, that sits adjacent to the township community center.

The baseline environmental assessment (BEA) would absolve the township of liability associated with contamination and open the door for state cleanup funding.

Julie Lowe is a brownfield coordinator with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). She said EGLE would cover the BEA for the township, which would give a "snapshot" of the site's conditions.

Completing a BEA doesn't guarantee brownfield funding, Lowe said, but it's an important step in addressing a site's risks and its options for redevelopment.

"We look at different risk pathways... so we're going to be thinking about well drilling, we're going to be thinking about vapor intrusion," Lowe said. "A park actually, in my mind, would probably be a great use for that site."

Lowe said sometimes cleanup can only go so far due to cost or feasibility, and redevelopment may be limited to certain uses. For example, not every brownfield is ideal for a housing development or a daycare.

In this case, Lowe said she's optimistic that redevelopment will be possible.

"It's a good move from the township because otherwise, it's a brownfield site," Lowe said, "and it'll sit there undeveloped, usually with a fence around it forever until somebody wants to actually do something about it."

The contaminated site on the CCRC property in Whitefish Township overlooks Lake Superior. A steep sand dune goes right down to the shore, but buried just below the surface is an old unlined landfill.
Teresa Homsi
The contaminated site on the Chippewa County Road Commission property in Whitefish Township overlooks Lake Superior. A steep sand dune goes right down to the shore, but buried just below the surface is an old unlined landfill.

Bridget Nodurft is a Paradise resident, who has spent years demanding the site be cleaned up. She said she views the transfer as a compromise that could advance remediation, but said the "ball is in the township's court."

"I'm hopeful that EGLE and that EPA program will be able to help the township move forward," Nodurft said. "I just want to encourage the township to try it even though they have all these pressures."

The Chippewa County Road Commission (CCRC), the current owner of the site, is still finalizing a report and cleanup activities related to leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs) on the property.

Lowe said the commission's work on the LUSTs would likely not impact the property transfer or BEA on the dump, but it's the CCRC's call to make.

"You can actually have transactions on properties, but still have that same liable party working on the site, they just have to allow access," Lowe said. "However, it's up to the county — they might want to wait until their work is done before they sell it."

The CCRC has said it's not been mandated by the state to address the dump, and as the liable owner, the commission does not qualify for brownfield funding.

CCRC manager Rob Laitinen said there are some contractual things that need to be addressed before the property can be transferred, but he said the CCRC is amenable to the move.

"It's not a fast process at all, unfortunately," Laitinen said. "We're in the beginning stages of the discussion, and we'll have to sort out the details of getting that baseline assessment performed."

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
Related Content