Ypsilanti to fence off contaminated area of Water Street

Ypsilanti is planning to fence of an approximately 100-foot by 100-foot area where recent soil testing revealed higher levels of PCB and lead contamination than officials previously thought existed.

Beth Ernat, the city's economic development director, said the move is a precautionary measure.

"The results came in with a higher concentration of contamination that's closer to the surface than expected, so a fence is recommended remediation by federal standards," Ernat said. "We are being proactive, and it's a legal measure to protect the city. It's not a situation where we feel people who have direct contact would necessarily be in any imminent danger or face a health concern."

The city recently closed the Border To Border Trail on Water Street and filed a lawsuit against a resident who developed an art park on the city-owned land. It asked a judge to order the art removed and the organizer to stay off the property. The two sides appear to be seeking an out-of-court resolution.

Ernat noted that while the city opted to close the trail, it's capped with asphalt, so those who used it aren't in any danger. She added that the city is acting on guidelines for residential exposure, which includes residents who spend significant time each day in and around contaminated dirt.

Those who have had very limited exposures to the area aren't at risk, Ernat said, though the city still wants to close off the area as a precautionary measure.

After MSHDA issued a report raising concerns about contamination on the 38-acre Water Street property, a former industrial site just east of downtown, the city spent $70,000 for new soil tests, and to study old records to determine the location and level of remaining contamination.

Preliminary results indicated higher than anticipated levels, though Ernat said further testing is needed for a more accurate picture.

"We're going to continue evaluating it and getting more testing done to make sure that we've identified (all the contamination), then we will start evaluating a remediation effort," she said, adding the latter will involve either soil capping or removing contaminated areas.

In the meantime, the city is planning a simple chain link fence that mostly won't be visible from Michigan Avenue, Ernat said.

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The move to install the fence comes around six months after Mayor Amanda Edmonds called the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's recommendation to fence off the contaminated area "ridiculous." Other city officials also questioned the need for a fence.

MSHDA's environmental manager, Dan Lince, wrote in an October letter to the city that MSHDA's assessment of Water Street environmental records indicates land on and around a proposed $12 million, 80-unit affordable housing development, Riverwalk Commons, is still contaminated from over 100 years of industrial and commercial use.

The letter stated evidence of PCBs, PNAs, VOCs and several metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, and Lince wrote that contamination levels appear to be 10 to 40 times what state and federal regulations permit.

He also stated that "contamination boundary lines" delineating contaminated areas aren't accurate, and parts of the site outside that marked land are just as, if not more, contaminated than the Riverwalk site.

The city and developer scrapped the Riverwalk plans, but they are consideringnew plans for an affordable housing and commercial project on Water Street near the River Street and Michigan Avenue intersection.

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