[NOTE: This article was originally published on March 15, 2005, as the second of a series chronicling the failure of local agencies to protect the public against the crimes of the Toxic Towers polluters. Click here for the introductory article and links to the other segments of the series.]
As explained yesterday, we will be examining over the next week the people and organizations who failed to the protect the public in the Toxic Towers hazardous waste dumping scandal. For our new readers, we recommend reading earlier articles in the Toxic Towers folder, especially "Dumping Scandal FAQ's" and "Poison". For those who like to dig into the details, you'll find more than a whiff of government corruption in "Report to AG: MDEQ Compromised" and "River City's See-No-Evil Monkey".
For everyone's convenience, we'll recap the Toxic Towers story here. The owners of local contractors Pioneer Incorporated, Dykema Excavators Inc., and Helms Caulking Inc. partnered up with two big Midwestern banks, Fifth Third and National City in a development company called 940 Monroe L.L.C. (That's right, the banks aren't just lenders, but actual owners of the company.) The purpose of the company was to renovate the old Berkey & Gay furniture factory on Monroe Avenue north of downtown Grand Rapids into the residential-commercial complex now known as "The Boardwalk". (It's also affectionately known as "Toxic Towers" by some of its tenants.)
In November 1999 the Boardwalk developers broke ground and began hauling waste away from the site. They continued to transport waste from the site through at least December 2000. This waste included 26,000 tons of contaminated soil (see "Poison" for details) removed by Pioneer and Dykema Excavators. It also includes dozens of 55-gallon drums of liquid wastes removed by Helms Caulking.
How do we know this waste was contaminated with poisonous hazardous substances? Easy. The Boardwalk developers hired Superior Environmental Corporation to test the soil and groundwater of the project site in two dozen different places. The results showed that the soil and groundwater was filthy with toxic chemicals and metals, including arsenic, mercury, and lead. The concentrations of these contaminants was so high in some places that the soil was dangerous even to touch. After tabulating these results, Superior Environmental filed them with the state, and so they are now part of the public record.
What the Boardwalk developers did not make part of the public record was a document commonly known as the "due care plan". This plan specifies the safety measures the developers and their contractors must take to prevent the project site's hazardous waste from coming into contact with people and the surrounding environment. (It is curious that Fifth Third and National City did not demand that the Boardwalk's due care plan be publicly filed with the state for its scrutiny, because doing so helps to protect the loans made to brownfield projects like the Boardwalk. All of the things Fifth Third in particular failed to do to protect the $25 million loan it and National City made to 940 Monroe L.L.C. should be of interest to shareholders. Another story for another day.) Instead the Boardwalk developers kept the "due care plan" under wraps. It directed them to take expensive and time-consuming safety measures, which they were not going to do.
In fact, the primary contractors for the Boardwalk developers, Pioneer and Dykema Excavators, treated the project's poisonous soil as clean material and dumped about 20,000 tons of it into the empty water tanks of the nearby Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant. (See "The Murky History of Clearwater Plaza" for details on then-Mayor Logie's role in the sale of the filtration plant to Dykema Excavators, its use as an unlicensed hazardous waste landfill, and the plan to palm off this secret landfill as a clean-water research center to the public.) Results of tests conducted by the State of Michigan at the filtration plant proved that the soil now there came from the Boardwalk project site. They also dumped another 6,000 tons elsewhere in the Grand Rapids vicinity.
Despite sworn denials the Boardwalk developers gave the State of Michigan, there's no question that their contractors removed 26,000 tons of toxic soil from the project site and permanently dumped it elsewhere. There are hundreds of hours of surveillance videotape recording this removal. There are admissions from some of the contractors. There are photographs. There are test results. The only contrary "evidence" was a report Superior Environmental prepared for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality claiming that all of the Boardwalk's soil remained on-site, which Superior Environmental disavowed before the Kent County Circuit Court in July 2004.
Dear readers, it isn't even a close call that the Boardwalk developers did what we say they did. The evidence is overwhelming. They dug up the poison beneath the Berkey & Gay factory, stored it out in the open to spread out into the surrounding area and into the City's sewer system, and then transported across our streets to dump it out in the open without containment or warning to anyone. They knew what they were doing. They planned it, they carried it out, and then they lied and obstructed law enforcement and the courts to evade responsibility. They didn't care who they exposed to their poison, so long as they got rid of it on the cheap.
So, why haven't the people we pay to protect us from such vile acts done anything about this? How did the city, the state, the courts, the media -- everyone -- fall down on the job? We start telling you that story, chapter by chapter, tomorrow.