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Allied Superfund meeting 'compromise deal' for cleanup and redevelopment

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The next step for one of Kalamazoo's most toxic areas will be talked about during a public meeting Thursday night.

The Allied Paper Mill site has been closed off for decades because of toxic chemicals in the soil.

After years of back and forth with the EPA over who is going to clean it up, a new option has been proposed

The 89 acres in the heart of Kalamazoo are filled with PCB's from the old paper mill.

Originally, the EPA suggested simply capping off the site, but it's above Kalamazoo's largest drinking water aquifer and many people have been pushing for total removal of the contaminants.

The city and many other state and federal leaders want the entire site cleaned up, but that could cost up to 300 million dollars.

A bankruptcy settlement for the paper mill left behind only about 50 million to pay for cleanup.

Thursday, the community will get a look at a new "hybrid" plan that will clean up and develop part of the site.

The fundamental framework for the proposed redevelopment would:

  • Reduce the 42 existing acres of PCB-contaminated soil to 23 acres by consolidating existing materials into a larger hill on part of the site and safely capping it. Conversely, the option to dig out and remove all PCB soil would result in creation of an expansive unbuildable wetland at the Site as well as thousands of semi-truck trips through the adjoining neighborhoods.

  • Reclaim 15-20 acres of the site for potential redevelopment that would improve the neighborhoods, create employment opportunities, and add to the tax roll.

  • Create a fund for ongoing environmental monitoring to assure future groundwater quality. Recent testing has shown no indication that the PCBs originating from carbonless paper production have migrated away from the Site.

  • Create new recreational space adjacent to neighborhoods with an opportunity for community input on how it's developed. Fencing currently surrounding the area could be eliminated and a trail linking the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage could traverse the land, improving connectivity.

  • Establish a more economically feasible solution. Officials peg the rough cost estimate for the redevelopment option at $57-$67 million, compared to $120-$360 million estimated for total removal. Assets from a bankruptcy settlement with the former industrial owner now stand at close to $50 million. City officials said the redevelopment option would still require some local fundraising and there are no federal funding earmarks available to supplement either option.

  • Interact realistically with EPA's priority for the Allied Superfund site. According to City officials, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10s are considered the most serious environmental contamination sites, EPA assesses Allied as a 1 (lowest priority) among the hundreds it overseas nationwide.

City leaders tell us this will help improve the heart of Kalamazoo.

"We see this as a new opportunity to bring businesses into Kalamazoo. To reuse some of our land and to also open up some recreation. So we think it's part of our long term plan. It's not going to happen tomorrow. It's going to take a few more years to get to it but we think in the long run it's the right thing to do," said Kalamazoo Deputy City Manager, Jeff Chamberlain.

This isn't anything new for Kalamazoo. A huge portion of the city includes re-developed brownfield sites like this one, it's something city leaders are experienced in.

The meeting is open to the public.

It's Thursday at 6 p.m. in the St. Joseph Catholic Church on Lake Street in Kalamazoo.

Officials from the EPA and the Department of Environmental Equality and the city of Kalamazoo will all be there to answer questions and get input from the community.

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