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Cleanup in the Heart of America

Sitting on the eastern edge of Metropolis, Ill., is a former manufacturing facility. Its impending cleanup is an example of the outcomes that can be reached when local offi cials, an experienced consultant, and state and federal offi cials work together to benefi t a community. Metropolis, the “City of Tomorrow” and home of the annual Superman Celebration, is for most of the year a quiet town situated across the Ohio River from Paducah, Ky.

The shell of the former facility, once one of the community’s major employers, is highly visible from the main route through downtown from the highway. It currently sits as a cluster of decaying abandoned buildings behind a chain link and barbed wire fence, immediately across the street from lower income multi-family residential housing. It is an unavoidable eyesore between this neighborhood and the scenic Ohio River and adjoining Fort Massac State Park, Illinois’ oldest state park. Once an important and vital source of employment for the neighborhood, it is a blight on the area’s economy and a potentially dangerous nuisance to the area.

The facility is clearly visible from the rebuilt Fort Massac, originally constructed by the French in 1757. Established in 1908, Fort Massac State Park is also Illinois’ fi rst state park. It is a captivating reminder of days gone by, a fascinating excursion through the entire course of American history, and the perfect place to relax in soothing natural surroundings and explore life as it was lived when our country was young.

In addition to its historic offerings, the park also offers a variety of aquatic activities, including recreational boating and fi shing. Every October, the city draws more than 100,000 visitors to experience the Fort Massac Encampment, the largest tourism event in southern Illinois. Tourists come to experience living history, unfortunately, they are also reminded of the industrial decline common throughout the Midwest. The decaying, abandoned industrial site signifi cantly detracts from the appeal of the area and the aesthetic and recreational use of the Ohio River. Also an issue is public concern over the potential health and safety effects of the facility on the groundwater and the Ohio River.

Determined to do something about the situation, city leaders decided to acquire the property in December 2004. As part of the acquisition process, the city reviewed a Phase I environmental site assessment (ESA) before its purchase. A Phase I ESA is a process that includes research into the past uses of a property to determine the potential for environmental contamination. It does not include the collection of samples. The Phase I ESA indicated that the facility was formerly used to manufacture wire clothing hangers and a variety of chemical-based cleaning products to support the dry cleaning industry. These industrial activities created the potential for environmental contamination. The city consulted with the Illinois EPA before its purchase, including a pre-purchase site walkthrough and inspection.

Terracon, the city’s Brownfi elds consultant, used funds provided by the Illinois EPA to investigate the site. In September 2007, Terracon submitted a report to the Illinois EPA that documented the contamination found at the site and proposed cleanup activities. In all, the Illinois EPA grants helped fund activities that included the advancement of 40 soil borings on the property, fi rst in areas identifi ed by the Phase I ESA and later in response to an initial phase of the investigation. Terracon converted 11 of these soil borings into monitoring wells. Soil and groundwater samples were also collected for laboratory analysis from these locations to provide information about the distribution of contaminants across the property.

The investigation activities confirmed the presence of contaminants on the property. Terracon found a variety of chlorinated solvents (associated with dry cleaning chemicals) that had acceptable levels of contamination. In the groundwater, there were also solvents above acceptable levels. The contaminants were associated with the past industrial use of the property.

Terracon’s proposed cleanup, approved by the Illinois EPA, includes the injection of proprietary products into the ground to chemically treat the contaminated soil and groundwater. In hard-to-treat areas, barriers (e.g., roads, parking areas, etc.) will be constructed to limit access to remaining contamination. As necessary, the city will implement other controls to limit public exposure to contamination.

Following the discovery of the contamination and approval of the cleanup plan, Terracon helped the city apply for a federal Brownfi elds cleanup grant from the USEPA. In 2008, the city was notifi ed that the USEPA had accepted its application to help complete the cleanup activities approved by the Illinois EPA. The Illinois EPA has also committed additional loans in support of the federal funding.

Terracon is fast-tracking the cleanup to accommodate a private business that expressed interest in a portion of the property. The private agricultural-related business plans to operate at the site in time for the 2009 growing season.

Ultimately, the cleanup and redevelopment of the entire property will allow the city to attract new businesses and higher paying jobs to a community where they are sorely needed. Cleanup of the site will have a direct and noticeable impact on the economic and aesthetic qualities of the community. Due to its small size, (population 6,482) any positive outcomes will have measurable effects on a large percentage of the city’s population.

In addition to cleanup and redevelopment of the property, the efforts of city leaders are paying off in other ways: a new police station, a $1.5 million renovation of the public library, improved recreational opportunities in the community parks, a new $5 million water treatment facility, Harrah’s $75 million casino investment, continued street improvements, and the $4 million reconstruction of the historic Fort Massac. With these and other developments underway, the city is excited about its future.