Ironwood will soon begin a major cleanup project at the site of the old Ironwood Manufactured Gas Plant, and digging will start next week. Equipment and personnel are currently being gathered and organized. Wednesday, the city hosted an informational meeting to answer any questions the public might have.
Cleaning starts soon at the Ironwood Manufactured Gas Plant Site...or what's left of it. The plant was built about 100 years ago to supply gas to Ironwood and Hurley, WI. It was decommissioned in the 1950s and the plant structures were demolished in the '70s and '80s, but it left something behind.
During the Norrie Street Bridge Construction Project in 2010, hazardous materials were discovered beneath the soil and in the groundwater entering the Montreal River, which divides Ironwood and Hurley.
"We learned that there's quite a bit of coal tar and tar residues in the ground in this location. So it was a bit beyond the scope of a typical state-funded project, and we asked if the EPA could assist us with cleanup efforts," said Steve Harrington, Environmental Quality Analyst with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has been leading the planning for the cleanup for about a year with the Michigan DEQ, the City of Ironwood, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Community Health, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. They will be digging up the ground in sections, starting at the river where tar is visible at the surface.
"So our plan is to return it to a green space and allow the city to determine what they want to use it for future uses," said Jacob Hassan, On-Scene Coordinator with the EPA Region 5 Chicago Office.
Future plans for the site after the cleanup are still being discussed by the city.
The EPA and the City of Ironwood held an informational meeting Wednesday to address any concerns the residents may have. Hassan emphasized that there is no immediate danger from the waste as it is confined beneath 10 to 12 feet of soil. There are still many unknowns until later in the project, but the cleanup should take two to three months and cost several hundred thousand dollars to over a million dollars. Some nearby residents may experience odors, dust, and loud noises during construction. The EPA will be monitoring conditions closely to make the work as clean and efficient as possible so as to not disturb the residents. The nearby ATV trail will be open, but the southern access to the trail via Hemlock Street will be closed.
Harrington emphasized that the project will remove 90 to 95 percent of the tar which will be several thousand tons of waste. The remainder will be left to be disposed of by natural means. According to Harrington, to remove 100 percent of the waste would take many more millions of dollars.
Many are optimistic of the outcome.
"I think it's a good win-win effort all the way around for both the City of Ironwood, who is the property owner, the EPA, and the DEQ. We're all a team in this, and I think it will turn out very well, based on all the cooperation I've seen thus far," Harrington said.