City Leaders Discuss Backing Potential Appeal In Saline River Properties-vs-Johnson Controls

 09/11/2012 - 00:29

City leaders discussed ways to assist a residential developer who may appeal a federal court ruling that Mayor Gretchen Driskell says will slow pollution cleanup and prevent the development of an important Monroe Street property.

On Aug. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox ruled against Saline River Properties, which had filed a federal lawsuit to force Johnson Controls Inc., the former owners of the property, to cleanup volatile organic compounds left on the site .Judge Cox also ruled that Saline River Properties owed Johnson Controls $1,200 in damages.

Saline Rivers Properties owns 15 acres of land on the 200 block of South Monroe Street. The property, located on the Saline River, once housed the city dump and a metal fabrication, plating and polishing facility that operated until 1985. Johnson Controls acquired the property through a merger. In 2004, the EPA ordered Johnson Controls to control toxic contaminants (vinyl chloride) on the property so that they could not come into contact with people. Johnson Controls was also ordered to stabilize the migration of contaminated groundwater and the discharge of contaminated water to surface water.

Judge Cox ruled Saline River Properties failed to show that Johnson Control failed to live up to the order.

At Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Gretchen Driskell said city officials have talked with Saline River Properties about ways to appeal the decision. She said the ruling was disappointing.

“It’s a significant problem because we are basically at a standstill,” Driskell said. “The property owners can’t do anything and the EPA isn’t enforcing the consent agreement and corrective action.”

Driskell said she hoped the appeal will be processed in the coming weeks.

City Manager Todd Campbell said progress on the issue has been hindered by the EPA. He noted that the matter has been handled by a revolving door of EPA case managers. Driskell suggested finding a solution may also require working with environmental groups. She said legislators in Washington might help spur the EPA into action. Council member Dean Girbach suggested not wasting time with Congressman Tim Walberg and going straight to Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

In 2006 Saline River Properties, which planned to build a 102-unit residential condominium complex, purchased the property.Canopus, an environmental firm hired by Saline River Properties to evaluate brownfield funding for the project, discovered volatile organic compounds in the soil underneath the building and determined an area of the property had been used to store plating waste and discovered a pipeline that appeared to lead to the waste storage area. The EPA reviewed the findings and ordered JCI to revise its corrective measures plan.

In 2007, Saline River Property demolished the three-acre concrete floor slab on the property .That slab, however, was considered by the EPA to be a barrier that helped achieve long-term protection of human health and the environment at the site. Wells monitored by Johnson Controls showed a rise in contaminants. Johnson Controls paid $1,200 for additional testing. The court ordered Saline River Properties to pay Johnson Controls for that cost.

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Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at tran@thesalinepost.com or call him at 734-272-6294.

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