Environmental work on Alpena Public Schools’ bus garage continues
ALPENA — Alpena Public Schools Board of Education’s Property Committee learned on Friday environmental work at the district’s bus garage is ongoing.
Concerns about the environmental issues at the bus garage came up during a special board meeting, where the board discussed the developer’s request to share in the environmental and construction costs of a new bus garage.
Superintendent Dave Rabbideau was directed during that meeting to notify the developer that the board was not interested in contributing additional funds to the project, but to also allow the developer an opportunity to make a counter offer.
A press release from the district following Friday’s meeting said the district continues to collaborate with the developer to understand the conditions and terms of any potential agreement.
District officials in 2000 removed two underground storage tanks — one diesel and one gasoline — from the ground and performed a limited soil excavation at the time.
Janice Adams, senior geologist with Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said the last known contamination of the site occurred prior to 2000. In the years since, the state has invested a little over $590,000 to clean up and monitor the site.
In 2017, the majority of the contaminated soil was removed from the site.
While Adams said the worst of the contamination was removed, the site will never be pristine because it was backfilled in the 1950s or 1960s with slag from a foundry that could contain heavy metals.
APS said in its press release, the process of using slag to fill in sites was common then and several sites across the Alpena area also went through that process.
The board learned on Friday a small amount of soil contamination and groundwater contamination still needs to be removed from the property. Adams said the state continues to monitor the groundwater by performing sampling from monitoring wells. She said they are also monitoring for vapor intrusion.
Adams said they are also investigating the site’s septic system and whether a sewage tank at the site is also contaminated. State officials believe at one time, drainage from the bus garage may have gone into the septic tank.
School district officials also learned that in order for Aldi, or anyone else planning to build on the property, they would need to control any surface water runoff. A retention pond is one example of a way that stormwater could be contained.
Adams said Aldi would likely want to have a baseline environmental assessment completed, which would give it a snapshot of the site’s contamination at the time of purchase.
She said the assessment also gets Aldi out of the liability for contamination that’s already on site.
However, APS could still be liable for any environmental issues that occurred before the site was purchased.
“I can assure everyone here we are not entering into an agreement where we don’t get released from the liability of this,” Rabbideau said. “That was the first and utmost priority for us.”
Additionally, the developer conducted its own environmental testing and initially asked the board to pay for the cost of additional cleanup. The developer had since told the board of education’s attorney those costs were related to increased construction costs.
Trustee Ken Gembel expressed his frustration that the developer working with Aldi would not give them a comprehensive list of what those environmental concerns were.
“I guess the thing I’ll say relative to working with businesses, if they want to do a deal with us, they got to share some information with us on how they’re coming up with their numbers,” he said. “They just can’t throw a number out there and be like, ‘we want Alpena Schools to pay for this,’ That’s a problem.”
Rabbideau said district officials had previously asked for that information but were not provided with it. He reiterated that the deal was supposed to occur at no cost to the district and that it was the developer who approached the district about the deal.
District officials said they, along with EGLE, have plans to continue to monitor and address issues related to the transportation site.
“We want the community to know that we are doing our due diligence not only to better understand the details for any proceedings with the potential developers of this property, but also to ensure that the site is safe for the community and our employees,” Gembel said in a statement.