Since acquiring the former Overton factory site in 2015, South Haven officials anticipated that environmental contamination on the property would need to be cleaned in order for residential redevelopment to begin.
However, a handful of residents have recently come forward to voice their concerns about the decontamination process as developers plan to start building a housing complex on the 6-acre site.
At previous meetings, the group of residents have questioned the three-story height of the proposed apartment complex, the density of apartment units, whether there is enough onsite parking, and if the complex addresses affordable housing for the “missing middle.”
At Monday’s city council meeting, the group questioned the amount of contamination at the site and how the proposed developer, The Habitat Co., will handle the cleanup.
“I’m concerned because I feel it’s not being addressed,” said Nancy Hnat, who lives in the neighboring Factory Condominiums on Elkenburg Street. “I have lost trust in the city. It’s everybody’s health at risk.”
Kay Engelbrecht, who also lives in the Factory Condominiums, called the contamination of the proposed site a “potentially dangerous public health concern, and requires much more attention than it is being given.”
Several residents opposed to the Overton residential development plan also questioned the company’s proposal to develop the complex in three phases, with cleanup initiated prior to the start of each phase.
“Why not have all of the contamination be cleaned up before any development begins?” one resident asked.
City council members tried to allay concerns about the contamination at the Overton site.
“We do not want to do anything that will impact people’s health,” Mayor Scott Smith said. “There is a process for which the site will be cleaned up.”
Council member Joe Reeser echoed Smith’s comments.
“I have faith everyone involved will do their due diligence,” he said. “We don’t want anyone subject to contamination.”
History of contamination
The contamination at the Overton site has been documented by the city since the building was condemned in 2014.
The city bought the site, which had reverted to Van Buren County due to unpaid property taxes, and then demolished it to make way for future redevelopment.
In 2015, the city paid Villa Environmental Consultants to come up with a “Due Care Plan” to address the contamination.
The oldest portions of the Overton factory were built in the early 1900s prior to World War I, according to city records. The factory mainly made gun stocks until 1995, as well as other wood products.
In 1995, the building was sold to ELC Corp. as a rental property for warehousing and light manufacturing. Afterward, it was sold to Sitties LLC, which used the building for various storage uses.
An environmental site assessment conducted in 2015 by Villa Environmental Consultants indicated that stains, paints and thinners had been used at the factory.
The city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and Local Development Finance Authority oversaw initial cleanup of the site, which included the factory’s demolition, disposal of chemical drums on site, removal and proper disposal of asbestos and lead contaminants within the building, remediating PCB contamination, leveling and backfilling of the site, and installing a fence around the property.
Further analysis by Villa Environmental Consultants indicated the site contained a number of contaminants exceeding the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality standards.
Twenty-nine soil borings and two groundwater samples were collected. Of the soil borings, 15 were contaminated with heavy metals, semi-volatile organic compounds and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, while one groundwater sample contained heavy metals.
Of concern were the concentrations of arsenic and cadmium in the one contaminated groundwater sample and the chromium, arsenic, silver, stetenium fluoranthene, pentachlorophenol and phenanthrene levels found in the soil borings.
The city is no stranger to redevelopment of Brownfield sites.
Several South Haven sites have been cleaned up over the years to make way for redevelopment, including where the Sturgis Bank and Trust building stands at the corner of Huron and Center streets, the redevelopment of the Hale Block on Center Street and the Factory Condominiums – which was home to a former Belgravia factory.
In terms of the levels of contamination at the Overton site, City Manager Kate Hosier said the contamination at the Factory Site Condominiums cleanup was much more involved and costly.
“That was far worse,” Hosier said regarding the state’s $7 million cleanup.
City officials said The Habitat Co. is aware of the Overton site contamination and will clean up the property prior to building the complex.
However, until a purchase agreement is finalized, the project remains as a proposal.
Once an agreement is reached, the company would have to submit a plan to remove the contamination and a site plan for construction. Those two plans would have to be approved by the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, planning commission and city council.
The city council was poised to approve the purchase agreement with Habitat in September, but is holding off until early next year since Habitat is applying for tax credits in 2022.
The city has set a public hearing on Oct. 18 for an ordinance to grant Habitat a tax abatement for site development.