Northern Market plans moving forward with local support for environmental assessment
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
With one project already in the pipeline, Crawford County officials approved a grant application and a regional pact to clean up contaminated properties for redevelopment.
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28, approved a proposed grant application for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The board also gave a thumbs up to a memorandum of agreement between the DEQ and Oscoda, Crawford, Roscommon, and Ogemaw counties.
The four counties are forming a Brownfield Assessment Coalition to apply for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant for 2018.
The DEQ will handle project management and oversight and all applicable federal and state regulations related to conducting environmental assessments and developing mitigation and remediation plans for contaminated sites.
“They do all the leg work,” said Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo said. “They do the application, they do the reporting, and they work with the local units, and where the sites will be once the assessments are approved and will work in conjunction with that.”
Upon designating sites for assessments, the DEQ will work with the county coalition members to finalize the scope of the work to be contacted by selected environmental professionals. This official will be responsible for issuing necessary permits, easements, or relevant access agreements required to complete assessment activities.
Earlier this year, the Crawford County Brownfield Authority was reactivated to pursue the redevelopment of contaminated and dilapidated sites in the county.
The Brownfield Authority approved a letter of support for the Northern Market, which will serve as a year-round farmer’s market, food hub and education center, as its first project.
The City of Grayling obtained the property where ProBuild was located at 2059 South I-75 Business Loop for the market.
Ownership of the building will actually be held by the Grayling Agricultural and Education Center, a city-sponsored 501-(c)3 corporation made up of local and regional business owners and officials.
The DEQ has granted a $175,000 loan as well as $175,000 grant to help redevelop the property.
A plume of contamination, located on about six acres of land behind the market, will be addressed by the DEQ. Responsibility for the contamination has blocked the sale of the land, which is owned by a Saginaw-based lumber supplier, in the past.
“It’s easy to clean it up and easy to fix, but it’s stopped everybody from buying that property,” said Doug Paulus, the project director for the Grayling Agricultural and Education Center.
The contamination is linked to the production of turpentine in the area at the turn of the century, and chemicals used by the wood products industry in the 1950s. Railroad spurs ran into the property for shipment of the materials.
“Common to the day, nobody cared about anything leaking out on the ground or getting spilled,” Paulus said.
The DEQ approached city officials about studying the possibility of doing an assessment on the property since it was high on their list for clean-up sites.
“They want to see what’s under it, so they will pay to take the pavement up and will replace it and will take care of what’s underneath it in the process,” Paulus said.
Asphalt, concrete, and fencing will be removed during the assessment. A portion of the loan funds will be used to demolish the back wall of the market building, which is old and dilapidated.
“It becomes a win-win for us and the city,” Paulus said. “Now, we get to clean up a potential mess, and use their funding to do other things.”
Two additions will be added to the back of the building, which will include a mezzanine for office space and space for a culinary school.
Renderings for the building are completed and officials will start seeking bids for the redevelopment of the building.
“Things are rolling steadily,” Paulus said.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) will be used to pay the loan for the clean-up near the Northern Market. The arrangement involves capturing the increase in property values from current assessments when the market is fully developed and operational. Although the city and Grayling Agricultural and Education Center are exempt from paying taxes, for-profit businesses which lease space from the market will be subject to property taxes.
“We’re learning and it’s moving forward,” Compo said.
Compo said a loan agreement for a similar situation in Gaylord had to be altered when the personal property tax law changed in 2016 and equipment used by commercial and industrial businesses was not subject to being taxed.
“The payment dropped to make it work,” Compo said.
The county board will have a final say on any Brownfield fund loans going forward.
“Our responsibility here as a county is to make sure we take care of ourselves,” said Dave Stephenson, chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners.
The county Brownfield Authority is restricted to addressing one project per fiscal year. Other projects may be administered through state agencies.
County officials expressed further interest in joining the regional Brownfield coalition because former commercial and industrial properties exist, some of which have dangerous conditions and may contain hazardous substances and petroleum. These properties are located in the City of Grayling and Frederic Township.
Some of the properties are located around Lake Margrethe, the largest lake in the county.
Old U.S. 27 was the primary north-south road, attracting many gas stations in Grayling and Frederic. When I-75 and U.S. 27 were completed, some of the former stations were abandoned, leaving vacant eyesores in the communities.
The threat of hazardous substances and petroleum contamination is an issue in Crawford County, as the majority of residents utilize on-site groundwater wells for their drinking water.
Both the AuSable River and the Manistee River pass through the county. Both rivers are a major draw for anglers and paddlers. Protecting these rivers from contamination is of utmost importance to the community, according to officials.
The assessment grant will enable the county to apply for additional grant and loan funding through the DEQ to remediate and mitigate problems found. The EPA-funded assessments will quantify the costs to clean up these properties, leveraging additional public and private interest and assessment, and helping to promote redevelopment.
The coalition expects to conduct at least one assessment of each type in each county, totaling $400,000, with $300,000 in hazardous substances funding and $100,000 in petroleum funding.