Environmental Cleanup Proposed for Mill Property in Vicksburg

From left to right: Bill Adams, Vicksburg village president; Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County treasurer who holds the Envirologic study alongside the pictures of the old Simpson Paper Company grounds; Paul French, project manager for the Envirologic study; David Stegink, associate vice president of Envirologic, after the public hearing was held at Angels Crossing.

By Sue Moore

Years of paper mill contamination at what is commonly known in Vicksburg as Simpson Paper Company now presents huge costs for cleanup on the site to the Kalamazoo County Land Bank and any potential developer of the property.

This is acknowledged in the “Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives” study prepared by Envirologic Technologies, Inc., for Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County Treasurer, who is current owner of the mill’s 21 plus acres and buildings in the village of Vicksburg.

The study was authorized by Balkema in order to prepare for a grant proposal through US-EPA of $200,000 for initial cleanup of the courtyard part of the site. The grant needs to be applied for in January of 2015 but it would not be known if successful until fall of 2015. The authors of the study give it a one in four chance of being awarded, and even then cleanup would not take place until spring of 2016 according to David Stegink, senior environmental scientist at Envirologic.

The study included surficial soil samples, soil boring in 19 locations on the property, sediment sampling along Portage Creek, and eight temporary monitoring well locations. These indicate large amounts of contamination throughout with a high concentration of PCB’s, dioxins, caustic acids, arsenic, cobalt, selenium, and just about everything else that paper companies emitted in the old days.

To just ask for a grant of $200,000 seems like the proverbial drop in the bucket, but it’s a start according to Balkema. What is needed to address all the issues of contamination of the entire property is more like seven million according to the study’s analysis.

A public hearing, required to speed the grant process along, was held at Angels Crossing clubhouse in December with about 20 interested people represented. The plan would remove an underground oil storage tank and the line from the tank to the boiler room. This central courtyard area was the site for coal storage and a coal burning boiler that deposited coal ash and slash on the grounds. They propose to cover the contaminated area with an engineered barrier and cover that with six inches of clean fill and top soil.

Given the level of the problem, some folks at the hearing asked why even bother with this short term cleanup? A potential developer has been in conversation with Balkema and the Land Bank’s administrator, Kelly Clarke since April of 2014. This party would not be willing to take possession until the site is “clean” and safe for the public to inhabit, Balkema indicated.

Representatives of Envirologic fielded questions about the limited cleanup area chosen that sits between the east and west wings of the 100 year old mill. Jim Messer asked how it would be possible to clean up just the courtyard without cleaning the whole site. He was concerned that the remaining contaminates would still impact the cleaned up area. Stegink acknowledged this, but felt they were able to control the exposure adequately. “We will create a small island of cleanliness with all the rest up to the Land Bank. This has issues, but compared to gas stations, it’s not so bad.”

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