Hillsdale City leadership has made efforts to address issues of environmental contamination within the city by taking steps to identify and better understand possible polluted sites.
According to an agenda summary from City Manager Linda Brown to the city council dated Jan. 30 of this year, the city action was prompted by a business which “made a decision not to pursue [the] purchase of [a] building” in the city after discovering that the property was contaminated.
In the document, Brown details how she and council member and Hillsdale Economic Development Director Mary Wolfram met with representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in order to learn about the nature of known contaminated “facilities” throughout the city and more completely understand their impact on the city economy.
Wolfram said a better understanding of the potential contaminated situations may be “crucially important to bringing in new business and employment to the city.” Businesses that purchase property with environmental issues may face long-term liability if the pollution on their land causes any other issues, even if they were not the original polluters.
Wolfram was quick to point out that many businesses may not have been acting against the law when original pollution occurred. “These were accepted practices… In many of these cases [the polluters] were probably acting in the accepted method of the day,” Wolfram said.
“In general, laws to protect the environment from pollution have increased significantly since the early 1970s,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Mark Nussbaum.
“It is typically mandated now that industries and utilities assess the environmental impact of any change in facilities or processes… routine testing is also required,” Nussbaum said.
This changing legal landscape may leave officials and property owners with a difficult situation where no one ultimately wants to claim culpability. Wolfram likens the difficulty to “a hot potato: [the question becomes] who is the last one standing that happens to be caught with it.”
Wolfram said that during the meeting with DEQ officials some specific opportunities to gain funding to help city property owners were discussed.
“[The DEQ] gets funding from the federal government through the Environmental Protection Agency in the form of a ‘site assessment’ grant. The state DEQ can then administer those funds to the city,” Wolfram said.
The site assessment grant is not designed to provide money for cleanup, but instead allows for closer study of what, if any, potential problems may exist at a given location. Wolfram said these site assessments can help give owners and officials valuable information.
“It may be unclear how much clean up needs to be done. [A site] might not need anything. In which case, that is a great thing to know. Then the next time a company comes we can tell them we’ve had analysis done by the Michigan DEQ,” she said.
Brown told the council in her agenda brief that she believes “very important contacts were established [by meeting with the DEQ]” and said she will keep the council updated on further developments.
“[I] am hopeful that we can move forward toward assisting [business owners] … We do not want anything to stand in the way of industry locating in our city,” Brown said.