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St. Louis electricity sales soar as Velsicol cleanup continues

The Velsicol Chemical Corp. cleanup is using more electricity than expected and pulling “much more contaminants than we anticipated” from the one acre now being treated, said Project Manager Tom Alcamo at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Alcamo originally estimated that 7.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity would be needed for area one, but 8 million kilowatt hours have been used so far with one month to go for heating area one.

To date, the city has sold $687,000 worth of electricity to the EPA for the cleanup.

Velsicol-7The multimillion-dollar project involves heating the ground to a depth of 30 feet to aerosolize contaminants. The gases are then collected for later disposal.

That is done with 276 heating rods similar to what you might see inside a toaster oven. They are sunk into 276 30-foot holes. The ground is heated to more than 100 degrees centigrade, which causes the contaminants to become gaseous and rise to the surface for collection and safe disposal.

Some 52,000 pounds of contaminants have been removed from area one so far, but returns are diminishing as that stage of the cleanup winds down. It’s like ringing out a sponge, Alcamo said. At first you get a lot out of it, and after a while it’s just a trickle.

Once area one is finished in October the EPA crew and contractors will move on to area two, a three-acre site that will be treated next year if funding is approved.

EPA is currently evaluating bids for area two. Installation of the heating units could begin this fall and heating could begin next spring. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has committed to pay 10 percent of the cost to treat area two.

Burn Pit

Most of the discussion Tuesday, however, concerned the third stage of the cleanup, which involves a Velsicol burn pit on the north side of the Pine River west of the spot where Hebron and Prospect meet.

Treatment will likely not take place until 2021 because there is insufficient electrical capacity to treat area two and the burn pit simultaneously.

The EPA is moving forward on the design for the hookup of 11 homes near the burn pit to city water at no charge to residents. Alcamo has received nine responses from the 11 homeowners. Seven have agreed. One said no. And one is on the fence. “I don’t have the authority to make people get rid of their wells,” Alcamo said. “If something becomes contaminated and the health department demands that (the wells) be closed, that’s on (the homeowners). I’m not coming back to clean up these wells.” 

Access Road

An access road must be built to get equipment to the burn pit site, and EPA is negotiating with the owner of a vacant lot on Hebron for the road. The EPA would restore the land to its previous condition after the cleanup, Alcamo said.

Electric Service to Burn Pit

There are two ways to get electricity to the burn pit to power the cleanup there. One is to run a line across the river from areas one and two. The other is to run a line down Prospect Street, which is more expensive by $280,000, Alcamo said.

City officials and council members would prefer the Prospect Street option because those lines would add to the value of the city’s electric grid. Whereas power lines across the river would be taken down after the burn pit cleanup.

But the EPA won’t choose the more expensive option that the city wants unless the city coughs up some cash. “If you guys can kinda put in a little bit of money I think I can justify or at least try to justify getting that circuit permanently,” Alcamo said.

If you’d like to follow progress at the Velsicol site, the EPA’s web site is the place to be. Here’s a link to it:

https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0502194

The Velsicol site is located west of Watson Street, north of M-46 and south and east of Pine River.

City government has long range plans to develop the entire site as parkland, which would quadruple park space in St. Louis. The plan envisions use of 21 acres for soccer fields and basketball courts, five acres for an amphitheater and nine acres for generic park use. Also wished for are three fishing platforms, a boat launch, and an “educational building,” according to the plan.

Furthermore, the city is interested in acquiring property on the north side of North Street so that the Velsicol site park could be connected via walkway to the downtown area. However, there are no funds set aside at the moment to buy that property.

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