By Ralph Echtinaw
After spending the last four years boiling contaminants out of the Velsicol site ground, the EPA will turn to old fashioned digging to remove 50,000 cubic yards of contaminated dirt over the next two years and replace it with “clean” dirt.
The EPA did three thermal cleanups beginning in 2018, using heat to aerosolize contaminants, which rose to the surface and were collected for disposal or incineration. Some 382,000 pounds of contaminants were removed from four acres. To date the EPA has spent upwards of $200 million on the Velsicol site (paid for by state and federal governments).
The dirt in the purple areas of the nearby map will be removed to a depth of 30 feet and hauled to a landfill. That’s tentatively planned to be a Republic landfill in Montcalm County (near the village of Pierson), said Project Manager Tom Alcamo. The dirt is polluted primarily by oil, which is not conducive to the thermal treatment; hence the need to haul it away.
Semi truck pulling two trailers each will start hauling away dirt from the largest purple area (2.5 acres) next April, if all goes well. “There’s going to be about a 100,000 tons of contaminants in that area being excavated,” Alcamo said. “A lot of it is oily sludge where the refinery was. From a health standpoint it’s really not going to be a problem. But from an odor standpoint it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
The excavation is expected to take two years, as 50,000 cubic yards of dirt will be removed. (And digging will cease during winter months.) With double-trailered trucks carrying 40 cubic yards each, it will take 1,250 trips to get all the dirt out; and an equal number of trips to bring replacement dirt in. The trucks will enter the site off M46.
A 30-foot-high sheet pile wall will be driven into the ground on the Watson Road property line to maintain the integrity of the hole as dirt is removed. Alcamo anticipates needing pumps, too, as ground water is expected to be a factor when the hole gets deep.
The EPA contracted with AECOM of Southfield to oversee the digging project. AECOM in turn hired Job Site Services of Saginaw to do the actually digging and hauling.
Alcamo said the State Land Bank Authority will soon buy the Velsicol site from the Velsicol Bankruptcy Trust.
During operations, Velsicol sent waste chemicals and debris to a five-acre burn pit on the north side of the Pine River west of the spot where Hebron and Prospect meet.
Once the aforementioned contaminated dirt is hauled away and replaced, the EPA will turn back to thermal cleaning on the five-acre Velsicol burn pit.
Long range plans
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.