Judge: Madison Heights can tear down 'green ooze' sites on 10 Mile

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Madison Heights — The city of Madison Heights was given permission to tear down most of a contaminated complex that leaked "green ooze" onto Interstate 696 last year, according to a judge's ruling Thursday.

The demolition would be done at the expense of site owner Gary Sayers, according to the ruling by Judge Hala Jarbou of Oakland County Circuit Court. Sayers, 70, is headed home six months early from federal prison, the government confirmed, due to precautions regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

Four members of Michigan's congressional delegation have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more help cleaning up green ooze

City manager Melissa Marsh confirmed Thursday's court ruling. In an email, she explained its terms:

  • 945/959 E. Ten Mile Road is declared a public nuisance and will be demolished with the cost of demolition being assessed against the defendants. 
  • 901 E. Ten Mile Road consists of three sections: A, B and C.
  • 901A and 901C E. Ten Mile Road have been declared public nuisances and will be demolished with the cost of demolition being assessed against the defendants.
  • If 901A and 901 C cannot be demolished without damaging 901B (the middle section) to the extent that it cannot safely stand on its own, then 901B will also be demolished.
  • 925 E. Ten Mile is enjoined from use or occupation until it is brought up to code to allow occupancy and use, as determined by local ordinances and Madison Heights' officials. 

The timing of the tear-down was not immediately known. Marsh said the city will consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan's department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and with state and county officials "regarding the best and most efficient way of carrying out this order."

Marsh added that Sayers could appeal the ruling. James Sullivan, Sayers's attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In ordering Sayers to cover demolition costs, Jarbou's 30-page ruling noted his decades-long history of being out of compliance with environmental regulations at the site.

"It is not unreasonable ... to order defendants to pay the cost of demolition, considering the problems giving rise to the nuisance was entirely within the defendants' control, particularly defendant Sayers ... defendants did not comply with the hazardous waste storage and production regulations for over 20 years," Jarbou wrote.

When Sayers will return to Metro Detroit from West Virginia, where he is held, was not immediately clear, and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for information.

More:Inside the shuttered factory where I-696 ooze allegedly originated

Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit, wrote in a statement that Sayers' release is "pursuant to (U.S. Attorney General William) Barr's directives to the Bureau of Prisons regarding release of defendants to home confinement in response to COVID-19."

The U.S. Attorney's Office had no input in the decision, Balaya wrote, and no information on the timing of Sayers' release or its terms. 

More:State finds elevated PFAS levels at 'green ooze' site

By the time green ooze was spotted seeping from a freeway wall on Interstate 696 in late December, Sayers had already been convicted federally for illegal handling of hazardous waste.

Jill Greenberg, spokeswoman for Michigan EGLE, said the site has been in a "holding pattern" for months. 

During the coronavirus outbreak, there have been "limited operations" at the site, but the remediation work never stopped, she said.

Ultimately, Greenberg said, "we can't do anything until the building is gone."

With Thursday's ruling, the tear-down is a step closer to reality. 

"EGLE and the EPA are working with the city of Madison Heights to accomplish demolition safely and lawfully," Greenberg said.

Along with his prison sentence, Sayers has been ordered to repay the federal government $1.5 million for the Environmental Protection Agency's initial 2017 cleanup of the site.

In February, reported to Federal Correctional Institute Morgantown, in West Virginia.