McLouth Steel designated as priority site for cleanup funds

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
The former McLouth Steel Plant site is one of seven nationwide being added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund National Priorities List targeting cleanup for some of the nation's most contaminated land.

Trenton — The McLouth Steel site on Jefferson is on the priority list of an environmental superfund, making remediation within a 197-acre section of the property eligible for federal cleanup dollars.

The site is one of seven nationwide being added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund National Priorities List targeting cleanup for some of the nation's most contaminated land, EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp announced Monday.

Stepp toured the site Monday and met at Trenton City Hall with the city's mayor, state environmental officials, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and representatives of Crown Enterprises, which owns the former steel plant, to discuss next steps. 

Dingell, D-Dearborn, said the priority designation is an important step to ensure the downriver communities are protected. 

 "There is still a long road ahead of us and it is critical federal, state, local officials, the community, and private industry partners keep working together," Dingell said in a released statement. "The site needs to be cleaned up, the plant taken down, the ground and water cleaned up and protected."

Manuel "Matty" Moroun's Crown Enterprises purchased the site for $4 million in 2018 from the Wayne County Land Bank. Crown's president, Michael Samhat, could not be immediately reached Monday for comment. 

The EPA, state environmental officials and U.S. Department of Justice last year approved a legal agreement involving the purchase, assessment and cleanup of the site.

The deal included a proposal from the EPA to add the parcel's southern portion to the Superfund National Priorities List to address issues not covered by the settlement.

Some of the site was suspected to contain PCBs and potentially hazardous materials that could become airborne during the cleanup process. "Black lagoons" from runoff and sludge remain as a result of the mill activity, the EPA has said.

“Federal prioritization and funding of the McLouth site clean-up and its eventual return to productive economic use is great news for the people of Trenton and all Michiganders,” said Liesl Clark, director of the state Environment, Great Lakes & Energy.

The priority list, the EPA noted, includes "the nation's most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination."

The list, officials said, prioritizes EPA Superfund cleanup funding and enforcement. Only sites included on the list are eligible for federal funding for long-term, permanent cleanup.

In addition to McLouth, other sites added to the list are in New York, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and California.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said having the site on the list aids in the revitalization of "one of our biggest eyesores."

“After sitting idle for years, the McLouth site has a different owner and a different future," Evans said in a statement. "The fact that it was the only one in Michigan chosen as an EPA Superfund site during this selection period speaks to the importance of this property and the amount of work and cleanup yet to do."

Work at McLouth began in November after the property deed was transferred to Crown.

By January, state environmental officials flagged multiple asbestos-related violations at the plant amid demolition. 

Samhat, at the time, said that any violations from project contractors or vendors would get "resolved quickly" and the company had "multiple layers to see that work is done correctly at the site."

The Wayne County Commission approved a plan that calls for Crown to raze 45 buildings on the site within two years and invest $20 million in six years.

The facility near West Jefferson and Sibley closed in 1995 after the company filed for bankruptcy.