$20 million cleanup wraps at former McLouth Steel site

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A $20 million cleanup for part of the former McLouth Steel site in Trenton has been completed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday, boosting the potential for redevelopment 26 years after the plant closed.

MSC Land Co. LLC wrapped the work with EPA oversight under a settlement agreement with the company, the agency, the U.S. Department of Justice as well as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, officials said in a statement. 

“We are absolutely thrilled at the cleanup efforts at the former McLouth Steel site. Most folks never truly thought they would see the day where the buildings would come down and ground cleaned up of the toxic waste on the property,” said Trenton Mayor Steven Rzeppa.

“This was a tremendous feat pulled off by everyone working together as a team — from MSC Land to the EPA to EGLE and federal, state, county, and city leaders. It’s a monumental step forward for our entire region and will help us build a better future.” 

The former McLouth Steel site in Trenton, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.The McLouth Steel site has had 40-plus buildings come down and its about to be marketed for future use, Wayne County officials said.

The waterfront property on Jefferson Avenue has been owned by Crown Enterprises, a real estate firm and subsidiary of the Moroun family, since it purchased the site in 2018 from the Wayne County Land Bank for $4 million.

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

The EPA, state environmental officials and the Department of Justice also approved a legal agreement involving the purchase, assessment and cleanup.

To address environmental issues not covered in the agreement, the EPA in 2019 listed the southern portion of the site on the Superfund National Priorities List, which includes the most contaminated sites in the nation. 

Cleanup included:

  • Demolition of about 45 structures after removing asbestos-containing material, containerized wastes and materials containing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs
  • Installing a fence around the property
  • Removing contaminated water and sludges from 23 subsurface structures
  • Investigating five areas where PCBs may have been released
  • Assessment and reports on options for stormwater management to eliminate uncontrolled flow to the Trenton Channel of the Detroit River

“For over 20 years, the McLouth Steel plant laid bare in our community — a hazard to our environment and a threat to critical drinking water sources with no plan in place to clean it up. We worked across all sectors to secure a cleanup agreement — before the demolition of McLouth Steel — for the safety of our communities, so everyone has clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land free of toxins,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure adequate cleanup of this site, but this portion of the cleanup process is a big step forward for the economic future and safety of Trenton and all other Downriver communities.”

EGLE director Liesl Clark called the cleanup "... is a significant step forward in moving a formerly contaminated property from hazard to a community asset. It’s gratifying to see this property restored and legacy pollutants addressed."

The former McLouth Steel Trenton plant on Friday, July 31, 2020.

The former facility claimed about 273 acres and operated from about 1950 until 1995, when McLouth filed for bankruptcy. It eventually was transferred to DSC Ltd., which failed to restart steel operations.

In 2000, DSC sold the 76-acre northern portion to Manuel Moroun, who transferred the title through Crown Enterprises to Riverview-Trenton Railroad Co., according to the EPA.

Wayne County acquired 183 acres of the 197-acre southern portion through tax foreclosure in 2017.

The county has been marketing the site for potential industrial or mixed-use redevelopment.

Last year, Trenton residents opposed plans to return the city's riverfront to industrial use.

Zoning changes were approved in December after months of legal and planning review and amendment, including a reimagined "Waterfront Revitalization" designation that covers McLouth and other former industrial sites. 

“Wayne County businesses and residents have worked on the McLouth Steel Site for the past several years. There is no doubt that we took a risk when deciding to make such a commitment; but today, the environmental condition has improved, the taxes have been paid and you can even see the river from Jefferson Road. (T)his proves that our decision to take such a risk has paid off,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. “The potential for development is greater than it has been in over 25 years.”