Leelanau News and Events

From Brown To Green: Leelanau County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Seeks Public Feedback On Potential Future Projects

By Craig Manning | April 17, 2023

What Leelanau site is most due for a cleanup or restoration? Local residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on that question at a pair of free, open-to-the-public sessions this week, hosted by the the Leelanau County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (LCBRA). Armed with $250,000 in new grant funds, the LCBRA is looking for public feedback about which sites in the county are ripe for brownfield assessments. The process could help the LCBRA grow its list of known contamination sites in the county, as well as help bring about projects aimed at revitalizing those properties for future uses.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a “brownfield” as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” The State of Michigan also broadens that definition beyond contamination to include “blighted, functionally obsolete, or historic resources.” Brownfield programs – including the LCBRA – are intended to identify these properties and ultimately clean up and revitalize them. In an ideal scenario, brownfield redevelopment “protects the environment, reuses existing infrastructure, minimizes urban sprawl, and creates economic opportunities.”

According to LCBRA Director Trudy Galla, there’s a common misconception that brownfield contamination is not a big problem in Leelanau County. Because the area is known for its picturesque rural beauty, she says, many people mistakenly believe that everything is natural and clean and there’s no blight or hazardous contamination.

“We’ve definitely had some individuals over the years – and even recently – in our community say, ‘Oh, we don't have any brownfields in Leelanau County,’” Galla says. “That's wrong. We know it's wrong because you can look at a map and say, ‘Ok, where were your gas stations 50-60 years ago? Where were your township dumps? Were there auto places where there were solvents and cleaners and oils being used?’ With brownfields, you need to look at historical businesses and how they operated in your community. And if you say you don't have any, you're probably wrong. Even in the buildings themselves, plenty of buildings used asbestos in their materials many, many years ago. So, if you've got old buildings in your community, there's probably asbestos in there, and maybe even other contaminants. We want to find out what those are, and we want to help.”

Right now, Galla says the LCBRA has a list of over 100 sites in Leelanau County where there is known contamination. The authority has already tackled some of those sites with previous assessment grants, and even helped get the ball rolling on major brownfield redevelopment projects.

One example is the Sugar Loaf property, where Galla says assessment grant dollars “were used on two separate occasions to assess the condition of the buildings, locate and identify underground storage tanks, prepare a plan for demolition of the buildings which contained asbestos, and for safety plans during this demolition process.” In that case, the brownfield assessment process helped pave the way for all the demolition work that ultimately took place at Sugar Loaf in 2021.

The list of other past brownfield projects is lengthy. In Cedar, for instance, Galla says the LCBRA used brownfield assessment grant funds “to do community health monitoring by testing approximately 70 percent of all wells in Cedar to determine if there were any serious health concerns with the groundwater.” In Suttons Bay, meanwhile, assessment dollars helped the township purchase the Herman Park property and turn it into a community asset. And in Elmwood Township, brownfield assessments were an early step in the transformation of two properties – the former Norris Elementary site and the neighboring property where the Grand Traverse Overall Supply Company once operated – into the Grand Traverse Regional Arts Campus (GTRAC).

Which site will be next to benefit from brownfield assessment funds? The LCBRA is working to answer that question. The office recently received $250,000 in grants and loans from the EPA “to assess potentially contaminated sites and provide cleanup planning throughout the county.” According to Galla, this funding was one of just five grants awarded in Michigan during the corresponding EPA grant cycle; the money must be used by September 30, 2025. In order to determine where that money should be spent, though, the LCBRA needs to build a new list of contaminated or potentially contaminated sites.

“The last grant that we received from the EPA for this work was in 2014, and we finished that up around the end of 2016,” Galla tells the Leelanau Ticker. “We had to create a list back then [of potential brownfield sites], so the list we have is old. We need to go back and look at it again.” That process – of revisiting and rebuilding the site list – is a required obligation under the EPA grant, and is necessary in part because some of the sites on the existing list may have received remediation attention in the years since the last grant.

“So we will need to go back through these lists to see what sites might benefit from the use of these assessment grant dollars,” Galla continues. “In addition, we will ask the public for nominations of any sites that they may know – or suspect – to have contamination issues.  We will then develop a new inventory list that will be used in this grant.”

Have an idea of where there might be overlooked contamination in Leelanau County?  Locals will have an opportunity to participate in the brownfield process with a pair of sessions hosted by the LCBRA this week. The first session is scheduled for this evening (Monday, April 17) at 6:30 in the board of commissioners room on the first floor of the Leelanau County Government Center. The second will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, April 18) at 1pm in the downstairs meeting room of the Government Center.

At each session, attendees will “learn more about the available grant dollars, projects completed throughout the county, and additional funding tools,” and will also get information about how to report suspected contamination sites. Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP by calling 231-256-9812 or sending an email to planning@leelanau.gov.

“Our expectation is to have good representation from realtors, developers, sellers, buyers, elected officials, and interested citizens attend these sessions and learn more about these opportunities,” Galla says. “We will take nominations – anonymously if they prefer – for sites that could potentially have contamination issues, as well as buildings that are blighted, obsolete, have had utilities disconnected, or no longer serve a useful purpose. We may be able to help with the demolition process on such properties, as well as assessment of the conditions.”

Pictured: Leelanau County’s brownfield map, viewable in interactive form here.


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