ENVIRONMENT: Community Sharpens Vision for Tar Lake Site

MANCELONA – Despite decades of virtual inactivity, Tar Lake in Mancelona is coming to life following clean-up efforts by the EPA, environmental consulting, and a clear community vision for redevelopment.

After three visioning sessions during the past 14 months, “We have an idea of what the community would like to see and how they’d like to see it developed geographically,” said John D’Addona, Tar Lake project manager since June 1998 and consultant with the Traverse Group, an Ann Arbor-based environmental engineering and consulting firm with offices in Traverse City. The company’s project team facilitated the sessions.

Located about one mile southwest of the Village of Mancelona, Tar Lake refers to a natural depression on the former site of the Antrim Iron Co. where waste wood tar was disposed. The plant operated from 1882 to 1945.

In 1983 the EPA added the 200-acre site to its National Priorities List, a roster of the country’s most serious Superfund sites. The EPA identified the primary source of contamination as the four-acre “lake” of tar and the tar-contaminated soil that extends at least 27 feet below ground and 10 feet below the water table, according to a 1998 EPA Project Update fact sheet.

To date, the EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) have completed the $10 million tar removal and transport project, as set forth in the EPA’s three-part clean-up plan for the Superfund site, explained D’Addona.

Phases two and three could involve the excavation of contaminated soil from below the tar and addressing groundwater contamination emanating from the site. The EPA is currently investigating the need to proceed with those phases.

What does the community envision for the eventual development of the entire 200-acre site?

“There’s quite a bit of consistency to what’s come out of the visioning sessions,” according to Gary Knapp, community development coordinator for Community Resource Development (CRD), a non-profit economic development organization in Mancelona. “We need more in the way of recreational activities for families, educational opportunities, maybe a career tech center, community center, green space, pathways to connect the whole complex, plus recreational hiking and biking trails, light industry, and mixed housing.”

Funding for redevelopment will come in part from EPA grants to Antrim County via the new Antrim County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, formed with the assistance of CRD and the Traverse Group.

The Redevelopment Authority recently received two such EPA grants: a $100,000 reuse grant for the Tar Lake site and a $200,000 grant for non-Tar Lake properties in Custer and Mancelona townships and the Village of Mancelona.

In addition, the townships have been awarded $4 million from MDEQ to design and construct a municipal water system for those residences affected by contaminated groundwater. This is “a huge boon to the area,” according to Knapp, since the addition of such a system will be a key factor in redevelopment.

The next steps, says D’Addona, are to finalize conceptual drawings from the last visioning session and get “thorough support” from community members. Then the drawings will form the basis for a marketing plan to attract potential developers.

“By the end of the year, I expect we’ll have made some serious inroads to redevelopment,” said Knapp. “Once it’s all cleaned up and positioned for redevelopment, there will be some real opportunities here.”

“We’re working with the community to take a negative and turn it into a positive, in keeping with the brownfield concept,” D’Addona explains. “The community is starting to develop the vision for what they would like to see. Most communities don’t have that opportunity.” BIZNEWS