Grant will help renovate Elberta waterfront

BENZIE CO. – The Village of Elberta is poised for a new era, thanks to a Brownfield redevelopment project on its waterfront.

Nearly $1 million from a state grant and loan, given in May, will be used to address environmental concerns and allow development of three of Elberta's waterfront areas.

The 30 acres of abandoned commercial property includes 12 former asphalt storage tanks, a railroad roundhouse and freight dock, a cannery and auto repair shop.

Scott Gest, whose company, Elberta Land Holding Co. (ELHC) bought the former Koch Materials Co. facility last year, said the funds would help in the demolition of the tanks.

"This is the first stage that will clear the way for redevelopment of the waterfront. We expect the demolition to begin within the next few months," Gest said.

The tanks vary in size from 30,000 gallons to 4 million gallons, on about 10.5 acres at the west end of the village along Betsie Bay and Lake Michigan. When the storage facility was active a few years ago under Koch, up to 28 barge loads of petroleum products came to the Elberta plant from an Indiana refinery. Trucks would begin rumbling through the village in the early morning hours and continue all day long. Residents became used to the smell emitted from the facility.

The clean up project also will help preserve a portion of the old railroad roundhouse, which was built in the 1800s.

"The roundhouse is in pretty bad shape," said Gest. "We are hoping to save as much of the limestone and brick walls as possible."

The Brownfield money will also be used to take out pipes where barges off loaded their petroleum products. The pipes ran from the docks to the storage tanks. Gest's plans also include demolishing the former Mitchell Building.

Village officials welcomed the news that this phase of Elberta's history will soon be a memory.

"We're thrilled," said Laura Manville, village treasurer. "This will help revitalize our little town, which just about shriveled up when the Ann Arbor Railroad closed. We lost our only industry, jobs and population. Now that it's finally been purchased, it will bring in jobs, and increase the tax base so we can do improvements to our beach areas and the downtown. It's been a long time coming." BN