Hidden Cost of Detroit Downsizing: Site Cleanup

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
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hidden cost of detroit downsizing site cleanup

TTAC's flagged this issue before: as The Big 2.8 shutter factories, they're on the hook for cleaning-up decades of extremely toxic pollution. In fact, the costs of said clean-up could well run into the billions. StarTribune.com reports that the controversy surrounding the pollution left behind in Ford's soon-to-be-defunct factory in the Highland Park part of St. Paul, Minnesota continues. At a neighborhood meeting, Ford told approximately 50 local residents that the extent of the problem requires more testing and analysis. Ford plans to close the 138-acre truck assembly site in 2009, a year later than originally planned. Even so, "City planner Merritt Clapp-Smith said that the 2009 closure has pushed back everything [in terms of local redevelopment] and that the city won't be comfortable recommending a redevelopment option until after testing has been done, which could be in 2010."

Robert Farago
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  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Jan 29, 2008

    Why is it that we always have to redevelop these sites into homes and schools? Everytime they pull up an airport (where leaded fuel and other toxic chemicals were poured into the ground for decades) they want to put in homes and schools. Maybe, just maybe, since the land was industrial before, we should use it for that again instead of greasing the pockets of every developer, homeowner, and politician for miles around. Instead, the jobs get moved farther away, and the new home owners all get to drive farther. Swell.

  • RobertSD RobertSD on Jan 29, 2008

    Landcrusher - totally agree. Land reclamation of industrial sites can be dangerous - especially ones that have been in operation as long as Ford's plant in St. Paul (and various other plants that Ford and GM are shutting down). You can make tasteful industrial work areas that aren't centers of crime and diplapidated buildings. Even though the plants probably meet most or all current ISO 140xx standards, it is likely that 30 or 50 years ago, such considerations were non-existent. New plants produce far less toxic waste and allow less of it to seep into the ground. Old plants might currently produce similar levels of toxic waste and cutail seepage similar to new plants - but they have decades of history where they haven't controlled things as well (or actively contributed to "seepage"). Most of the costs of environmental clean-up have been baked into the cost of retiring plants in their accounting. Part of Ford's estimates for the cost of a turnaround also include environmental clean-up as well (that $14 billion or so number they've been quoting lately...). It's not like these are blind-siding the industry, no matter how the media wants to portray it. Because of the age of GM and Ford plants, many over 50 years old, they have a long and troubled history of working with the EPA on clean-up and will have a long and troubled future doing the same.

  • Mdhines Mdhines on Jan 29, 2008

    I grew up in Minneapolis and only recently moved away, so here is a little background about the Ford Plant site in St. Paul: The site is in a desirable neighborhood on the east bank of the Mississippi river and over the years, the area around it has transitioned from industrial to affluent residential. To the north and south of the plant is mostly residential area, and to its east is a steadily growing shopping district with many higher-end stores and restaurants. As a result, the value of land in the area has increased considerably over the last decade, as it has in much of St. Paul. Further down the river, toward downtown St. Paul, several old factory sites on the Mississippi have been converted to luxury condominiums, though I'm not sure of the occupancy rate. As far as I know, there is still a high demand for housing in St. Paul, so when John Krenik calls the expansive Ford Plant site "the most valuable piece of property in St. Paul," he isn't exaggerating by very much. There is no chance that the Ford Plant site will be redeveloped as an industrial site, and considering the value of the property and the land surrounding it, I'm not surprised at all that the residents in the area would be concerned about cleanup.

  • Skor Skor on Jan 29, 2008

    From 1955 to 1982, Ford operated an assembly plant in Mahwah, New Jersey. At the time of its construction, it was the largest auto assembly plant in the world. The plant was demolished in 1983, but the plant's toxic legacy has still not been entirely addressed. During its years of operation, the plant generated tons of lead-based paint sludge from it's spray painting operations. Although Ford engineers devised a method for incinerating this paint sludge on site, management decided that it would be cheaper to pay local waste contractors to haul the stuff away. The local contractors were mob-types, and the Ford people who worked with them knew it. The paint sludge was dumped, mostly illegally, all over Northern New Jersey and Southern New York. Today there are numerous dump sites waiting for clean-up. This is no small operation, tons upon tons of contaminated soil that leaches this crud into the ground water. If you want to see what color Ford was painting Thunderbirds back in 1957 all you have to do is take a trip to Ringwood, New Jersey. In some places the junk is erupting from the ground like zombie paint. Ford acknowledges some liability but not all. The fight over who will pay for this clean up drags on, more than 20 years after the assembly plant was demolished. This is probably not unique to Ford, I's sure this type of thing was done by all the auto companies at one point or other.