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South Bend homeless apartment opponents dig up potential site contamination history

By Jeff Parrott South Bend Tribune | Aug 26, 2019

SOUTH BEND — A South Bend Common Council member said he might seek to delay a vote Monday night on a rezoning needed for a proposed apartment building for the chronically homeless because of new concerns over potential contamination at the site.

Council Member Oliver Davis, also an Area Plan Commission member, had already voted against the rezoning when it came before the plan commission Tuesday because he said developer South Bend Heritage Foundation hadn’t sought input soon enough from neighbors, 10 of whom spoke against the project.

But Davis developed new concerns the following day when he and the eight other council members, along with city neighborhood development director Pam Meyer and South Bend Heritage Executive Director Marco Mariani, received an email detailing the site’s environmental past from Kaine Kanczuzewski, who lives in the 500 block of LaSalle Avenue and opposes the project.

South Bend Heritage wants to build a 20- to 22-unit apartment building on three contiguous lots the city owns at 1510 and 1520 W. Washington St., and 1636 Circle Ave. The land has sat empty since 2004 when the city bought it from Oil Express Inc. for $119,000 and cleared its buildings, according to redevelopment commission meeting minutes.

A number of businesses used the site for bulk fuel distribution for most of the 20th century. Until 2000, Oil Express had parked tank trailers that hauled petroleum products, presumably from a tank farm next door at 1530 W. Washington St., according to an environmental assessment report that the city hired Granger-based consultant Lawrence Grauvogel to prepare soon after buying the land. Grauvogel found that the proposed apartments site had three underground fuel tanks, all of which were removed in 2000.

In his conclusions and recommendations, Grauvogel found there is “some risk” that the bulk fuel tank farm to the west, and others further west on Circle Avenue, have “leaked and impacted” the property. He found lead in the surface soil, possibly from a former smelting operation to the south, and “this could affect future residential use of the property.”

IDEM has designated the site as “low” priority, meaning it “only has soil contamination,” and the agency has assigned it a disposition of “No Further Action – Unconditional Closure,” which means it was closed without property restrictions, according to IDEM”s Leaking Underground Storage Tanks website.

In a 2004 letter to Oil Express Inc.’s Bob McGregor, Craig Schroer, chief of IDEM’s Leaking Underground Storage Tank section, said its laboratory analysis had found total petroleum hydrocarbons at up to 90 parts per million, with 20 ppm being a minimum detectable level, in the vicinity of the former underground storage tank pit.

While it requires no further action, Schroer told McGregor that “since some contamination still remains on-site in the area, activities must be restricted to prevent direct contact, inhalation or consumption of the contaminants. If site conditions change which might cause exposure or allow migration of the contamination, you must notify IDEM.”

Davis said he is reaching out to IDEM for “clarification” on the site’s contamination levels.

At Monday night’s council meeting, Davis said, he might make a motion to table the rezoning for further study and debate, “but we need to have a brief discussion prior to the motion. This is not just a discussion regarding how to better house our homeless population, but also how to clean up an environmentally challenged area.”