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 The shuttered Electro-Plating Services is destined for demolition now that a judge has ruled it a public nuisance, but authorities still need to coordinate the effort.

The shuttered Electro-Plating Services is destined for demolition now that a judge has ruled it a public nuisance, but authorities still need to coordinate the effort.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Site of contaminated groundwater to be demolished

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 4, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — Before COVID-19 took the world by storm, the city of Madison Heights was sorting another health concern — the contaminants leaking out of Electro-Plating Services. Recent developments in Oakland County Circuit Court have paved the way for the demolition of the condemned factory and the rehabilitation of the site, but at press time, state authorities were still working out a timeline as to when and how this might happen.

The contaminants at Electro-Plating Services, located at 945 E. 10 Mile Road, include the cancer-causing hexavalent chromium, which seeped below the facility and laced with groundwater, taking the form of a sickly green gusher on Interstate 696 last Christmas.

Unlike COVID-19, the contaminated groundwater posed no immediate threat, since it was mostly limited to the freeway and factory, and Madison Heights and other metro Detroit communities draw their drinking water from sealed municipal sources.

Authorities at all levels of government responded, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). The contaminants were pumped out of the pit in the factory’s basement, where EPS owner Gary Sayers — now serving a federal prison sentence for his illegal storage of hazardous waste — dumped barrels of toxic waste into the earth. Authorities also vacuum-cleaned the catch basins on I-696. They believe that any runoff that reached Lake St. Clair would be heavily diluted by that point and, thus, harmless.

To date, nearly 230,000 gallons of contaminated water have been pumped out of the site, and the flow of contaminants has slowed considerably. Still, the dilapidated factory is a known hazard site and an eyesore.

Now, after a protracted legal battle in Oakland County Circuit Court, Judge Hala Jarbou has issued an order declaring the site a “public nuisance” and allowing for the eventual demolition of the structures there — a necessary next step in remediating the site. The demolition and remediation will be assessed against Sayers, and if he is unable to cover the cost, then the state will pay for it.

Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh said it is possible that the defendant may appeal the judge’s decision. Jim Sullivan, the attorney representing Sayers, did not return a request for comment by press time.

Furthermore, more planning is needed before the building can be finally knocked down.

“The city needs to consult with the EPA, EGLE, state, county and city officials regarding the best and most efficient way of carrying out this order,” Marsh said.  

Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss said that he is pleased with the progress so far.

“I’m thrilled that our city attorneys were successful in their court case to tear this building down. From the beginning, it was clear that the only way to truly remediate this site was to demolish the building, and I’m happy that a judge agreed with that,” Bliss said. “We still have a long way to go with this site, but this was a win that needs to be celebrated. Not just because it’s the outcome we wanted but because it’s the outcome that our citizens deserved.”

Jill Greenberg, a spokesperson for EGLE, said that the cleanup has been ongoing even during the pandemic, when staffing numbers have been limited due to social distancing requirements on-site. She noted that temporary layoffs at EGLE have also slowed discussions on how to proceed, although at press time those talks were expected to pick up shortly.

“But work never stops at the site,” she emphasized. “Lately, we’ve been in the planning stages and dealing with the court decisions. Now we will come together and discuss our next step.”