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Mancelona Tackles Industrial Waste Clean Up

A toxic legacy

May 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

MANCELONA— For nearly half a century, the four-acre waste pit alongside the derelict Antrim Iron Company just outside of town leaked toxic chemicals into the groundwater. As the poisons spread from the lagoon, known locally as Tar Lake, residents stopped using their wells for drinking water. In the late 1980s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified Tar Lake as one of the most polluted industrial areas in rural America, and began regularly monitoring the spread of the contamination.

Part of the cleanup now underway consists of digging out a 20-foot thick layer of sludge and sending it to incinerators to be burned. The other phase involves purifying groundwater, although it is unclear whether there is enough money to treat all the contamination. A plume of tainted groundwater is moving northwest and now reaches as far as Shanty Creek resort, six miles away. Meanwhile, families with bad well water have been put on Mancelona's municipal system, which draws from deeper wells.

New Chapter
In the midst of this troubling story of environmental degradation lies a hopeful new chapter. Mancelona leaders are working very hard to turn the untainted parts of the site into a community resource center and senior citizen complex. The redevelopment plans grew out of a community visioning process led by the Michigan Land Use Institute and sponsored by the EPA's Superfund program.

The turnabout is largely due to the efforts of Gary Knapp, director of Community Resource Development Inc., a quasi-public corporation that works to stimulate the village economy and job market. In 1997, at the urging of a local librarian, Mr. Knapp read the annual EPA monitoring reports about the contamination. Alarmed by the findings, he worked with his organization to lobby state and federal lawmakers to take action; less than a year later, the EPA announced it would clean up the site.

This summer and fall, Community Resource Development will keep Mancelona residents informed of the clean-up activities and also seek funding to build the community center. The Institute is assisting Mancelona by preparing public education materials and helping organize public meetings. ~A.W.

CONTACTS: Gary Knapp, Community Resource Development, Inc. 616-587-5085; Tar Lake Information Hotline 1-877-TAR-LAKE (toll free).

The plan to develop the S.S. City of Milwaukee as a heritage tourism site will explore ways the former industrial land of the Ann Arbor Marine Terminal can provide cultural and entertainment opportunities and enhance the economy of the Village of Elberta.

© Max Hanley

To ensure that the only National Landmark in the Grand Traverse region remains in Betsie Bay, join the Society for the Preservation of the S.S. City of Milwaukee, 115 US-31, Beulah, MI 49617, Tel. 616-882-9688.

Historic Ship to Spark New Life for Elberta Waterfront
Until she ended her service in 1982, the S.S. City of Milwaukee braved ice, storms, and giant waves to ferry railcars and passengers across Lake Michigan. But 52 years of uninterrupted service was easy compared to the truly rough ride the ship, a National Historic Landmark, has endured in retirement. Pounded by skeptical local officials and snared in long-standing rivalries, the City of Milwaukee was almost towed this year from its long-time berth in Benzie County’s Betsie Bay.

Now, thanks to a hard-won out-of-court agreement, the ship is close to gaining a permanent home in Elberta at the center of a planned maritime museum and waterfront park. The agreement, negotiated between the Society for the Preservation of the S.S. City of Milwaukee and the Village of Elberta, calls for moving the ship to a new berth a few hundred feet west of its present location and for redeveloping the site, which was part of the old Ann Arbor Marine Terminal. The agreement is awaiting approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation, which owns a portion of the terminal.

A team of designers and analysts from Michigan State University is helping the Society produce a comprehensive plan for the preservation, management, and development of the ship and associated historic properties. The plan will include market and financial feasibility studies, as well as a summary of needs in historic preservation, visitor safety, and environmental compliance. Public meetings on the plan are expected to take place in May.

The total cost of the move and the maritime museum development is estimated at $620,000. The Society has organized a local fundraising effort, and is applying for assistance under the federal transportation funding law and the recently launched federal “Save America’s Treasures” initiative for historic preservation. ~L.S.

CONTACT: Ken Vrana, director, MSU Center for Maritime and Underwater Resource Management (PRTR-CMURM), 131 Natural Resources Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, Tel. 616-853-9735.

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