GRAND RAPIDS — In response to accusations made by the Local Area Watch (LAW), Assistant Attorney General Michael A. Leffler recently visited the site that the organization claims contains highly toxic soil that was transported from another location. LAW also said Leffler reviewed the supposed evidence that supports the organization’s allegations.
In turn, the Attorney General’s office has decided to review the charges.
“We provided him with information on the dumping of the waste excavated over at the Berkey and Gay Building, the use of city property to clean up the mess they made, and the misrepresentations made by Superior Environmental in the baseline environmental assessment submitted to the DEQ,” said William Tingley III, founder of the nonprofit LAW.
LAW is also claiming that the alleged “misrepresentations” in the environmental report were done to allow the developers to get the bank loan to renovate the Berkey & Gay, a former furniture factory at 940 Monroe Ave. NW.
“That facilitated the $25 million of financing,” said Tingley of the loan made by Old Kent Bank. “So, it’s now an issue of bank fraud.”
The Environmental Response Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality cleared the developers in March of a similar dumping charge made by Proto Cam Inc. Tingley is general manager of Proto Cam. The auto parts supplier, at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW, is located near the Berkey & Gay, the alleged source of the contaminated soil.
The Attorney General’s office confirmed that Leffler met with LAW attorney Peter Steketee and visited the sites in question on May 10.
“We are going to be looking into this matter,” said Chris DeWitt, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office.
In January, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm named Leffler to handle environmental prosecutions and to head the office’s environmental enforcement division. The appointment marked a change in how the state views environmental violations. Instead of considering these cases a civil matter, the state is now regarding these as criminal cases.
LAW notified the DEQ and the Attorney General last month of its intention to sue Pioneer Inc., Helms Caulking Inc. and Dykema Excavators Inc., developers of the Berkey & Gay renovation, for the supposed removal of contaminated soil from the project site to the Monroe Water Filtration Plant, a former water treatment facility at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW.
The organization also intends to sue the city for complicity in the alleged transportation of the soil, which reportedly contained toxic levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants. In 1999, the city sold the filtration plant to Dykema for less than the asking price.
An attorney for one of the developers denied the allegations. The city hasn’t commented, yet.
Michigan law requires that potential plaintiffs provide a 60-day notice to the state and the defendants of possible legal action. LAW filed its notice in late April. If the state pursues the matter, LAW may not file a lawsuit. The notice period expires around June 20.
As of last week, the state Office of Criminal Investigation was also reviewing the illegal dumping charge, a result of Proto Cam filing a complaint with that agency.