GRAND RAPIDS — The director of a state-chartered nonprofit organization accused the region’s largest health-care system of playing a role in the alleged illegal removal of toxic soil from the Berkey & Gay Building site.
William Tingley III, executive director of Local Area Watch (LAW), made his accusation at the annual public meeting of Spectrum Health, held recently at the Eberhard Center. In response, a Spectrum official told Tingley there wasn’t any substance to his charge and added that the public meeting wasn’t the proper forum to discuss the allegation.
“We can discuss this issue in a different forum,” Spectrum CEO Rick Breon told Tingley.
The meeting is required under a 1997 court decision that allowed Butterworth Hospital and Blodgett Memorial Medical Center to merge and become Spectrum Health. The agenda calls for Spectrum to file a yearly progress report on the promises it made during the merger hearing.
Tingley charged that Spectrum’s involvement supposedly stems from a complex financial commitment the hospital made through Old Kent Bank to the renovation project. Old Kent eventually loaned the developers $25 million for the project, completing the transaction before Fifth Third Bancorp finalized its purchase of the lender.
As for Spectrum’s connection to the matter, Tingley pointed out that former Old Kent Bank Chairman David Wagner has a seat on the hospital board, and that the hospital is part of a consortium that provides financial support to a medical education and research program leasing space in the B&G Building at 940 Monroe Ave. NW.
Tingley alleged that the loan wouldn’t have been made if a portion of the property wasn’t cleared of contaminated soil. He claimed the soil in question was dumped at a former water filtration plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW, a facility not authorized to store toxic materials.
“When I learned of Spectrum’s financial commitment to the Berkey and Gay project, our group named Spectrum as a possible defendant in a citizens environmental lawsuit,” said Tingley.
“The explicit purpose of this suit is to get Spectrum and its co-defendants to disclose what toxins were released into the environment and where they were released, so that the public can assess the public health threat and determine a response to it.”
Tingley said he first contacted hospital officials about this matter in February and hadn’t received a response. “Is it going to be necessary for us to take the hospital to court to get answers?” Tingley asked at the meeting.
Breon responded by saying Spectrum had received his notice, had looked into the matter and hadn’t found any evidence to justify his charge.
“I don’t believe we found anything of substance,” said Breon. “All of the allegations have been investigated, and really, at this point, we’re not in a position to discuss this at this forum.”
In late April, LAW notified the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Attorney General that it intended to file a citizens suit against the building’s developers for releasing hazardous substances. LAW named Pioneer Inc., Helms Caulking and Dykema Excavators as the potential defendants, alleging the trio removed soil containing lead, arsenic and other contaminants from the worksite to the filtration plant.
In its filing, LAW also alleged that city of Grand Rapids officials were aware of the illegal dumping. LAW claims that when city commissioners sold the filtration plant to Dykema Excavators, the city knew that the toxic soil would be taken there.
Assistant Michigan Attorney General Michael Leffler, head of the state’s environmental enforcement division, is reviewing the charges.
Proto Cam Inc., an auto parts manufacturer at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW, filed contamination complaints against the B&G developers with two divisions of DEQ earlier this year: the Environmental Response Division (ERD) and the Office of Criminal Investigation (OCI). Tingley is general manager of Proto Cam.
The ERD cleared the developers of any wrongdoing in March. As of last week, OCI was still investigating the illegal dumping charge.