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Brownfield Consultant Clears Up Northville Downs Contamination Issue

Track’s opponents were unwittingly pointing to the wrong parcel of land, new memo states




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In addressing what he called “growing organized citizen opposition” to the relocation of the Northville Downs harness racing track to Plymouth Township, Supervisor Kurt Heise dismissed claims that the racetrack’s new site on Five Mile Road was heavily contaminated as “completely untrue.”

After reading Heise’s comments, Plymouth resident Ron Hoge, who opposes the new track for a variety of reasons, sent MI Bets a copy of an April 26 Brownfield Plan, prepared by Harless & Associates for the Michigan International Technology Center (MITC) Redevelopment Authority, asserting that “arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, selenium, and zinc are present in soil at levels above residential cleanup criteria” on the parcel of land (Parcel 11) designated for the new track.

Additionally, the document stated that “groundwater is contaminated with cadmium at concentrations greater than its residential use criterion.”

On July 5, James Harless, the head of Harless & Associates who is the MITC’s Brownfield operations consultant, issued a followup memo that read, “Results from the Phase I ESA (Environmental Site Assessment) of MITC Parcel 11 revealed no evidence, or reason to suspect, that past uses of the property resulted in environmental contamination or threat of contamination. … Under both federal and state statutes described above, the purchaser of Parcel 11 would have no reason to believe the property was contaminated and would be free to (sic) redevelopment it.”

These separate statements, issued by the same agency (which Heise chairs) within a three-month span, would seem to be contradictory, as one states that Parcel 11 is contaminated, while the other gives it a clean environmental bill of health. But as Harless explained to MI Bets, it’s not that simple.

Parsing the parcels

As Harless notes, the ESA that the April 26 document draws from was conducted in 2018, well before Northville Downs (a.k.a. New Northville LLC) purchased the land. More importantly, Parcels 11 and 12 were considered a combined entity during the ESA, as they were both owned by Hillside Ridge Road Holdings. Hillside Ridge still owns Parcel 12, which is the northernmost of the two parcels.

“The developer was going to use two parcels, 11 and 12. When you see the data in the Brownfield Plan, it’s both parcels,” said Harless. “The northern parcel was the only one contamination was found on. On the southern parcel, there wasn’t any reason to suspect it was contaminated. We have no evidence at all that there’s contamination on the Northville Downs property.”

Moreover, as the July 5 memo states, “MITC Parcel 11 is separated from MITC Parcel 12 by an active railroad at an elevation higher than both adjacent parcels. Groundwater on MITC Parcel 12 is projected to flow westward toward Johnson Creek, and not southward toward MITC Parcel 11. There is no reason the believe that the environmental conditions on MITC Parcel 12 are in any way connected to the conditions on MITC Parcel 11.”

Even if Parcel 11 were contaminated, Northville Downs would not be responsible for cleaning it up, said Harless, who added, “In Michigan, the developer is not liable to clean up contamination they did not cause. If there’s a viable liable party, the state can go back and make them clean it up.”

The next meeting of Plymouth Township’s Board of Trustees is scheduled for Tuesday evening. While discussion of the new Northville Downs site is not on the agenda, supporters and opponents of the relocation plan will have the opportunity to make their voices heard during a public comment period at the meeting.

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images