By Mark Fischenich
---- — MANKATO — An investigation into expected pollution at a former auto salvage yard just north of Mankato showed high levels of PCBs and other chemicals related to petroleum products, and more than $600,000 will be required to clean up and contain the pollutants.
Dirt Merchant Inc., a local earth-moving company, is planning to redevelop the site of the former Brad's Auto Parts on Third Avenue just outside Mankato city limits — probably as a home base for the growing business.
But while DMI crews have had already cleared much of the visible junk left behind after the auto salvage yard closed with the 2008 death of Brad VanGuilder, DMI is looking for state assistance to deal with the pollutants that have seeped into the soil.
"There is a fair amount of material that has to be hauled off," said Bryan Bode, a partner in DMI along with Kevin Depuydt.
In fact, a consultant estimates that 850 cubic yards of soil needs to be excavated because of high levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbans, a group of chemicals often associated with coal, oil and gas, and something that is "reasonably anticipated" to be cancer-causing in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Another 1,750 cubic yards needs to be removed because of PCB contamination.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were common in electrical transformers, hydraulic fluid and fluorescent lights until their manufacture was banned in the United States in 1977. They, too, are "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," according to the CDC.
For laymen, 2,600 cubic yards of material might not mean much. For the owner of Dirt Merchant, it's immediately clear that there's a lot of dirt to be moved by specially licensed waste haulers to disposal sites in the Twin Cities or Wisconsin.
"A semi-load is roughly 15 to 16 cubic yards," Bode said.
So that's more than 160 semi-loads to be hauled away from the former Brad's site. The second part of the project — putting a 4-foot cap of clean soil on portions of the nearly five-acre site to contain the more widespread but lower levels of pollutants — is work DMI can do itself.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development agreed to pay 75 percent of the cost of the $40,000 pollution investigation last November, and DMI is hoping the agency will provide a grant to cover the same percentage of the $629,700 projected clean-up cost.
First, the Blue Earth County Board will be asked today to be the local government sponsor of the application, a requirement for the DEED Contamination Cleanup and Investigation Grant Program. The board's approval doesn't obligate the county to provide any funding for the project, said Jessica Beyer, the county's communications manager and business analyst.
"It's no (local) taxpayer dollars," Beyer said. "... It's simply us acting as a fiscal agent."
Based on the board's strong support of the investigation grant last fall, Bode expects approval from the commissioners.
"They're all for us getting that site cleaned up," he said.
As for what DEED will do, Bode said it probably depends on how much competition there is — particularly from other outstate projects.
"I'd say there's a 50-50 chance on getting this," he said. "It just depends on how many people are applying."
The grant application, prepared by consultant Braun Intertec, emphasizes the lingering problems with the former salvage yard and the economic potential of the site if DMI's development occurs.
"The existing site is an eye-sore for the area," the application to DEED states. "... With the clean-up of the site and redevelopment, potential neighbors would no longer be subjected to overflow of the salvage operations, the potential contamination associated with the scrap operation including petroleum and metals ... ."
DMI is also proposing to build an office and shop building, a truck wash and a storage building on the site, part of a company growth plan that could add another 39 full-time jobs by 2017. And property taxes paid to local governments would increase eight-fold from the current $3,660 to $34,750, according to the application.
The application also explains why the person responsible for the pollution isn't participating in the clean-up.
"The former Brad's Auto Salvage business was likely related to the contamination detected at the site," the application states. "However, one of the owners is deceased, the business is closed, and the spouse of the former business owner/operator does not have the ability to participate in the clean-up activities."
Bode said DMI, which currently shares increasingly cramped quarters with a sister company across Third Avenue from the Brad's site, isn't regretting its decision to take on the redevelopment project. If the grant isn't awarded, the project might have to be scaled back or slowed down, but the clean-up will occur, he promised.
"It's right in our neighborhood. It needed some attention and we made the commitment to clean it up," Bode said. "... It's going to make the area a safer environment and make it a more usable and appealing place to our community."