U cleans up and uses former industrial sites

by Lynne Kozarek

Beautiful trees and plants dot the countryside of the University’s Landscape Arboretum, but it hasn’t always been that way. When the land was donated several years ago, it was a rural dump. It became a part of the arboretum after much clean-up by the University and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Administrators from the University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety, Real Estate Office and Office of the General Counsel have purchased or acquired many similar heavy industrial sites and cleaned them up during the years. After the pollutants and toxins have been cleared from the sites, the University makes use of them — as research centers or parking lots — or sells them for profit.
Ten years ago, the University purchased the site where Schnitzer Iron and Metal Works formerly operated. The site, located on the inter-campus transitway on the line between St. Paul and Minneapolis, was originally purchased with the intention of turning it into a parking lot for park and ride service from the transitway. It is now subject to a purchase agreement with Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP.
Recently, the University contracted GNB Environmental to clean the lead and polychlorinated bipheynyls out of the soil before Hubbard Broadcasting takes over the site.
“They’re cleaning the soil over there now,” said Gordon Girtz, project manager in the University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety. “GNB digs the soil and sends it into a pug mill to mix with a chemical designed to stabilize the lead. A landfill will accept the dirt after it has been stabilized.”
Girtz added that this process is important to the University and its surrounding communities.
“This is redevelopment of the industrial core of the city,” Girtz said. “By reconditioning these sites, companies are revitalizing the inner city.”
The entire process, from acquisition of a site to clean up and sale or utilization can take many years and goes through a complicated process.
“We go through a series of steps with every site,” said Girtz.
He explained that the first phase of evaluating these properties is a historical evaluation of the property. The next step involves probing the site, taking samples, then designing a further investigation of the pollution levels on the site.
During the Response Action Plan, the final step of the process, the University conveys to the Pollution Control Agency what is needed to bring the property in compliance with the PCA standards.
The Schnitzer site, which was purchased from the Schnitzer trust for $700,000 in September 1987, is currently going through the evaluation process. If the site is not approved by the PCA, it will delay the property’s sale to Hubbard Broadcasting. A dollar amount for the sale has not yet been determined.
Hubbard is slated to use the site for an expansion of their corporate location.
Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said University administration decided against the planned lot for the same reason Hubbard Broadcasting was interested in the site — location.
“It’s a pretty remote area,” Baker said. “Some of our remote (park and ride) sites have not historically done very well.”
It is not uncommon for the University to wait a while before taking action with these properties. In 1974, the University purchased another site, the Lauderdale Computer center, and the nearby Lightening and Transient research center for $1.1 million.
This site is still undergoing similar evaluation and revitalization even though it has belonged to the school for 23 years. Administrators now believe the property will be sold to a developer for commercial industry purposes, which will create jobs in Lauderdale.
The University often does end up selling these properties, although it is never its original intent. Sue Weinberg, real estate coordinator at the University, said when the properties do sell, the University prefers to make a profit.
“We try not to sell for less than we paid for it, but there are many factors involved,” Weinberg said. “Improved property is not always easy to sell, but we generally get a higher price for land without buildings.”
Though sanitizing these sites also is not a focus of these acquisitions, many of the contracts include clauses making the University responsible for the area’s clean-up. However, some of the clean-up is voluntary.
Several of the University’s improved properties are Superfund sites. The Superfund is a government fund set up to prioritize and clean up heavily polluted industrial sites.
“In some cases, we technically do not have to clean up the sites, but we do it because we’re good neighbors,” Girtz said.