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Detroit says it will remove contaminated dirt found at demolition sites

An abandoned home in Detroit
Kate Davidson
Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit says it will start environmental remediation efforts at 87 demolition sites where a city contractor was accused of using contaminated dirt as backfill.

The city said Friday that it’s conducted “rigorous sampling and testing” at 147 of 200 sites where Den-Man contractors demolished homes in 2017 and 2018. At 87 of them, the results showed “levels of arsenic, lead or other substances above statewide naturally occurring levels and in exceedance of contractual standards for direct contact.”

The city said remediation work will start in early August to “remove existing fill material at the sites and replace that fill with appropriate material from a verified approved source.” They expect to complete the process by November.

“Residents impacted by the remediation at the 87 sites will be notified of next steps prior to the start of work,” the city said in a statement. “The City will take action to hold Den-Man accountable for testing and remediation costs. An additional 24 of the 200 Den-Man sites are still under review, pending additional testing and final review.”

Since 2014, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration has demolished more than 25,000 vacant and blighted Detroit properties. Duggan considers the demolition program one of his signature policy accomplishments, saying it’s improved safety and quality of life for Detroit residents.

But the demolition blitz has faced questions and criticism nearly from the start. It briefly lost federal funding in 2016 over a number of issues, including questionable bidding practices. In 2017, Detroit’s then-Auditor General issued a report thataccused the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which managed demolitions at the time, of poor management and dubious practices. The city has since taken direct control over the program.

More recently, the Land Bank agreed to pay the federal government $1.5 million to settle claims that it failed to properly monitor invoices. And in April, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged former Den-Man employee David MacDonald with using contaminated dirt as backfill at demolition sites. MacDonald allegedly charged the Land Bank more than $1 million for that dirt, which Nessel said he got for free.

Den-Man has since been suspended from receiving demolition contracts. The company struck back by filing a lawsuitagainst Detroit’s Office of Inspector General last month, accusing city officials of issuing the suspension without doing a full investigation and causing Den-Man “irreparable harm.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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