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EPA and Des Moines move to rehab polluted eyesore property

May 4, 2021 GMT
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan speaks during a news conference at the Des Moines TCE Superfund Site, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. Regan joined Des Moines officials at the former industrial site at the edge of downtown to discuss plans to clean up contaminated soil and transfer ownership to the city. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan speaks during a news conference at the Des Moines TCE Superfund Site, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. Regan joined Des Moines officials at the former industrial site at the edge of downtown to discuss plans to clean up contaminated soil and transfer ownership to the city. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in his first visit to Iowa joined state and city officials Tuesday to announce the future plans for a sprawling former industrial site at a high-profile spot on the edge of downtown Des Moines.

The 43-acre property bordered by the east bank of the Raccoon River and a key city boulevard was classified as a federal superfund site in 1983. That designation entitled the property for federal funding under a 1980 law that allows the EPA to clean up contamination and force the responsible parties to remove contaminants or reimburse the government for doing so.

The contamination and needed cleanup have been the subject of extended litigation between Titan International Inc. — the parent company of manufacturers Dico and Titan Tire Corp. — and the EPA. The property has been vacant for 25 years.

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Under a court ordered settlement approved in February Dico and Titan will pay $11.5 million to the EPA and give the property to the city of Des Moines. The city will operate a groundwater treatment system, which will be upgraded by the EPA, and work with the EPA on future uses.

“EPA has been working on the DICO site for a long time time now and the city has been suffering with this blight for decades. At EPA we know that it’s not just about the cleanup, its about what’s to come after. We’re leading with the mentality that environmental protection and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive. They actually go hand in hand,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

For city officials freeing the land for development is an historic milestone. The complex of deteriorating, rusting buildings is visible from Martin Luther King Boulevard, a major city thoroughfare, and has long been the target for development. It is one of the last remnants of an industrial area that for much of the city’s history was the location of heavy industry where a pesticide chemical plant once stood and steel wheels were once made.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie recalls working on it in the 1980s as part of a group of business owners seeking to improve the area.

“It has been a long time a coming,” Cownie said. “I think its been about 38 years since this was put up to be a superfund site. It’s been a long, long project and this is a great day for the sun to shine on it and say hey we can see the end and we have a solution.”

The city of Des Moines has applied for $27.1 million in state funds from the Reinvestment Districts Program. The Iowa Economic Development Authority is expected to meet May 21 to announce whether the project was chosen for funding.

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The money would go toward a proposed $276 million project that would include a 6,300-seat multiuse outdoor stadium that would be home to a professional soccer team as well as a hotel and other mixed-use developments.

The property is expected to be transferred to city ownership this month. After that the EPA will tear down contaminated buildings, which is expected to be finished by early fall. The city of Des Moines will demolish the remaining buildings this year and work with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and EPA to ensure proper use and oversight of any remaining contamination in soil and water.

Cownie said plans for the site development are likely to be completed next year.