By Jessica Mathews /

Some costly, un-anticipated environmental issues have popped up with a construction project in the City of Howell on a state-managed property.

The East Clinton and North National reconstruction project has been ongoing and as part of that work in June, the contractor had to dewater an area on National Street to properly install utilities. Groundwater was found 4-5 feet below the surface, which was pumped out over the course of ten days to a catch basin that discharges to the Marion Genoa Drain. As it turned out, the City was notified by the state that the groundwater was “very likely contaminated” due to an adjacent site, the old Marcy’s Cleaners which is now considered an “orphan” property and managed owned by the state.

Sampling was done and tests revealed vinyl chloride over allowable limits, which resulted in the City receiving a violation notice for the illicit discharge. However, the state has a documented exposure pathway of the groundwater into the same sewer system that discharges into the Marion and Genoa Drain, thus the environmental impact was said to be no greater than what’s already happening on a daily basis.

In order to complete the construction project and remaining utility installation, the only option was to re-install dewatering equipment, treat the discharge and then discharge it into the City’s sanitary sewer system. The cost of the work could range between $150,000 and $250,000.

An update was provided at Monday night’s City Council meeting. It was stated that the limit is 13-parts-per-trillion and initial results were 44-parts-per-trillion so they had to get below that.

City Manager Erv Suida reported that it’s an orphan site managed by the state so there’s very little they can do against the original contaminators but they’re going to work hard with the state to try and figure out what kind of assistance they can provide. However, there's not a lot of money available for that purpose. Suida reported it’s currently a low-level leak that has been discharging into the storm system for 15 years with no plans by the state to clean up the contamination. He said they do feel that they’re somewhat remediating the state's issue, but acknowledged it is considered an orphan site one of several in the area.

The dewatering work is ongoing and staff anticipates around 10-14 days of pumping. It was stated the work is just outside of the plume so there won’t be any impacts. Suida said they’re not sure how long it will take to get the water level down to a point that can install utilities hence the wide range of cost.

The contractor was around two months ahead of schedule before all of the setbacks. Officials say the project could potentially still be completed in August as there’s not a lot of utility work left to go and grading and paving will go relatively quickly. The contractor was further said to be eager to get the work done and will be bringing in extra crews.