Apr 11, 2024 - News

Detroit closes riverfront park due to soil contamination

AB Ford park

Additional fencing and signage was recently installed on the east side of AB Ford Park, in front of the orange plastic wrapping. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

The west half of AB Ford Park on Detroit's riverfront has been on lockdown for a renovation and environmental cleanup, while the other side remained accessible until just recently.

Why it matters: Environmental testing at the park revealed soil contaminated with arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, per an engineering consultant report prepared for the city Feb. 5.

  • While the soil sampling concentrated on the fully fenced west side of the park, the east side likely has similar contamination, per the report.
  • Some nearby residents find the city's handling of the contamination concerning, as Metro Times has delved into, while others feel there's little to no danger.

Driving the news: The city closed off the east side of the park more thoroughly within the last week, adding more signage and installing a chain-link fence to replace a plastic one that still allowed access after an initial closure Feb. 20.

  • Axios observed children there in late March.

What they're saying: The city said it closed the park's east side Feb. 20 due to the likelihood of contamination. However, city officials would not answer Axios' questions about people still using the park, citing pending litigation.

The latest: To deal with the contamination, the city plans to cover the soil across the entire park with a soil cap barrier alongside planned park renovations.

  • Excavating and removing the soil was determined to be infeasible.

Between the lines: Two residents dissatisfied with the cleanup plan have sued the city in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleging violations of state environmental protection rules. They want to temporarily halt the city's plan to cover the tainted soil until a better solution is found, per Lisa Walinske, their attorney with the Re Detroit East Community Law Center.

Friction point: The lawsuit argues the city's capping plan will still allow contaminants to permeate, leaving the environment vulnerable.

  • The city responded in court that it has "acted carefully and deliberately," relying on experts to create its plan.
  • A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Resident Frank Bach, whose family has been in the area for 45 years, tells Axios the funding to renovate the park is an exciting opportunity that will make a difference in people's lives. He says he feels confident in the city's remediation strategy.

Inside the report: Environmental testing found arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and more on the west side of the park that exceeded safe levels, per the city consultant.

  • The site, one of many contaminated along the riverfront, was used during the 1950s for radar installation for missiles stored on Belle Isle, per the report and Curbed.
  • Site assessments showed potential health risk for direct human contact with soil, but not for breathing the air.
  • The evaluation's recommendations to the city include restricting access to work areas during the construction project, and for workers on the site to wear gloves, clean their boots and wash hands before leaving the site.

What's next: The city expects to complete all the renovation and environmental remediation work by next spring — including new amenities like playground equipment and a riverwalk, as well as capping the soil and removing hundreds of trees and planting new ones.

  • City Council approved a $9.3 million contract for all the work.
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