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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2004

Monroe wins $1.8M grant from Michigan

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced yesterday that it has awarded the city of Monroe a $1.8 million grant to help reclaim a historically significant War of 1812 battlefield and to finish a huge housing development on a formerly contaminated site across the street.

In making the announcement, the agency made good on what turned out to be a largely empty campaign announcement in 2002 by then Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, who had presented the city with a giant cardboard check for $1.4 million to tear down the old Jefferson Smurfit Corp. plant at the corner of North Dixie Highway and East Elm Avenue.

Mr. Posthumus subsequently lost his campaign for governor to Jennifer Granholm. But when city leaders tried to cash the check, they were told by the state that the proverbial political capital it had been drawn upon had dried up.

"We had opened up negotiations with the Granholm administration for release of those funds, but we were informed that the grant was never done, it was never finalized, and it was never awarded," Monroe development director Ben Tallerico said. "We worked very hard with [the Environmental Quality Department]. They said we could reapply for another million, and hopefully, they'd be able to make it right."

Yesterday's announcement from the department includes $1 million to pay for destruction of the former paper plant and the reclamation and eventual development of the Battle of the River Raisin battlefield site buried below.

The funding problems at the site were brought to light in April when a huge fire gutted much of the Smurfit plant, but the city lacked the funds to tear down the remainder of the dangerous building. The plant, a longtime eyesore that had been vacant since the late 1990s, occupies the site of the River Raisin Massacre, one of the War of 1812's bloodiest land battles. The site is believed to be the location of the former Frenchtown Settlement.

Yesterday's announcement also includes $800,000 more in the form of a loan to fund the final portion of the redevelopment of Mason Run, a 500-home development being built on the site of another former paper mill about a quarter-mile west of the former Smurfit plant. The money will be used to clear the remaining contaminated soil from the final 8 acres of the 45-acre site and have it trucked to a landfill licensed to handle such materials, Mr. Tallerico said.

The brownfield redevelopment project has been ongoing since 2002. Other contaminated soils on the site have been encapsulated beneath its roadways, Mr. Tallerico said. Mason Run is being developed by Crosswinds Communities, of Novi, Mich., and is one of the largest brownfield redevelopment projects in the state.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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