City Council Meeting: Landfill Contamination, City Income Tax, S. Broadway Project

Ware Road Landfill Contamination

The City of Lowell received notice in April from the Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Department (EGLE) regarding a landfill on Ware Road in Ionia County owned by the City.  This landfill began in the 50s or 60s and ceased operation in the 80s. A report from 1987 indicated groundwater contamination on the property, but nothing was done at the time to address the issue.  There is little to no documentation on who was allowed to dump waste in the landfill therefore it appears that the City will have to take care of the environmental issues.

The City Manager Mike Burns has been working with BLDI Environmental Engineering in Grand Rapids to represent the City in this matter.  Joe Berlin, President of BLDI attended Monday’s meeting to provide an update on what he has been working on and communication he has had with EGLE.  

A survey is needed on the property to ensure the exact boundaries of the parcel.  The current and past water flow determinations will also need to be determined. A work plan has been submitted to the State, which was due by the end of May, so that plans to look into the situation can move forward.  A second plan is to be submitted in July to update the State on what actions will need to take place.

BLDI will work on taking samples from the water table, determine what contaminants are in the groundwater and at what level they are present, lab testing, properly position and install well monitors, and continued monitoring of the water.  It is unclear as to how long the process to resolve the issue will take, however Berlin mentioned it will likely be a long-term process working with EGLE. The cost is also undetermined at this point but could be as little as $50,000 and as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars or more depending on the severity of the issue.

The scope of the project will better be determined once samples have been taken and tested in a lab.  Berlin also indicated that the report from the 80s showed Tetrachloroethylene, Dichloroethylene and Carbon Tetrachloride were found in the amount of 9.5 parts per billion.  The safety standard is 5 parts be billion or less in drinking water. It is not known if this level of contamination has changed since the 80s.

City Council directed Burns to continue working with BLDI to determine more details surrounding the issue and to continue formulating a plan to move forward.  The hope is that water samples and new wells would be installed before the ground freezes later in the year.

Broadway Update

Brian Vilmont of Prein&Newhof updated council on the S. Broadway project.  A proposed change order dealing with how much the City should pay for paving, sidewalks, and curbs around King Milling resulted in some discussion.  Councilmembers Chambers and Canfield questioned why King Milling wasn’t paying for installation of sidewalk. Chambers further questioned why the business was looking to change the scope of a site plan brought before Planning Commission in a prior month.  

Due to this issue as well as others, including who should pay for work needed around the train tracks and a strip of land which has been treated like an alley (but is not one), Mayor Mike DeVore requested a joint meeting between Planning Commission and City Council with an invitation to King Milling to work out some of the concerns.  This meeting is scheduled to take place as a Committee of the Whole before the next City Council meeting.

Contract for Showboat Construction Inspector/Project Manager Approved

In a previous meeting, Council approved $10,400 to be used to hire a general contractor with construction supervision for the development stage of rebuilding the new Showboat.  A second amount totaling $68,000 was sought to continue the role in the construction phase.

Jim VanOverloop of JAVO Construction of Hudsonville was approved for the lesser amount, but was requested to come before City Council to provide more information before the larger amount was to be approved.  VanOverloop was in attendance at Monday’s meeting provided information about the role he will play.

He indicated that working with a steel structure, moisture would be a big issue as temperatures change.  It’s also difficult to attach something to steel which could then be used as a material for the interior of the boat without concerns of condensation, which in turn could turn into rust.  He was unsure exactly how much time would be needed to supervise and indicated that his bid amount should be a worst case scenario. While the amount of his fee to oversee the construction of the new boat was questioned, City Council ultimately approved his role for an amount not to exceed $68,000.  

Proposed Income Tax Information

City Manager Mike Burns has been working since the last meeting to continue to move forward with gathering what is needed to place a City income tax on the ballot in November.  Once City Council approves the language which will be used, a page on the City’s website will be dedicated to educating residents on the proposed tax. Burns said approximately 16 questions will appear in a FAQ section and a calculator will help residents calculate what the tax increase and property tax decrease would mean overall.  

Burns has also been working with Dave Austin of Williams & Works to develop a streets plan to put into place if the tax is approved.  “No matter where we start we’re wrong.” said Burns knowing that residents throughout the City want to see improvement. Streets where utility work needs to be done will addressed first, followed by those the most traffic.  The hope is to work on streets throughout the City rather than focusing on one area at a time. Burns also indicated that the street plan will likely take a decade to complete and residents shouldn’t look to have every street replaced immediately should the income tax pass.  

He also mentioned if the income tax does not pass in the fall that the City would have to continue working with what they have, suggesting just intersections are replaced with street fund money.  It was also indicated that the grant application to pave Amity was not granted by the state. Local street funds which were going to be used for this project will now be saved for another street related project.  

More information will continue to be brought before City Council and an education effort will begin to inform residents about the city income tax so an informed decision can be made in November.  

Other Items of Business

Other items were also on the agenda but they did not bring about much if any discussion.

  • A public hearing was held prior to City Council unanimously approving the City’s 2019-2020 budget.
  • This week is National Public Works Week.  
  • Sewer rates will increase 5% effective 7/16/19 and water rates will increase 2.75% effective 7/16/19.

City Manager Report

City Manager Mike Burns highlighted the following items during his report to council.

  • Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard’s last day will be June 7.  The open position has been posted and resumes will be accepted through June 4.  
  • Council and residents were reminded that last week was police week, thanking Chief Bukala for the service his department provides residents.  
  • The Lowell Showboat Garden Club will celebrating 70 years on June 26.
  • Council and residents were reminded that the annual Memorial Day parade will take place on Monday.  Councilmembers are invited to walk in the parade. Burns will not be walking as he will be giving a speech during on the parade stops.  
  • Litehouse has begun sending processed water to the city.  It will continue to be sent slowly as the process is monitored.

Meeting Information

City Council will meet again on Monday, June at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.  Prior to this meeting a special joint meeting between Planning Commission and City Council will take place beginning at 5:30pm.  Meeting agendas, packets, and recordings can be found on the Lowell City website.  Or check in with Lowell’s First Look for recaps following each meeting.


  1. Has the city notified residents down gradient of the landfill that their wells may be contaminated? I FOIA’d the 1986 DNR report. It pretty much says the soils are allowing groundwater contamination to quickly migrate and it can be assumed contamination is spreading off site. That was 1986. I’d assume it will be worse now since there is no report that they actually put a cap on the landfill. There is a sub division west of the site and another one just north of the site that was not here in 1986. According to the letter from EGLE to Michael Burns, the City of Lowell is Liable under Section 20126 of Part 201 and has a responsibility to Notify the DEQ (now EGLE) and affected neighbors if contamination has migrated off the property.

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