City Council Recap: Soil Contamination, Wine Tasting Room

With Monday being Labor Day, Lowell City Council had its first regular meeting of the month on Tuesday of this week. All councilmembers were present, and the public body met in open session for an hour before moving to a closed session “to consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.”

After calling the meeting to order and approving the consent agenda – which includes minutes to previous meetings and payment of invoices – Mayor Mike DeVore turned things over to Councilmember Cliff Yankovich who read a tribute to Betsy Davidson.

Davidson passed away on Monday after a lengthy battle with cancer and M.S. Her funeral will be at 11am on Monday (Sept. 12, 2022) at St. Mary Church on Amity Street. A rosary will be said before the service at 10am. Visitation will take place on Sunday (Sept. 11, 2022) at the Roth-Gerst Chapel on Hudson Street from 2-4pm and 6-8pm.

“She helped craft so much of what makes Lowell the next place to be,” said an emotional Yankovich. “We’ve lost some movers and shakers in Lowell, but never have we lost someone so young who was so involved in so many aspects that impact all of us.” On behalf of the Lowell City Council, he extended condolences to the family.

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Public Comments: Orb Aerospace, 9/11 Memorial

Two people spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. Alex Taylor provided an update on his business Orb Aerospace which rents a hangar at the Lowell Airport. The company is working to creating small aircraft that can be used for humanitarian purposes.

Orb Aerospace has 15 employees, including some who hail from Space X and Lockheed Martin. It has raised $3.5 million in funding and has a Phase 2 contract with the U.S. Air Force as well.

The second person to speak was Jake Davenport. He is again organizing a 9/11 memorial on the library lawn and invites anyone who wants to help set up flags to come to the library at 7pm on Saturday evening.

Soil Contamination Found on Front Street

Under old business, councilmembers heard a presentation from Nichole Mason, a due diligence manager with the environmental engineering firm BLDI. The city had contracted with BLDI to test soil on city-owned property along Front Street.

The property was used to dump debris and dirt collected by street sweepers in the 1990s. The practice was discontinued long ago, but concerns have been raised about whether that soil could be contaminated.

BLDI tested the soil deposited on the site and found that it exceeded the allowable amount of arsenic and chromium for drinking water and “Groundwater Surface Water Interface (GSI).”

Since there are no wells on the property and the area is served by the city water system, the drinking water criteria does not apply in this situation. However, the GSI criteria refers to the movement of contaminants between groundwater and surface water, and Mason said the city needs to do additional testing to show that the contaminants are not at risk of moving into the Grand River.

During the initial testing, only soil in the mounds left behind by street sweepers was tested. The next step will be to test soil samples near the Grand River to see if the contamination is there as well. Mason did not appear to believe this was likely.

Councilmember Leah Groves asked if the ground would need to be retested in the future, and Mason said that wasn’t required since “metals really don’t change over time.” Yankovich asked if the soil should be removed, and Mason said that wasn’t necessary.

Resident Perry Beachum approached the podium and said he was concerned about the city not removing the soil since the kids may ride their bikes there. “I just feel like the city should act and remove it.”

Resident Craig Fonger asked about the possibility of contamination moving off the site should the property flood. Mason did not think there was much possibility of erosion, noting that there was well established vegetation covering the soil piles. She also mentioned arsenic and chromium are not volatile and not prone to moving in soil.

The council voted unanimously to spend $8,500 for further testing. Yankovich added: “Once that is done, I’d like to explore the cost of removing it.”

Decision on Riverside Property Deferred

At their last meeting, councilmembers decided against selling a former Lowell Light & Power line shack building at 115 Riverside Drive to CopperRock Construction. The company had proposed a multi-story residential building which garnered an overwhelmingly negative response from nearby residents and business owners.

On Tuesday, City Manager Mike Burns laid out four options he saw for the property.

  1. Select a proposal from another bidder for the property.
  2. Ask all remaining applicants to submit new plans.
  3. Start over with a new request for proposals.
  4. Take no action, in which case the existing building at the site should probably be removed.

“I’m only looking at option one and option four,” DeVore said. Councilmember Marty Chambers agreed.

“I’m not sure we get four votes on any of the other (proposals),” said Councilmember Jim Salzwedel regarding the first option. Four votes are needed to sell any city property.

However, DeVore disagreed. “To speculate that no one would get four votes is unfair, in my option.”

DeVore asked LLP General Manager Charlie West if the LLP Board had discussed the matter. West said they hadn’t met since the last vote by Lowell City Council. Councilmembers then voted unanimously to table the matter until after the next LLP Board meeting to hear their input before proceeding.

Wine Tasting Permit Approved for Red Barn Consignment & Antiques

Councilmember Marty Chambers addresses other members of the council.

Chambers, who owns Red Barn Consignment & Antiques, addressed the council about an opportunity he has to open a wine tasting room in his store. Love Wines out of Ludington apparently has been approved for five off-premises tasting rooms, and Chambers would like to bring one to Lowell.

“Basically, it’s her license, and she can umbrella over our business,” Chambers explained. “It’s a neat way to bring this in, and you don’t have to shell out $185,000 for a (liquor) license.”

The tasting room would provide 1oz tastes of wine as well as 3oz cups. Chambers anticipates applying to be part of the social district so people could take wine from his shop elsewhere in the downtown.

“I think it’s a great idea with (your business) sitting between an art gallery and LowellArts,” Yankovich said.

Chambers hoped the wine tasting room would help make Lowell a destination for more people.

The council voted unanimously – with Chambers abstaining – to approve an off-premises tasting room license for Red Barn Consignment & Antiques.

Chambers says he has a verbal contract with Love Wines, and the next step will be to get something in writing.

Other Meeting Items

Other items from Tuesday’s meeting include the following:

  • Unanimous approval of a resolution proclaiming September 16 as Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day.
  • Unanimous approval of a MDOT Small Urban grant contract for roadwork on Gee Drive.
  • Unanimous approval of DeVore as the city’s delegate to the Michigan Municipal League annual meeting.
  • Unanimous approval of an agreement to allow the YMCA to use city parks for its soccer program.
  • Unanimous approval of a request from the Department of Public Works to sell surplus equipment.

Lowell City Council ended their open session at 8:03pm and went into a closed session. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be on Monday, September 19, at 7pm.

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