BELDING — At first glance, Central Riverside Park is a clean, spacious environment with fields for soccer, courts for basketball and playgrounds and pavilions for family gatherings.
But that doesn’t erase decades of history below the surface of the park.
A coal-powered gas plant operated on the site of the park from 1906 to 1945. After pipelines from the southeast brought natural gas to parts of Michigan, including Belding, the plant closed and was dismantled in 1950. The site remained dormant for 20 years until it was converted into Central Riverside Park in 1970.
During the almost four decades the plant was in operation, contaminants eventually leaked into the ground.
That’s why, over the past few weeks, DTE Energy of Detroit, which purchased the coal plant in 1942, has been remediating the 5,500 cubic-yard northwest portion of the park where well monitors that were placed on site in 2001 detected small levels of contaminants within the last few years.
DTE Energy Regional Manager Roger Royer said the remediation work, which has seen a portion of the park fenced off and populated by excavators and bulldozers, has been planned for several years and will continue until the end of autumn and finish in the spring.
“This has been in the works for several years and is no surprise to anybody,” Royer said. “The idea is to remove the offending dirt that is in the ground and replace it with clean dirt. We don’t want polluted sites to remain in place. We waited until this time of year because the park isn’t used as much now. We wanted the community in Belding to have use of the park all summer.”
Royer said contaminants in the ground stem from the plant’s operations during a time when environmental regulations were looser.
“During the course of manufacturing coal gas, their environmental stipulations were different than they are today,” he said. “We are removing the dirt that makes up that area and replacing it with fresh dirt. The old dirt will be removed to a disposal site.”
Royer said soil from 43,000 cubic yards of the park was originally remediated in 2001, but the current remediation process had to take place after well monitors that were placed there recently discovered contaminants.
“We want to clean up the site so that it ceases to be offending as a polluted site and get it back in place by next summer.”
Royer said there is no current danger to residents or anyone who has previously used the park. He said the contaminants were found well below the surface and action has been taken to avoid contaminating the flat river.
He added that DTE is working closely with the city of Belding, as well as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to make sure all necessary action is completed thoroughly. Large sheet filings have been placed along the riverbank to keep the remediation process out of the river.
Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore said she has been in communication with DTE on the project and is well aware of their actions.
“These DTE reclamation projects take place every number of years on sites where coal plants used to exist,” she said. “As a result, with any site that had a coal plant, they have to continue to verify that there is no contamination.”
Royer said more work will likely be done in the spring to restore the park to its original state with fresh dirt, sod and landscaping.
“We’ll continue to work this fall as long as the weather cooperates, but we will likely need to come back in the spring,” he said.