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Posted on Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Demolition ex-GM plant set to begin; $43 million budgeted for clean up

By Tom Perkins

The General Motors trust that owns the former Willow Run Powertrain Plant is beginning the process for what could be a 3-year, $43 million demolition and cleanup of the mostly vacant 320-acre property.

The project likely won’t cost that much, but liquidator RACER Trust wants to have enough money on hand to remediate and cleanup the area for the next 100 years, if necessary.


Ypsilanti Township want proceeds from the sale of the former GM Plant's scrap materials to go toward redevelopment of the property.

Tom Perkins | For

Grant Trigger, RACER’S Michigan’s cleanup manager, said the demolition and clean up involves two separate sites. The first site that will be addressed is the 20-acre former company vehicle operations area south of Tyler Pond.

The second portion is the demolition of the main plant, which is a challenge for the scope of the project. There are 83 acres of factory under the roof and 320 acres of property. Demolition is expected to begin in August and should take around a year, and the remediation could last another two to three years.

Aside from the challenge of taking down one of the world’s largest industrial complexes, Trigger estimates there are 40 acres of ground water contaminated with oils and chemicals that have seeped through the floor.

“The oil is relatively mild, if you will, but it still slowly seeps into the sewers, so we have to manage that contaminated groundwater,” he said.

Removing the building will accelerate that process. Each time it rains, RACER must treat the stormwater that falls on the building, since it is collected into the storm system then contaminated by the groundwater, which has 60 years worth of oils and chemicals in it.


Oil containers at the former GM Willow Run plant.

Tom Perkins | For

“We are still evaluating what our remedial options are for that site,” Trigger said.

He added that anyone wanting to redevelop the land can purchase the property and know that any environmental issues that are discovered and related to the plant will be addressed and paid for by RACER.

But the first area that will be addressed this summer is the commercial vehicle operations area. Vehicles were maintained there and the trust will be excavating 7,000- to 8,000-yards of contaminated soil containing PCB’s, some oil and chemical contamination from cleaning solutions. The PCB’s will be removed separately and shipped to Texas for disposal, while other contaminated soils will go to local landfills owned by Van Buren Township-based Environmental Quality.

Trigger said that will require cleanup crews to be at the site in full protective suits, though the material doesn’t pose any threat to the public.

“We want people in the community to understand there’s no reason to be alarmed,” he said. “It’s like when you wear rubber gloves to do housecleaning work to avoid getting harmed by the chemicals."

RACER also found buried paint sludge near the building that will have to be removed, and groundwater it contaminated must be treated.

“The bottom line is there is going to be a considerable amount of remediation at the CVO site this summer and fall,” he added.

But Ypsilanti Township officials who must sign off on the demolition permit are expressing concerns about the preservation of the plant’s history and redevelopment of the property.

RACER stands to make tens of millions of dollars from recycling materials like steel from the plant, and the township want to see some of that used to help redevelop the property.

“Whoever goes to demolish these plants is reaping millions of dollars in recyclables, and we believe those dollars should go back into redevelopment of that site for new uses,” Township Attorney Doug Winters said, while highlighting the plant's proximity to two airports, a major international crossing, rail and a freeway.

“This property is too uniquely situated. It can be something that can be more integrated into today’s world global economy. We need to sow the seeds of those dollars they are going to get from the demolition of the plant.”

Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager for RACER, said the trust owns properties in 14 states and stressed that there are rules that govern its management.

“One of the rules is the proceeds of sales of trust assets must be used for trust operations, which does not include property redevelopment,” he said. “That is not permitted. Our role is to find qualified buyers with proposals to redevelop properties that meet the trust’s requirements.

“The trust was not given funds for that purpose.”


Ron Duke

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 7:18 p.m.

I spent 41 years at Willow Run and definitely hate to see it go. Save the 68-70 bays for Yankee Air Force. Those big hangar doors still worked when I left there.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 3:31 a.m.

It will never cease to amaze me how such gigantic industrial complexes can just be totally vacated....

Jeannette Gutierrez

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 2:08 a.m.

I'm with Firefly and packman. Before Willow Run, it was thought that: Aircraft could not be built on an assembly line... Consolidated's B-24 Liberators could not be built any faster than one per day... and women & minorities were just not smart enough to do critical industrial work. Guess what? Willow Run proved them wrong on all counts. We produced more bombers there in a month than Japan did in a year (one bomber every 55 minutes! ...absolutely unheard of at the time), and the output of the Arsenal of Democracy (Willow and other plants, many in Michigan) turned the tides of the War. All this at a plant designed by Henry Ford's production genius George Sorensen, in a building designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn (Fisher Building, etc.), and with the first ever truly diverse, and equally paid, industrial workforce. Ever hear of Rosie the Riveter? She worked at Willow. Willow represents an incredible industrial and social achievement. Not to mention the many, many Southerners and other rural folks who migrated to work there, whose children and grandchildren are our neighbors today and whose culture is now part of our regional flavor. I say, let's save the bomber plant (part of it, anyway) as a new home for Yankee Air Museum and the Yankee Lady B-17...


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 6:48 p.m.

The Willow Run Bomber Plant literally changed the course of history. Equal pay for women, just in time manufacturing, social changes, AND mass migration of people from all over the US to build the bombers. The "Greatest Generation" stepped up and made sacrifices on the home front, while the military folks fought on two or three battle fronts. Nowadays we do wars on a credit card and no one sacrifices except of course for the men and women serving our country bravely. Help save the bomber plant. WWW.SAVETHEBOMBERPLANT.ORG


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5:16 p.m.

Why would anyone want to save this heap? It's a hot bed of contamination. It's an eye sore. Just mow it down and move on.

The Stallion

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

Of course Ypsi wants the scrap. Just let them clear it out.

greg s

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

After working there for 30 years of my life, It is going to be sad to see it gone, lots and lots of memories through those years.

Jack Gladney

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

I always get deleted when commenting on poorly written freelance articles that haven't been proofread or edited so... A comment that violated's conversation guidelines was removed.

Philip Santini

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

"RACER stands to make tense of millions of dollars..." Yes, I suppose it will be very stressful.

Brenda Byrne

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

I worked at that plant for 36 years and it supported many families in the area for a long time. It's true that it was an environmental mess for a long time, but that is a partner in manufacturing. Now it's in China and I'll bet it is worse then it was here. Michigan's tax base is the next victim as we have 55 bankrupt school districts. I'm afraid I can envision a future where all public school is done on line. No football. No band.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

You know Brenda, my family also was supported and I grew up with GM in my family. We all know that there were issues for many years and what we all know now is certainly cause for concern. Someone should put a list together... hate GM, hate UofM, hate Walmart, hate Arbor Crossings, hate hate hate...


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

Aside from the challenge of taking down one of the world's largest industrial complexes, Trigger estimates there are 40 acres of ground water contaminated with oils and chemicals that have seeped through the floor. "The oil is relatively mild, if you will, but it still slowly seeps into the sewers, so we have to manage that contaminated groundwater," he said. ****** So, how long has this contamination been going on? Why wasn't anything done sooner to force GM to clean it up? Oh, that's right. Corporations can do what they want, when they want.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

What a shame...still time to help Yankee save a small part of this historic facility.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.

Perhaps after ALL the auto companies remove ALL the blight they have inflicted on the State of Michigan they will be worthy of recognition.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

Not only did the auto industry help "make" Michigan ... it helped "make" the USA the global economic power that it is. It powered the manufacturing base of the entire Country out of little-ole Michigan @Nsider, so you better re-check your facts and history.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

@tdw... Really? Do you ever get out of Wayne and Oakland counties? There are 82 counties in Michigan and thank god the "auto industry" couldn't find there way north. Ever seen Grand Rapids, which was made by the FURNITURE industry, and is still prosperous? Or perhaps the acres and acres of farms and orchards, which the auto industry had nothing to do with. No, the auto industry didn't make Michigan, the auto industry destroyed Michigan. You obviously haven't read my other posts, I am not a UoM fan at all, but I AM an Ann Arbor native. If the auto is sooo great, why did Henry Ford create the DT&I electric train for his employees? I stand my ground, when they clean up their mess, maybe they'll be worthy of note.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Really ? hate to break the news to you, but this state does not revolve around Ann Arbor or the U of M.The auto industry made this state.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

Exactly. Anyone see the old Rouge plant lately? Miles and miles and miles of blight.

Fresh Start

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 11:05 a.m.

Hello? Did anyone bother to run spell check or proof this article? It is full of errors and I would be embarrassed of what otherwise is an exciting story. After you wade through the garbage (pun intended) it turns out that the news is pretty positive. The vacant building will be knocked down and the land will be cleaned up. I think the Township should focus their efforts on how the site will look and what condition it will be left in after the work is done. I would hate to see 83 acres of concrete with weeds etc growing up through it like at Ford's Plant at I-94 and the Huron River in Ypsilanti.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

There are tens of tense issues...

Basic Bob

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 10:46 a.m.

Even after bankruptcy, GM is cleaning up the abandoned site. Far better than what has happened at thousands of abandoned industrial buildings in Michigan, or at the state's former prison sites. The barbed wire and decaying buildings remain on valuable land in Plymouth and Northville townships. That sounds like an opportunity for the current prison population to learn a trade.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5:14 p.m.

I do not think the current GM owns this. When they went bankrupt they split the company into good and one bad. I think Willow Run fell into the bad.


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 10:42 a.m.


Tom Todd

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 : 10:30 a.m.

No GM loyalty left here.