Detroit inspector general finds potentially unsafe dirt from I-94 used at Detroit demo sites

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Detroit — Contractors in the city’s demolition program put untested dirt from a Metro Detroit freeway project into the ground at residential demolition sites, a city watchdog agency contends.
The Office of Inspector General on Tuesday released findings from an August 2018 probe that concludes four contractors used dirt from Interstate 94 at five different demolition sites in Detroit under both federal and city-funded efforts. Under Detroit’s demolition rules, dirt from commercial, road or construction sites must be tested to ensure there is no contamination prior to being used. But Inspector General Ellen Ha said there is no evidence that was done for the dirt used at the five sites.

“We want our residents to know and to understand that we’re here, we are carefully watching and monitoring the process and that yes, we will hold every contractor accountable for the contract that they sign with the city of Detroit,” Ha told The News. “We know that I-94 dirt was used to fill the five properties that we’ve listed,” she said. “Based on our document analysis and based on the findings we have, we are pretty certain” the dirt was not tested.
According to the report, Adamo Group, Dore & Associates and Blue Star as well as Rickman Enterprises Group, one of the firms awarded bids in the latest round of demolition work for Detroit that is expected to begin this year, used dirt from the I-94 project “at several locations throughout the city of Detroit.”

The inspector general’s office turned its findings over to Detroit Land Bank Authority officials on Tuesday. Ha said her office is now calling on the land bank to hold the contractors accountable. Reached Tuesday, representatives for Blue Star and Rickman Enterprises did not have an immediate comment. Officials with Dore and an attorney for Adamo could not immediately be reached for comment. Alyssa Strickland, a spokeswoman for the land bank, said in an email to The News Tuesday that the land bank is reviewing the OIG’s finding that I-94 dirt was used by two contractors — Adamo and Rickman — at three different sites where work was funded with federal dollars.
“Now that the OIG has referred this back to the DLBA, we will work quickly to make sure the soil meets all standards and is in full compliance with our contract,” Strickland wrote. “As always we will take all necessary steps to protect taxpayer dollars by enforcing our demolition contracts.”

In response to the city-funded demolition sites flagged in the report, Demolition Director LaJuan Counts noted her office just got the report and is beginning its review. “As we do any time questions are raised about the standards or source of fill dirt used in the city’s demolition program, we will review these two properties to determine whether the fill dirt used met the required standards and was in compliance with the contract,” she said.
Ha’s report notes that her office interviewed a representative of the aggregate hauling firm Dani’s on Aug. 2, 2018. The company had been contracted by CA Hull Co., to haul away dirt from the freeway project.

The worker, identified in the report as Andy O’Brien, told the OIG’s office that Dani’s delivered the dirt from the I-94 project to demolition sites in Detroit to be used as backfill. Dani’s did not have a contract with the city or Detroit’s land bank and wasn’t familiar with the program requirements, the report notes. O’Brien told OIG investigators that the contractors had asked him for “blank load tickets,” or tickets that were not written on, which the company refused to provide.
It’s unclear whether other companies provided blank tickets. However, the report adds, “this may be the reason contractors were able to submit load tickets that did not identify I-94 as the source of backfill.”
Ha told The News Tuesday that there’s no evidence to suggest that the land bank was aware that I-94 dirt had been used at the sites. AKT Peerless, which manages and administers the backfill program, confirmed to the inspector general that the dirt was never approved for use in the Detroit Demolition Program
Under the federal Hardest Hit Fund program, contractors were required to provide documented proof of the origin and environmental condition of fill dirt used at residential demolition sites. Demolition firms are permitted to use dirt from road projects but only if they test the soil first and provide results that show it’s safe for residential use.

“Now, they have to go back and test the soil and if it comes back good, then everybody’s fine,” Ha said. “But if it’s not, they have to take remedial actions.”
City, state and federal officials have raised concerns in recent years over recordkeeping and the quality of the soil used at Detroit demolition sites as contractors had work halted for failing to remove potentially hazardous debris at multiple sites before dumping dirt on top of the debris. Officials have worried over the prospect of dirt being brought in from contaminated or unverified sources, including soils from the reconstruction of Interstate 96 in western Wayne County. Demolition officials have said the use of I-96 dirt was barred from the outset.

Last month, Chicago-based McDonagh Demolition prevented the land bank from closing out its participation in the federal Hardest Hit Program after testing revealed dirt used to fill holes at more than a dozen sites exceeded acceptable levels of mercury, chromium and lead. The company was ordered by the land bank to remove and replace the soil by April 2. Deputy Inspector General Kamau Marable said Tuesday if the contractors provide proof of testing or conduct it and ensure the soil is safe or replaced, they will satisfy the terms of their contracts.

Ha’s office initially referred the findings to the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or SIGTARP. The federal agency conducts investigations and audits. Shelley Lavar, a spokeswoman for SIGTARP, said based on the (number) of properties involved, the matter was turned back over to Detroit’s inspector general for action, but stressed SIGTARP’s warning of “making sure that only clean dirt was used in the federally funded demolition program.”

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

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