The City Of Muskegon Heights, Michigan
Free (open access)
A. Wentz & K. Lynnes
The City of Muskegon Heights, Michigan is a classic example of the inextricable link between environmental justice and brownfields. Muskegon Heights is a small, predominantly African-American city near the shores of Lake Michigan. The City had a thriving industrial job base from the early 1900's until the early 1970's, when many plants closed their doors and moved to the southern United States or other countries. The economic devastation caused by the City's high unemployment rate, the loss of high paying manufacturing jobs, and environmental degradation cannot be overestimated. Despite these significant obstacles, the City is deeply committed to urban revitalization. Muskegon Heights' brownfields program is a key part of this community-based revitalization process. A decades-old wastewater treatment plant caught a national spotlight in the United States through the efforts of the City. The City operated the plant from the 1920's until the early 1970's when it connected to a regional treatment system. The plant was then leased to a succession of hazardous waste treatment companies that used it to treat electroplating and oil wastes until 1990. The current corporate successor of the lessee, the Safety-Kleen Corporation, is in bankruptcy. The site has been unused for the last decade due to concerns about heavy metal and solvent contamination and cleanup liability. Instead of being discouraged by the regulatory and financial hurdles, the City has approached the project as an opportunity to create both needed housing and a prototype for other low-income, minority, urban communities that want to attract middle-income families back to their community. In 2001 this project was selected by the US. Environmental Protection Agency (US. EPA) as one of five national Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Brownfields pilots.