Former smelter site giving new life to Midvale economy

Published: Friday, Aug. 12 2011 5:49 p.m. MDT

The northern part of the old Sharon Steel site, once called the Midvale slag site, may be taken off the EPA Superfund list.

Scott G. Winterton, Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

MIDVALE — Where there were once smelters, slag, arsenic and lead are condos, a light-rail station, office complexes and homes.

What was once a first in the country for its remediation for reuse of an EPA Superfund site is now a model of what can be done with enough vision.

"We are kind of a poster child for the EPA," said Ray Limb, Midvale's development site coordinator. "There have not been any other Superfund sites developed like this."

This is Bingham Junction, an emerging redevelopment project that has taken over the persona of what was once the Midvale slag site.

Named to the EPA's list of Superfund priorities in 1991, the last transforming steps in the cleanup and restoration of the 446-acre area were completed this summer with work done to the banks of the Jordan River and improvements made along the parkway.

Dave Allison, with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said groundwater monitoring will continue well into the future, but it appears the site is poised for delisting next year.

"This is the best-case scenario for any cleanup," Allison said. "You hope this is the end result. You clean up the land, and you hope you can do something with it."

What has been done, according to Allison, is nothing short of remarkable.

"Everything fell into place, which is not indicative of Superfund reuse sites — and the development that happened has been remarkable over a five-year period," he said. "The transformation is incredible to see, especially in difficult economic times."

As of May, about 20 percent of the site had been redeveloped, infusing Midvale's economy with 600 new jobs, $1.5 million in property tax revenues and boosting the value of the property by $131 million.

Monitoring the site and any of the redevelopment that takes place is Limb's mission in his professional life, a care taking that involves three, maybe four or even a half-dozen preplanning meetings before a permit is even issued by the city for construction.

"As we continue on, it gets better and better," he said. "We do a lot of pre-excavation and preconstruction meetings before anything gets going at all … because if they do business as usual, that's a problem."

Mapping out the future of the site of the smelter — which operated from 1871 to 1958 — was much like looking at a blank chalkboard, with the creativity of what could be done limited only by how far one was willing to go, Limb said.

"We had no model to start with because there is not a site in the United States that was done like this," he said. "We had to be conscientious of what we were doing every step along the way."

Allison said the EPA's approach to cleaning up the Midvale slag site is in stark contrast to what happened at the neighboring Sharon Steel site — now known as Jordan Bluffs.

"The remedy there was just to cap the tailings with an impermeable rubber cap. It's not been very satisfying for Midvale, but that was the remedy selected at the time," he said.

With the tailings left in place, Midvale is limited as to what type of development is suitable. But Limb said the city has been in the investigative mode for the past couple of years to determine appropriate uses.

It can be frustrating to see the expansive, untouchable mound of earth in contrast to the development taking place to the north, he said.

"We had a lot more interaction with the EPA," Limb said. "We had more of a voice, a voice that means something with Bingham Junction."

As a result, what was once a city inhibited with its ability to grow has steadily gone about the work of shaping a mixed-use development that includes open space along the Jordan River, a planned trail system and neighborhood parks.

"There were two big mountains of slag there, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell there was a Superfund site where it sits now," Allison said. "It's a different town now. It's not just a section of land; it's made Midvale a better city."

Email: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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