Skip to main content
A1 A1
hot featured
Plan to replace Menominee Kmart with hotel announced

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—A TownePlace Suites by Marriott could take the place of the old Kmart in Menominee, which has stood empty since December 2017.

Keith Killen, the Menominee owner of the plaza where Kmart was an anchor, said the Kmart is “an obsolete use” building now.

“There isn’t a big box marketer that’s going to come to Marinette Menominee,” he said. He hopes to sell the property to Veridea Group, a Marquette developer. “The big thing I’m excited about is the momentum of what this can create,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to do something here, but this is the first time someone has made an investment to meet the needs of the community.”

Bob Mahaney, president of the Veridea Group LLC, spoke at the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority meeting Wednesday at the First National Bank Building, where Menominee County Board members and Menominee City Council members heard his presentation for the TownePlace Suites.

The new building would include an extended stay hotel, aimed at business consultants for Fincantieri Marinette Marine or other businesses as well as families traveling to Menominee for sports, he said. The rooms are larger than at most hotels and offer more amenities.

The building also would include apartments and transitional housing, Mahaney said. It would be developed in phases with a $60 million investment for all phases, he told the EagleHerald after the meeting. “If the market supports it, we will build a second hotel,” he said.

The project is dependent on the Brownfield Authority’s approval. It would come with Tax Increment Financing, where the developer is reimbursed for the investment after taxes on the increased value are collected. Not all costs are reimbursed through the TIF. The initial investment is expected to be about $1.3 million, according to information presented at the meeting.

Members of the Menominee Brownfield Authority agreed to keep the project moving forward. The next step in the process is to consider the work plan for the project.

A Menominee County Brownfield Authority board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 9. Then the work plan is scheduled to go to the Menominee City Council for consideration Nov. 15 and to the County Board on Nov. 23. The Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE)/Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) also must consider it. If all goes well, the plan could be approved in January or February, according to Wednesday’s presentation.

“We’re really excited to see this project come to light,” said Jason Carviou, Menominee County administrator.

The Brownfield project is a joint endeavor between Menominee County and the City of Menominee. “Working together, at the county level and city level, together we are a stronger force than as separate entities. Ultimately, we can continue this cooperation between the county, the city and also the county and the rest of our cities and townships through the county. Ultimately, we’re in a much better position to achieve our mutual goals that we’re trying to achieve here, whether it be economic development or otherwise,” Carviou said.

“We have a critical need for housing, and this is going to be a boost to Menominee in more ways than one,” said Menominee Mayor Jean Stegeman. “It’s going to get the ball rolling on additional development,” she said.

In Marquette, Veridea’s Liberty Way project resulted in 11 separate new developments built after it, Mahaney said. “When you take a blighted area and fix it up, the perception of that area changes,” he said.

The Liberty Way project, which redeveloped the old Bunny Bread Bakery site, was dependent on Tax Increment Financing, Mahaney said. The site suffered from environmental contamination and functional obsolescence. The redevelopment was completed in several stages. The first two floors house the mBank Building and the third floor has additional office space. The next phase involved building a headquarters for Upper Peninsula Health Plan. After the health plan building was completed, a Staybridge Suites with 102 units opened.

“Without the Brownfield, we would have been able to develop one-fourth of the total square footage,” Mahaney said. Veridea intended to invest $32 million, but ended up investing $42 million, he said.

Also in Marquette, Veridea transformed an old hotel into The Residences at Harbor Vista, an upscale rental housing development with 73 units. Studio apartments start at $1,650 a month with a 12-month lease. It features panoramic views of Lake Superior and trails for walking and biking that go to the waterfront.

Mahaney said Veridea invests a lot in landscaping to improve the appearance of the property. “We want our products to look their best. We’ve been able to make that part of our brand.”

But Veridea also has invested in plans that didn’t come to fruition, like one in Houghton, where the developer spent $200,000 on a plan that stalled with a change in city leadership. “Houghton was a situation where there wasn’t sufficient community support for commercial development of the waterfront,” he said. “The city went ahead and issued a (Request for Proposal). We submitted a proposal and it was selected,” Mahaney said. But after an election brought a change in the local leadership, “They couldn’t commit. They lost community support,” he said. “We lost a couple hundred thousand” dollars.

The Brownfield TIF approval process takes place in stages, said Mac McClelland, a consultant who spoke at the meeting. “This site is contaminated,” he said, referring to the Kmart site. “There are Brownfield conditions on the site. It qualifies as a Brownfield.”

The site does not appear on Michigan’s “environmental mapper” website that identifies contaminated areas, but the Menominee Wastewater Treatment Plant is located behind it.

McClelland said the site must be contaminated to be eligible from a Brownfield TIF, but a state Brownfield coordinator said that’s not the case. It also can qualify as a blighted, historic or functionally obsolete property, said Janet Michaluk, Brownfield coordinator in the Remediation & Redevelopment Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

“You just need one. Technically under the act, you just need one” criteria.

Contaminated sites might qualify for additional incentives, but not all kinds of contaminate qualify. Many properties contain asbestos, lead or mold “but that’s not the same type of contamination that would make it a Brownfield site,” Michaluk said.

Sites must have contamination below the ground and above the state’s most restrictive criteria to be deemed a contaminated site, she said. To determine the level of contamination, groundwater samples would have to be analyzed.

Contaminated sites can receive more reimbursement for site preparation. Among environment costs itemized Wednesday to prepare the site, which backs up to the Menominee Wastewater Treatment Plant, is vapor mitigation and dewatering. “This close to the river, there may need to be some dewatering conducted,” McClelland said.

Non-environmental activities related to the Brownfield TIF include demolition and site preparation.

Amara Deloughary gets candy from Jenny Knox, left, at the corner of Stephenson Street and Dunlap Avenue Thursday during Marinette’s downtown Trick or Treat.

hot featured
DNR looking to ramp-up JCI's biosolids investigation

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is looking to expand the investigation of potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in biosolids spread on fields throughout Marinette and Oconto counties.

Biosolids are produced through a treatment process that separates liquids from solids in wastewater, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The solids are further treated to create nutrient-rich biosolids which are used as a fertilizer.

In June 2019, the City of Marinette notified the DNR of elevated PFAS levels in the wastewater at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The following month, the DNR issued Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) a responsible party letter, identifying the former discharge of firefighting foams from Tyco Fire Controls (Tyco), a subsidiary of JCI, into the city’s sanitary sewer system as the main cause of the contamination.

JCI/Tyco agreed to sample all public and private potable wells within a buffer zone of 1,200 feet around the property boundaries of 61 potentially contaminated fields and has so far tested PFAS levels in 191 drinking water wells in the investigation area, according to data from the DNR. Of these wells, 30 contained levels above the recommended enforcement standard of 20 parts per trillion (ppt). Some homes and businesses serviced with water from these wells subsequently accepted JCI’s offer to provide bottled water as a temporary water source solution.

In terms of long-term drinking water, JCI Environmental Communications Director Kathleen Cantillon said JCI continues to work on the issue but that it may be challenging given the lack of nearby municipal water sources in these rural areas. “We’re still in the very early part of this investigation, and new technologies or options might emerge, but for now, bottled water is the solution we have for the short term,” she said.

Further steps in the investigation process should take place late next month. On Sept. 14, the DNR issued JCI/Tyco a Notice of Non-Compliance regarding the biosolids issue and asked the company to increase its investigation efforts. During the Oct. 20 DNR listening session, DNR Emerging Contaminants Program Manager Bridget Kelly explained that JCI/Tyco had not initiated other components of the investigation outside of well sampling.

DNR Complex Site Project Manager Alyssa Sellwood explained in an interview with the EagleHerald that drinking water samples, although important, are not designed for an investigation. She said additional measures such as the installation of monitoring wells and other sample points are necessary to understand where contamination has spread and how it is moving. “We initially prioritized sampling drinking water wells, but the general investigation still needs to happen,” she said.

The DNR is also asking JCI/Tyco to sample potable wells within a 1,200 foot radius of those that have been found to contain elevated levels of PFAS and to reach out again to residents who previously turned down or didn’t reply to JCI/Tyco’s request to sample their wells. JCI/Tyco is expected to submit a potable well sampling plan and site investigation plan by the DNR’s Nov. 21 and Dec. 27 deadlines, respectively.

The EagleHerald contacted several representatives of municipalities that contain landspreading fields. From the comments of those who responded, it appears that municipal leadership is largely unaware of the investigation.

Cantillon said that JCI has been communicating directly with residents within the investigation area to coordinate well sampling. According to Sellwood, the DNR and JCI haven’t yet determined how municipal leadership might be involved in the investigation and any subsequent remediation efforts at this early stage. She said the initial step is to fully define the extent of the contamination.

hot featured
Pilot found dead Wednesday in the Suring area
  • Updated

TOWN OF MAPLE VALLEY—A pilot, a 67-year-old man from Grand Prairie, Texas, was found dead Wednesday in the Suring area after a search for a descending plane where the pilot became unresponsive, according to the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office.

There were no other injuries or passengers.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) fighter aircraft responded Wednesday evening to an incident involving an unresponsive, single-engine general aviation aircraft over the State of Wisconsin.

At approximately 6:15 p.m., the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Dispatch Center received a call in reference to an aircraft that appeared to be descending in the area of Kelly Lake in Oconto County. The United States Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration advised they were in the process of tracking a fixed-wing single-engine beech plane that was dark in color on the bottom of the aircraft and light on the top.

The Emergency Dispatch Center was advised that the single occupant pilot was unresponsive. The pilots in the two jets escorting the plane said the plane flew too low and they lost visual contact.

NORAD advised the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Dispatch Center that the aircraft impacted the ground near Hickory Corners, Wisconsin, at approximately 6:30 p.m. NORAD aircraft did not use any weapons or tactics during the event that led to the aircraft impacting the ground.

The aircraft was located in the 9000 block of Yatso Road in the Town of Maple Valley by pinging the cellphone of the pilot as well as calls from citizens.

NORAD monitored the aircraft throughout the event, conducting regular assessments of potential impact to citizens and critical infrastructure. NORAD employs a layered defense network of radars, satellites, and fighter aircraft to identify aircraft and determine the appropriate response. NORAD is a bi-national command focused on the defense of both the U.S. and Canada. The response to potential aerospace threats does not distinguish between the two nations and draws on forces from both countries.

The Oconto County Sheriff’s Office responded to the area and was assisted by the Federal Aviation Administration who assisted with the search by helicopter; Gillett Area Ambulance also assisted. The following agencies were paged to stage in the area to provide additional assistance as needed: Coleman Ambulance and Oconto Ambulance, Oconto Falls, Little River, Lena, Suring and Coleman fire departments.

“I would like to personally thank the citizens who called in with detailed information specific to assist our team in locating the aircraft,” said Oconto County Sheriff Todd Skarban. “I would also like to thank or team of first responders for their assistance in regard to this matter. The teamwork we have with our law enforcement, emergency management, EMS and fire departments here in Oconto County is second to none. Thank you all for what you do for our community.”

This incident remains under investigation by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Brown County Medical Examiner’s Office.