Incinerator site sale in final stages

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — A film industry veteran has reached tentative terms with the city to purchase the former site of a waste-to-energy incinerator in the city’s south end.

On Aug. 17 the City Council approved the purchase agreement, which provides for a 90-day due-diligence period before closing.

Jim Shaban and his Windsor-based company, North American Free Trade Consultants Inc., would pay the $1.2 million asking price for the 32-acre parcel, according to the agreement. And early proposals by Shaban, a film distributor and property developer, indicate a project that could tap into some of the state’s hottest emerging industries on what is the city’s largest parcel of undeveloped land.

Among the project’s proposed components are high-tech film production facilities and a large installation of photovoltaic panels. The film studio would be marketed toward television and situation comedy production, while the solar farm would be the first such development in the city. Both would be eligible for state tax rebates aimed at drawing filmmakers to Michigan and upping the state’s alternative energy output.

Also part of the plan is a strip mall along Inkster Road.

One of the key things NAFTC will investigate before closing is whether underground cables still are intact that once siphoned power to the grid from the incinerator. City officials said the prospect of pre-existing industrial infrastructure was one of the most appealing aspects of the property to the developer, because it would cut down seriously on building costs for the solar farm.

“When I told him about (the transmission cables), it looked like a light bulb went off in his head,” said Ron Amen, Heights economic and community development director. “He looked at me and said, ‘I want it.’”

Another thing the developer will study is the presence and extent of ground contaminants.

But city officials, citing past environmental studies, don’t anticipate any deal-breaking findings. The only ground contaminant present in substantial amounts is silver nitrate ash, Amen said. And the sporadic deposits just below ground throughout the property are relatively easy to abate, requiring little more than a few inches of paving surface over top to meet federal guidelines.

“The deposits are located in pockets throughout the property, and together they add up to about half a football field in area,” Amen said. “But these issues can be remediated with about a 4-inch cap of concrete – like a parking lot.”

The ash is a byproduct of the solid waste incineration at the site that lasted from the 1960s through 2003, when financial problems shuttered the plant for good. It came under the purview of the Central Wayne County Sanitation Authority, until May 2009 when Dearborn Heights bought out the stakes of the other member communities – Garden City, Inkster, Wayne and Westland – for about $1.05 million.

The purchase agreement marks the first serious commercial interest in the property since Dearborn Heights began soft-marketing it last year. Most inquiries the city received were from cemeteries and churches, which do not pay property taxes and were unwilling to pay the full asking price, Amen said.

Shaban could not be reached for comment for this story.