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EPA begins $3 million cleanup at scrapyard

Tests show contaminants reached river

Work to clean up the former Dixon Iron & Metal Company began Wednesday near the riverfront in Dixon.
Work to clean up the former Dixon Iron & Metal Company began Wednesday near the riverfront in Dixon.

DIXON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week started $3 million in cleanup work at the Dixon Iron & Metal Co. scrapyard, which has been leaching contaminants into the Rock River.

The city acquired the property at 78 Monroe Ave. earlier this year through abandonment court, after about 2 years of extending a contract to buy the scrapyard while environmental tests were conducted.

The state EPA helped the city with the initial environmental assessment process, at no charge, and the council approved a $122,000 contract last year with Fehr Graham Engineering and Environmental to do further tests.

Those tests found levels of heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, that exceeded EPA standards, and the IEPA recommended the site to the federal agency for cleanup.

The U.S. EPA recently got the green light to begin cleanup and up to $2,927,424 to “mitigate threats to public health, welfare and the environment posed by the release or threat of release of hazardous substances at the site,” according to a city news release.

Normally, remediation assistance is capped at $2 million, but more funds were allocated because of the “imminent and substantial threat” of the condition of the surface and subsurface soils and groundwater, according to EPA project reports.

Site investigators also found that a breach in a protective berm meant to keep contaminant runoff from leaking into the river and elevated levels of PCBs in river sediment a few feet from the site.

More tests are planned to gauge the extent of contamination.

During the next 2 months, work will include replacing contaminated soil with clean soil, disposing of hazardous materials and restoring the property with backfilling excavated areas and planting grass.

Residents are asked to avoid the site, and people should consult the Illinois Fish Advisory on the Illinois Department of Public Health website before eating fish from the river.

“We could not be more grateful for the support of the Illinois EPA and the U.S. EPA,” Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said. “Their teams have both been incredible to work with, and the expertise of Fehr Graham Engineering and Environmental has been vital to the success of this project.

“After we make the property safe, we can begin the next steps to bring Viaduct Point to life.”

The Viaduct Point project is a partnership in which the city and the Lee County Industrial Development Association are securing about 10 acres of land stretching from the Peoria Avenue Bridge to the viaducts, to attract new development.

Cleaning up the property also will help the city add more than 1.5 miles of new bike path, which will run east along River Road toward Raynor Garage Doors and west downtown connecting up to the viaducts and stretching from First to Seventh streets, City Manager Danny Langloss said.

The city received a $2 million Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant for the bike path project in October 2016.

Dixon Iron was bought by Jim Pitchford since 2007 and closed down in late 2017.

Prior to that, it was a salvage yard ran by Sinow & Wienman Inc. Operations, and portions of the property have been used as a junk yard since the 1910s, according to the EPA. Coal and lumber industries occupied the site from 1897 until the 1950s.

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