plot of land
1723 Taylor is one of seven former demolition sites that the city has ordered a Warren-based contractor to remove and refill with new dirt after it failed to meet state standards. (Screenshot of Google street view)

The city has ordered a demolition contractor to remove and replace dirt used to fill holes at seven residential demolition sites after soil sampling revealed the materials failed to meet state standards.

The corrective order for Warren-based Den-Man Construction Services comes as the City of Detroit and Detroit Land Bank Authority review dirt used at 200 residential demolition sites. The city had independent testing done on random soil samples from 125 city demolition sites and 65 land bank demolition sites after nonspecific concerns were raised by a federal official. 

Results of eight land bank demolition sites funded with federal Hardest Hit funds and eight city-funded sites revealed all were in breach of contract for not meeting quality standards.

Sampling of seven city demolition sites, officials noted in a Thursday press release, must undergo immediate replacement. Those sites, the city said, exceeded the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy Generic Residential Cleanup for Direct Contact. The city is informing residents who live next to those lots to avoid direct contact as a precaution.

“The City also is requiring Den-Man to immediately begin testing or replacement on another 127 sites of demolition it conducted as part of the city’s demolition program around the same time,” the Thursday release notes. 

A total of 200 residential lots related to demolitions Den-Man conducted in 2017 and 2018 were flagged earlier this year by a representative of the Special Inspector General of the federal Troubled Asset Relief Plan (SIGTARP). While the SIGTARP official did not provide a factual basis for the concerns, the land bank chose to implement independent testing.

A representative with Den-Man authorized to speak on the matter wasn’t immediately available Thursday. 

The land bank has sent its own corrective action letter to Den-Man, ordering the firm to replace or test backfill at 57 land bank demolition sites. Samples taken from 8 sites all meet EGLE criteria, but do not fully meet the quality requirements under its contracts with the Land Bank, the release reads. 

The sites tested were selected randomly by statisticians at Wayne State University and all testing was conducted independently by the environmental company Professional Services Industries, Inc., a nationally recognized consulting, testing and engineering firm. 

“The City of Detroit has some of the highest contractual standards for backfill material used by contractors at demolition sites in the nation,” Raymond A. Scott, deputy director of the city’s Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department said.  “Whenever we become aware of a breach of contract instance, we require the contractor to address the situation at their own cost.”

Under the city’s demolition program, fill material must be provided from an approved source to be used as backfill at any demolition site to ensure that the city’s standards are met.  That backfill material is then covered with a minimum of one foot of topsoil from an approved source.   

In recent years, concerns have been raised over the lack of early controls when it came to backfill records and charges in the federally funded demolition effort that began in spring 2014.

The six-year initiative ultimately took down more than 15,000 residential properties with more than $265 million. But the program had its challenges after first coming under scrutiny in the fall of 2015 amid concerns over bidding practices and rising costs. 

Current and former Detroit City Council members, community advocates and state and federal lawmakers have voiced concerns in the past over the sources of dirt used at demolition sites.

All sites under review, the city said Thursday, involve demolition work that predates the city’s voter-approved $250 million “Proposal N” bond program as well as the creation of the Detroit Demolition Department which runs it. Questions, city officials said, have not been raised over demolitions conducted under the city-run bond program or by the Demolition Department.

Scott said residents living next to the lots being sampled or refilled with new dirt should refrain from direct contact, which includes coming into contact with bare soil or digging while the process takes place.  

Den-Man has until July 5 to begin securing all 57 untested land bank sites with orange fencing to secure them from trespass until each site is approved by testing or the fill material is removed and replaced. The work must be completed by July 18. 

The city added the firm must say whether it plans to conduct testing at all the remaining sites to determine which, if any, exceeded residential cleanup criteria or contract standards and will then need to be replaced at the company’s expense. Den-Man also can opt to forgo the testing and replace the materials at all 57 locations. Environmental professionals must be engaged to prepare work plans no later than July 9, the city said. 

As for the 135 city sites – apart from the seven that must be immediately replaced with backfill – Den-Man must begin work to secure the sites by July 1 and complete that work no later than July 18.

By July 8, the firm must say whether it will test the remaining 127 sites to determine whether they exceed acceptable standards or if it will replace the backfill at each site. Preparation for that work must start by July 9. 

Den-Man also must reimburse the city for the sampling and testing that’s been conducted to date.

The Correction Action letters the City and Land Bank have sent to Den-Man, along with lab reports for each of the 16 sites tested, are available online on the City of Detroit and land bank websites.

The city said the 200 sites under review represent less than 1% of all city and land bank demolitions over the past eight years. 

If Den-Man does not respond to the city and land bank demands or begin replacement or testing work in a timely manner, the city will take on the backfill testing and/or replacement and will bill Den-Man for the full cost. 

“The Land Bank and City will continue to focus on public health and contractor accountability,” added Detroit Land Bank General Counsel Tim Devine.

Scott said if the City is prepared to pursue legal corrective actions from Den-Man for breach of contract to recover the costs, if needed. 

“One way or another, we are going to make sure that the backfill material at these locations reflects our commitment to public health,” he said.

Detroit sites undergoing immediate soil replacement 

1723 Taylor 

3922 Lemay 

3951 Lemay 

3966 St. Clair 

4674 Fairview 

8059 Forestlawn 

19958 Greenview Avenue

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