What our spring flood means for Ford Area C

High water at Ford dam

This spring, the metro Mississippi River surged with high waters. (Photo by David Wheaton)

We've been waiting for a river flood to gather more information about the hazards posted by Ford Motor Company's floodplain dumpsite in St. Paul, known as Area C. This year, we'll have new data.

What is Ford Area C?

Along the St. Paul riverfront is a little-known dumpsite: Ford Area C. This site, just across Mississippi River Boulevard from the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant (now the Highland Bridge redevelopment) and right next to Hidden Falls Park, has been of interest to FMR for a long time. (Learn more about the history of Area C.)

FMR has been working to bring more attention to this unremediated dump for many years. Our collaboration with the Capitol Region Watershed District has helped increase oversight of the site. Most notably, we were able to advocate that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) require Ford to add more groundwater monitoring wells to the site in 2020.

Why more monitoring wells were needed

While there had been some monitoring wells on the property for many years, independent engineers hired by the Capitol Region Watershed District didn't believe the existing wells were in the right locations to capture how floods affect Area C.

The waste pile has a layer of hazardous waste (such as barreled paint and solvents) buried under a heap of construction debris several stories high. When the Mississippi River reaches a high enough flood stage, we worry that river water inundates that hazardous waste.

We don't know how much hazardous waste remains in the pile or what happens when the flood waters flow into it. No one does. In August 2020, Ford installed new monitoring wells at the locations we advocated for ...

... and since then, we've been waiting for a flood.

Ford Area C monitoring well

The 2020 installation of more monitoring wells like these at toxic Ford Area C in St. Paul was a big win for river advocates. (Photo by Tom Reiter for FMR)

What happens next?

This year, the Mississippi River reached major flood stage in St. Paul for the first time since the wells were installed. Ford collected water samples from the monitoring wells during the 1-2 weeks the river inundated the waste pile.

The MPCA has said that they would likely gather groundwater monitoring data from two flood cycles (in addition to Ford's regular, ongoing data collection) before deciding what hazards Ford Area C may pose and what remediation may be required.

This spring's monitoring results should be made public later this summer or fall, and we'll be looking to independent experts to review and interpret the findings. One flood cycle may not be enough to answer all of our questions about the dumpsite, but it's a start.

After the MPCA is satisfied with the monitoring data available (which may require another flood for additional sampling), the agency will work with Ford to develop a "feasibility study" to explore different options for cleaning up the site, weighing factors such as environmental risk, cost and community acceptance.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on a draft of the study, after which the MPCA will select a cleanup alternative and request that Ford implement it.

Cleanup alternatives may range from minor actions, like requiring ongoing monitoring and addressing surface debris and erosion issues, to full removal of the waste pile. The better the monitoring data, the better we can understand the risks and benefits of different cleanup scenarios.

Stay involved

Public participation has been crucial to raising the profile of Ford Area C and encouraging more attention from the MPCA. In February 2020, over 150 community members attended a community meeting to share their questions and concerns with the MPCA.

Once we have this new data, we'll call on community members again to advocate for the cleanup of this dumpsite. A profitable international corporation shouldn't be allowed to leave its mess behind on our riverfront.

We'll keep FMR's River Guardians informed about future opportunities to get involved in this issue. And we'll also be offering our River Guardians a special walking tour around Area C later this summer. Sign up below to make sure you don't miss the invitation. 

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