When General Motor’s filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the company left behind numerous manufacturing sites that had, for years, been polluting the groundwater below them. But none were as big as the Willow Run Powertrain Plant in Michigan’s own Ypsilanti Township. The 83-acre facility now sits on 4.1 million gallons of industrial solvents, chemical and oils, and is being considered GM’s biggest environmental liability at this time.

Now owned by RACER Trust, the decision on what to do with the site is proving to be a legal nightmare. Because the plant has contaminated the groundwater below, talks of demolition could mean considerable environmental cleanup and possibly even legal problems if the site turns out to have violated state pollution laws.

So far, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have allocated $35.8 million in federal funding to help RACER Trust clean up the site for future construction. Some worry this may not be enough, pointing out that GM only first became aware of the problem in the early 1980s. There’s no telling how much contamination occurred during the entire 60-some-odd years the plant was actually in operation.

While some worry that demolition of the site and the subsequent cleanup could come at a significant cost to the developer in the end, others like Grant Trigger, a professional engineer and environmental attorney, feel that the allocated funds should be enough to effectively remedy the site’s problems. Playing in the plant’s favor is a stormwater collection system that was built under the plant. Because the water was treated here before being sent to the area’s wastewater treatment plant, Trigger says much of the contaminants were already removed. If the developer decides to move forward with demolition, keeping this system in place could significantly cut down on costs, and possibly even litigation, in the end.

Source: annarbor.com, “Demolition of Willow Run Powertrain Plant could affect environmental remediation,” Amy Biolchini, April 29, 2013