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At last, TCAAP site ready for development

Minnesota’s biggest Superfund site is finally fit for new development, now that environmental cleanup of the 427-acre former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills is a wrap.

Ramsey County officials on Friday announced the completion of environmental cleanup and clearing of the sprawling former U.S. Army property, which is in the northeast quadrant of Interstate 35W and Highway 96.

The milestone comes three years after the county agreed to buy the heavily polluted property from the federal government in hopes of revitalizing the site and getting it back on the tax rolls. The county paid $28.5 million for the land, which includes the $22.5 million cleanup cost.

City and county officials have targeted the site for new development for decades. The site has been off the tax rolls since 1941, and is part of a larger 2,300-acre TCAAP site that also includes a U.S. Army Training Center, a trail and civic buildings.

The federal government acquired the site in 1941 for small arms ammunition production. At its peak, 26,000 people worked at TCAAP before ammunitions operations ceased in 1976, according to the city of Arden Hills website.

The site was placed on the Superfund list in 1983. Four years later, the U.S. Army began cleanup work with oversight from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the city of Arden Hills website.

The land was polluted with an array of contaminants, from PCB-contaminated soil to lead and chlorinated solvents.

“I think a lot of people thought that the site would never get cleaned up,” said Heather Worthington, deputy county manager for Ramsey County.

The end of environmental cleanup sets the stage for a redevelopment plan, known as Rice Creek Commons, which includes residential, commercial and office uses.

Redevelopment proposals have come and gone, with ill-fated plans ranging from a proposed Ryan Cos. US Inc. mixed-used development to a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Pollution has always been an obstacle. Between the cost of cleaning up the land and putting in the necessary infrastructure, private developers couldn’t make the numbers work, Worthington said.

“This was such an unknown [for private developers] in terms of their financial liability,” Worthington said. “They had a difficult time wrapping their arms around what it would cost.”

St. Paul-based Carl Bolander and Sons finished the cleanup work on time and on budget, Worthington said.

How big of a job was it?

Putting it in perspective, the county said Bolander removed 49 miles of material including 400,000 tons of concrete and asphalt, 43,700 feet of railroad track, 39,000 feet of fencing, and nearly 178,000 feet of piping, from gas mains to sanitary pipe.

Building demolition at the site began in May 2013.

Roughly 93 percent of the materials hauled off the site were recycled or reused, said Todd Planting, project manager for Bolander, which partnered with Wenck Engineering on the project.

A significant portion of that is pavement, as well as concrete, steel materials and rebar from old structures. Heavy timber framing material included old growth Douglas fir, Planting said.

“That was deconstructed and salvaged and it will be re-milled and incorporated into new construction,” Planting said.

Worthington said the county was required to clean the property at least to commercial/industrial standards, but opted to spend an additional $1.5 million to get it to the higher residential level.

“We wanted to make sure we made the development potential as flexible as possible,” Worthington said.

Development is expected to play out in stages over nearly 10 years, but things could start to happen there in 2016 or 2017, Worthington said.

For now, the county is working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to verify the cleanup work, and it will then ask the agency to de-list the property as a Superfund site for soil contamination.

Meanwhile, a number of area road improvements are just completed or in the works, including the $27 million County Road H/I-35W interchange project. Construction is expected to start this spring.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation just completed an $11.7 million diverging diamond interchange at County Road 95 and I-35W in the TCAAP area. Worthington said it’s the first interchange of its kind in Ramsey County.

Last month, the county agreed to acquire an additional 93 acres for a multi-use trail to serve the TCAAP site.

Jill Hutmacher, Arden Hills’ community development director, said the completion of environmental work is “a huge milestone.”

“We are very happy with the work Ramsey County and Bolander have done, bringing that site to residential level of completeness,” Hutmacher said.

The county continues to draft a master developer solicitation for Rice Creek Commons. A master developer solicitation is expected to be out in 2016, Worthington said.

A draft framework for the site envisions 151 acres for residential development, 168 acres for commercial, 25 acres for parks and green space, and 83 acres for a four-lane arterial road.


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