Dubuque to decontaminate 3 properties

City of Dubuque officials plan to rid three sites of hazardous materials to make way for future development.

Dubuque City Council members voted unanimously this week to begin the process of hiring an environmental engineering consultant to carry out a number of tasks to remediate properties containing hazardous substances or containments — known as brownfields — and to assess potential additional brownfield sites in the South Port area.

The project follows an $800,000 brownfields multipurpose grant the city received in 2019 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA regularly provides funds to municipalities to mitigate and identify brownfield sites within their city limits.

Steve Sampson Brown, project manager for the city, said the consultant the city hires will perform a number of tasks over a three-year period to further the city’s brownfield remediation efforts, chief among them being the mitigation of hazardous materials at three properties.

“There’s a range of volatile organic compounds and heavy metals on those sites, and the consultant will lead the project in determining the best ways to make those sites safe for development,” Brown said.

First, the consultant will prioritize removing hazardous compounds and metals from a portion of the property the city purchased to expand Comiskey Park, located directly northeast of the park.

Brown said the site likely was polluted due to its prolonged proximity to the former Morrison Brothers Co. manufacturing site. The business — now headquartered on East Seventh Street — specializes in manufacturing valves, nozzles and fittings for petroleum-handling equipment.

In order to ready the site for the planned park expansion, the city will either remove contaminated soil on the site or cover the soil with a hard surface overlay, such as a parking lot or basketball courts, Brown said.

“Capping the site with something like that provides no chance of coming in contact with the hazardous material,” Brown said.

The city also will seek to remediate two sites in the city’s South Port that also contain hazardous compounds and metals due to being the former locations for oil refinement and railroad operations, Brown said. One site lies directly north of the Julien Dubuque Bridge, while the other lies directly south.

Although the exact method of remediation has not yet been determined, Brown said the ultimate goal is to make the sites safe enough for future commercial development.

Part of the grant funding also will go toward providing assessments of other potential brownfield sites. Brown said five sites will be examined to determine the full extent of hazardous contamination there.

Although those sites have not yet been chosen, the city will focus its efforts in the North Port, Historic Millwork District and Bee Branch Creek Greenway.

Brown said community outreach and involvement events will be held to connect with local property owners who might be interested in having their property assessed.

Although the city might not perform additional remediation work on these sites, Brown said having the assessments could ultimately make the properties more attractive to prospective developers.

“If there could be some contamination going on there, and they don’t know what it is, there is a lot of risk in developing there,” Brown said. “With these assessments, they will know exactly what they are getting into.”

While the EPA grant will mostly pay for the project, the city will be required to provide about $40,000 in city staff work time to help manage it.

City Council Member Brad Cavanagh said it is important for the city to invest in making contaminated properties in Dubuque available for future development.

“It’s important that we can use land that is there,” he said. “There are a lot of great things that can happen at these sites, we just need to clear the way.”