“The Dico site is an area that was assumed to be unusable for the city,” says Jeremy Boka, Director of Business Development with Earth Services & Abatement and Iowa Demolition of Des Moines. “There was nothing expected to be there forever, so to have this opportunity for redevelopment has drawn praise both nationally and internationally.”
The City of Des Moines assumed ownership of the contaminated Dico site in spring 2021 as part of an agreement to settle the longstanding legal battles between the property owner and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice.
The terms of the agreement included dividing cleanup of the site between the EPA and the city. Des Moines hired Earth Services & Abatement and Iowa Demolition for its portion of the work.
“This agreement is greatly appreciated and will allow our city to begin the important step toward the positive redevelopment of this property,” said Mayor Frank Cownie, in a statement. “Working with our partners at the EPA, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, we are hopeful development will be a possibility in the future to significantly enhance the southern edge of downtown.”
That redevelopment is on track to take place. Developer Krause+ of Des Moines has proposed a $535 million project with a professional soccer stadium and additional buildings.
Environmental activist Lois Gibbs led a campaign to call attention to the problem and find a way to help her neighbors. Those efforts led to Congress passing the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in 1980, commonly referred to as the Superfund Act. The legislation gave the EPA the ability to clean up contaminated properties, forced responsible parties to clean up or reimburse the government for doing so, and offered a way for the EPA to clean up the site with no viable responsible party.
Today, thousands of Superfund sites exist, including “Des Moines TCE,” the location of the former Dico industrial site. Dico operated an “iron foundry, a steel wheels manufacturing plant, a chemical and herbicide distribution center, and a pesticide formulation processing plant,” according to EPA records. Dico used degreasers containing trichloroethylene and disposed of solvent waste on the site. The EPA has monitored a groundwater treatment system at the Dico site since 1987.
Dico and Titan Tire, both subsidiaries of Titan International of West Chicago, paid the federal government $11.5 million to satisfy the EPA’s past costs for cleanup work at the site.
The nearly 200-acre site, in the floodplain of the Raccoon River, posed a threat to the city’s drinking water. Trichloroethene (TCE), 1,2-dichloroethene (1,2-DCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and vinyl chloride were released into the groundwater. Pesticide residue, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos were found in the buildings.
“One of the challenges was the structure and the coordination between the abatement and demolition sides of our company,” Boka says.
Earth Services & Abatement handled the removal of the asbestos and PCBs, and Iowa Demolition took down and removed the buildings.
“The asbestos was mostly done by containment and manual labor,” says Mike Berst, Operations Manager for Iowa Demolition. “And the building was demolished in a conventional way with excavators.”
Earth Services & Abatement crews removed the PCB insulation by hand.
Due to the soil contamination, crews had to ensure the equipment or pieces of the structures did not puncture the hard surfaces to avoid additional environmental issues.
“It was a fine-touch situation,” Berst says. “The excavators would grab onto beams and sheer them at the end and make sure we did not disturb the slab or footings. It was not traditional. It was more of a surgical demo.”
Iowa Demolition had four excavators on the project and slowly and carefully brought the structures down, monitoring the speed. The foundation and footings are to remain on site.
During removal of the large manufacturing building, Iowa Demolition brought in a Komatsu 80-foot high-reach excavator to use in taking down a four-story tall traveling crane.
“The building structure itself is really interesting,” Boka says. “It’s all hand-rivetted and steel, with lots of glass.”
Crews tested and separated the removed materials and recycled as much as possible.
Throughout the entire project, Iowa Demolition had to keep water running to eliminate dust that could contain harmful particles. That included sweeping the parking lot or loading trucks. The water runoff was contained. The company considers safety its biggest priority.
The new developers will likely place a soil cap over the entire acreage and then put in special foundations that will not spread the toxins.
Iowa Demolition obtained all of the needed permits and followed protocols established by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNP) and the EPA. The contaminated materials were disposed of at the Metro Park East Landfill as “special waste.”
The city of Des Moines, DNP, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) kept a watchful eye on the abatement and demolition. The city also monitored with a video camera.
At the time of publication, the company expected to complete the work by the end of November.
“Very few companies nationwide do what we do – abatement and demolition in house,” Boka says. “We are all in the same building and share the same yard. It’s easy for our customers to have one contract and write one check.”
Another benefit of having one entity perform the work is safety.
“Controlling both abatement and demolition is safer for everyone,” Berst says.
Although not part of the Dico job, Earth Services & Abatement specializes in contaminated soil remediation and has removed millions of yards of asbestos, petroleum, lead and coal ash from soils. The company is also working on a demo and remediation project in the Market District area in eastern Des Moines.
As for the Dico site, the abatement and demo firm’s employees take pride in its role in the redevelopment of the property.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Boka says. “The reinvestment in what was going to be an eyesore in the downtown of one of the fastest growing metros in the country is now going to be a regional and national draw with investment from public and private interests.”
Photos courtesy of Earth Services & Abatement and Iowa Demolition