Berrien County settles hazardous materials lawsuit with Detroit company

Published 5:30 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

ST. JOSEPH – Berrien County Commissioners tackled a number of issues at their weekly meeting Thursday. They approved a new drug treatment program for jail inmates, accepted grant funds for a Lake Michigan linear park and settled with a Detroit area company threatening to sue the county.

        On the last matter, commissioners approved paying $10,000 to Trex Properties of Detroit to settle a potential lawsuit over hazardous materials from the Berrien County Road Commission allegedly dumped at a Detroit area site over 30 years ago. Trex now owns the property which has found to have environmental contamination.

        The matter was brought to the county board by Corporate Counsel Thaddeus Hackworth. He said the remediation costs of clearing contaminants and pollutants from the site is expected to be close to $10 million and federal law dictates that any entity that provided hazardous substances to the site is required to contribute to the clean up costs.

        Hackworth said the county received a letter recently from the property owner stating its intention to file suit against all entities they can identify in order to get them to contribute to the clean up costs.

He recommended that the county board pay the $10,000 which comes without admitting any liability. He said the cost of defending a potential lawsuit including legal fees and discovery could very easily be more than that amount.

Other county board action included approving a contract with Therapeutics, LLC to provide Medication Assisted Treatment services to Berrien County jail inmates suffering opioid addiction for a one year period. The cost is expected to be $180,000 with the funds to pay for it coming from the county’s recently opioid settlement funds.

The county joined the opioid settlement earlier this year and will be getting at least $4.4 million over 18 years. The county board formed an Opioid Settlement Taskforce to advise them on how to spend the money and the Medication Assisted Treatment program is the first to get funding.

The Medication Assisted Treatment program has been used in other parts of the state to help inmates with an opioid addiction recover while in jail. The program is designed to include treatment with therapy and discharge planning with the ultimate goal of reducing opioid overdose related deaths.

County commissioners accepted a Michigan Department of Transportation grant to help pay for the costs of developing the Red Arrow Highway Linear Park Pathway Project. The county is getting $925,000 for the project from the MDOT Transportation Alternative Program and is matching it with $320,000 in local funds.

The pathway will eventually run from New Buffalo to Bridgman and the grant being accepted now will expand a section of trail between U.S. 12 and Community Hall Road in New Buffalo Township.

In other park news, Berrien County Parks Director Jill Adams reported on the Silver Beach County Park playground project. The county is receiving a state Spark grant for $850,000 toward a total $1.25 million project. The county is replacing the current playground structure which is more than 30 years old with an up to date barrier free structure.

The county is now starting a fundraising drive to raise the remaining $400,000 needed to get construction started. The fundraising drive kicked off Thursday and will conclude in mid-December. Adams said the goal is to go out to bid in December/January and start construction in the fall of 2024 or spring of 2025.

People wanting to donate can give donations to the Silver Beach County Park Playground Project Fund at the Berrien Community Foundation, c/o Silver Beach Playground Equipment Project, 2900 S. State St., Ste. 2E, St. Joseph, MI 49085.

        People can also visit donations are tax deductible.