Detroit to hold public walk-through of AB Ford Park amid concern

The city is planning a community walk-through of AB Ford Park on Detroit’s east side and sharing more details on a soil remediation plan which will result in more than 200 mature trees being removed.

More than 100 people on Thursday joined a virtual evening meeting for District 4, which encompasses Detroit’s far east side, including Jefferson Chalmers, one week after the city first announced plans to remove trees and address contaminated soil. The city’s General Services and Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental departments gave updates on the project, such as ways the city will contain the soil and addressed questions and concerns about the remediation plan.  


The city’s parks team will conduct the community walk-through with an arborist next week to determine which trees might be safe, said Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Dick. Those interested in participating must email District 4 Deputy Manager Eboni Deberry at [email protected]. The date and time are still being determined.

According to city documents, the soil contamination, which included lead and arsenic, were uncovered during environmental testing required for the demolition of the former Lenox Community Center.

While analyzing the park site ahead of the renovation, BSEED determined remediation for the entire park is needed, which includes putting down two feet of clean soil and removing 251 trees, many of which are more than 100 years old. Only 10 trees are in good condition, while the rest are in fair or poor condition. 

AB Ford Park officially closed to the public Feb. 21 for the tree removal project as well as park upgrades, which the city estimates will last through September. After the trees are removed, a mix of 597 native shade, flowering and specimen tree replacements will be planted. However, the removal will also bring heavy trucking to the area. An average of 20 to 30 trucks per day will be at the park five days a week over the seven-month duration of the project.

The park upgrades are part of a $9.5 million AB Ford Park Improvement Project, which includes the recently opened community center, as well as walkways, playgrounds and picnic areas. 

Timeline of contaminated soil discovery 

Dick also provided more information Thursday evening about the city’s remediation plan, including a timeline of when the city discovered the contaminated soil. While working on the construction of the new community center in 2022, the city had the soil sampled and tested from April to July of that year, he said. After the contaminants were discovered, BSEED’s Environmental Affairs Department decided more testing needed to be done. 

“Then we go forward to April and August of ‘23,” Dick said. “Additional sampling was done and that gave us more thought that we need to do a remediation plan.” 

The city worked with project delivery management firm Atlas Technical Consultants and provided city officials with a remediation plan in November 2023. The city then asked Atlas to provide a due care plan to protect people from exposure to contamination present in soil, groundwater, and subsurface vapors. That plan was given to the city last month, Dick said. 

Josh Schuyler, the operations manager at Atlas, said during Thursday’s meeting that along with lead and arsenic, other contaminants found in the soil included cadmium, mercury and semi-volatile polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. 

Schuyler said the best option for the park is to have a two-foot cap of clean soil. 

“That gives us a permanent barrier between the contaminants that are there and any contact that can occur,” he said. “That will be placed across the entire site, across the entire park. And then outside of the areas that are paved like impervious surfaces, concrete, sidewalks, parking areas, things like that.” 

Crystal Perkins, director of the city’s General Services Department, said the weight of the clean soil will compact the oxygen and water flow from getting to the roots of the trees, which is why they need to cut down the 251 trees. A majority of the trees are cottonwood,  which typically live between 70 and 100 years. Perkins said the trees have been in place for about that time, so they are near the end of their lifespan. 

“Again, it is not in our plans to just remove trees just because,” she stressed. “We want to make sure that we are remediating the soil so that the visitors, the children can have a safe space to play in.” 

Residents sound off

Scotty Boman, a chairperson of the District 4 Community Advisory Council, asked why the city can’t leave the park the way it is if the contaminants haven’t harmed anyone. 

“As far as the trees go, it seems to me that if the two feet of topsoil around the roots is what would kill them, then don’t put the two feet of topsoil around the roots. It seems like a no-brainer,” Boman said. 

Ray Scott, Deputy Director of BSEED, responded by saying it’s the city’s obligation to remediate the park to keep visitors safe. 

Resident Jay Juergensen asked what efforts are being made to ensure that any changes in topography will not exacerbate the floodplains since the park is at a higher elevation than nearby homes in the community already prone to frequent flooding.

Arianna Zannetti, assistant chief of landscape architecture, said the north edge of the park near the residential part of the neighborhood is being taken into consideration. 

“Obviously, we don’t just want two feet and then a drop off into the neighbor’s yards,” she said. “Those areas, we will be digging up…to get up to the two feet that we’re adding to the remainder of the site. And then we do have drainage systems essentially going in along the property lines that will take any additional water, cosmetic topographies but won’t go into neighbor’s yards.” 

Meanwhile, Lyn Matheson is concerned about trucks going down Lenox Street into the park, which is near Carstens Elementary-Middle School. 

“If we’re going to have four or five trucks per hour going down Lenox and then idling as they dump dirt, as they get washed, as they get cleaned and all this nonsense, how much pollution are we going to be dumping to schools on Lenox?” she said. “Now we’ve got all these little kids running around to their parents’ cars and their buses and these big trucks coming by. How are we going to be looking out for their safety?”

Dick said the Department of Public Works may conduct a traffic study to see if there’s a better route system the trucks can use. The city also plans to work with the trucking company to try to limit the hours while kids are in school. 

“But there’s really not any other way to do this project,” he said. “Any project we do is going to require bringing in dirt.” 

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