Plans for a large solar array on the site of a former landfill along the Mississippi River to power the Highland Bridge development just up the bluff is still being sorted out by Xcel Energy, master site developer Ryan Companies and legislative leaders.

State Representative David Pinto introduced legislation on March 3 to provide up to $3 million for the project through the state’s Renewal Development Account (RDA). If that funding is approved, Xcel Energy would have the resources to move the solar array if needed.

Ford Area C
Area C (the circled area above) was used as a landfill for various waste starting in the 1940s.

The 6-acre array would be the largest of its kind in the Twin Cities. It would be located on part of a 22-acre former Ford Motor Company landfill known as Area C. River advocacy and environmental groups have called for the buried contamination on the site to be excavated and removed.

“A concern with putting in the solar array at Area C is that it would be a disincentive to possibly remove materials buried at that site,” Pinto said. He described the RDA funding request as an “insurance policy” that would allow the solar array to move ahead and yet have the resources available if it had to be relocated.

James Pearson, manager of community and state government affairs for Xcel, discussed the solar array and RDA funding with the Highland District Council’s Community Development Committee in February. Committee members took no action and mainly asked technical questions about Highland Bridge’s energy use and the RDA.

The solar array and adjacent hydroelectric plant would be used to provide electricity throughout the 122-acre Highland Bridge. Some of the power produced on the site could also provide electricity for adjacent homes and businesses. No timeline for construction has been set.

“A concern with putting in the solar array at Area C is that it would be a disincentive to possibly remove materials buried at that site,” Pinto said.

Area C is a capped concrete area that most recently was used by Ford as a staging spot for motor vehicles. From 1945 to 1966 it was used as a disposal site for paint sludge and solvents used in Ford’s vehicle painting process. The area continued to be used by Ford to dispose of construction debris, scrap metal, contaminated soil and other material.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disposed of a large volume of construction rubble and sand on top of and surrounding the industrial waste. Ford covered the construction rubble with a parking lot in the 1980s. Additional rubble from a Mississippi River Boulevard construction project was dumped there in the late ’80s.

Groundwater samples have been collected at Area C since then and several monitoring wells were dug. It is feared that buried contaminants there continue to leach into the river.

Ford, which still owns Area C, did an environmental investigation there in 2015-2016. Samples of industrial waste collected from soil borings and trenches were found to contain solvents, metals, asphalt-related compounds and polychlorinated biphenyls, all related to Ford’s painting operations. Metals were present at high concentrations in the industrial waste, including antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead and zinc. 

Groundwater contaminants include low concentrations of cobalt, mercury, cyanide and asphalt-related compounds. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) determined that the pollutants found in Area C’s groundwater were well below levels that posed a risk to the river. Groundwater monitoring is ongoing at Area C, and surface water evaluation will be updated based on any new information, according to the MPCA.

The MPCA has requested that Ford evaluate a number of cleanup alternatives in a feasibility study. The study will not be submitted until the groundwater investigation at Area C has been completed.

— Jane McClure


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