August 30, 2019
The State Fair, or more accurately, a park and ride lot for the State Fair, gave me the chance to check out a usually off-limits part of the old Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant (TCAP) and grounds. The 22-acre area is between Mississippi River Boulevard and the Mississippi River, across the River Road from where the 122-acre main plant stood for 100 years. All of the 22-acres, known as Ford Area C, are between 30 feet and 110 feet lower than Mississippi River Boulevard and the grounds of the former plant. The elevation difference and the thick growth of trees and bushes make it difficult to see Area C. Only a soaring smokestack is visible from atop the bluff.
A large motorized gate usually prevents access to the driveway leading from Mississippi River Boulevard and the bluff down to a parking lot. During the State Fair, however, the gate is open to people opting to park their cars and take a shuttle bus to and from the Fair. The lot holds several hundred cars.
Below the lot are Ford’s former steam and water treatment plants, two of the three structures built to support Ford’s manufacturing that remain standing.
The future of Area C hasn’t been determined, at least partially because of its past as an industrial waste depository for more than four decades.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Ford, paint sludge, old paint and solvents that were produced during the manufacture of vehicles were dumped in Area C from about 1945 to 1966. The MPCA says that Ford’s precise disposal methods aren’t known, but “liquid solvents may have been dumped over the edge of the bluff, while barrels of paint sludge were buried.” Environmental regulations regarding hazardous waste disposal were nonexistent at this time, so Ford’s disposal methods were legal.
Other waste materials were moved from a dump on the main factory property to Area C in 1962 and ’66.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Area C became the de facto landfill for construction debris from three projects. In 1975, the Army Corps of Engineers deposited a great deal of rubble from the reconstruction of Lock and Dam Number 1, just across the Mississippi, on top of and near Ford’s previously buried industrial waste.
Some 47,000 cubic yards of concrete, sandstone and sand from repaving Mississippi River Boulevard were placed within Area C in 1981. Then, between 1984 and ’86, Ford put an “unknown volume” of debris and excavated soil from construction of a new Paint Building on the main TCAP property. (At one point in the 1980s, Area C was declared a Minnesota Superfund site. Subsequent remediation by Ford prompted the MPCA to remove the Superfund designation.)
Most of that waste and construction debris was dumped within about 3.8 acres of Area C’s 12. As a result, between 1985 and ’87, that part of Area C was paved with an eight inch layer of concrete, which encapsulated the dump. It also became a place to park trailers, and after the TCAP was shuttered, the State Fair Park and Ride lot.
Ford dug several groundwater monitoring wells in 1981 and ’82 and has added more since then. The company has said any contamination is below levels that could affect people or wildlife. However, the Friends of the Mississippi River has convinced Ford to do additional testing of groundwater and flood waters that could carry contaminates from Area C into the river.
The service road that takes Fair-goers to their parking spots continues down the bluff toward the decommissioned steam and water treatment plants, and beyond.
There is so much to experience within Area C, from the remains of an industrial giant to the plants and animals inhabiting the grounds. I understand the draw of abandoned facilities like the steam plant. The excitement of exploring a building that is off limits, that holds memories and mysteries of the past is compelling for some. However, the damage inflicted upon the these buildings appalls me. I can’t comprehend what motivates someone to destroy other’s property. I find the intentional damage to the buildings and property very disillusioning.
At just under four miles, this was the shortest ride in the history of the Saint Paul By Bike blog.
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