As cleanup work continues on the former Navistar property in the heart of Chatham, the new owners said they’ve planted corn on a portion of the land.
For them, it’s a sign to the public how thorough their cleanup efforts are.
“We’ve planted a corn field of about 1.5 acres,” said Rob Myers, who along with Don Tetrault and Mike Vagi, own the property. “No one really gets it. It’s clean.”
That’s not to say all of the 80 acres the team purchased in May of 2021 is pristine, but cleanup work is well underway.
“We’ve poured the coals to this thing over the past 13 months,” Myers said.
A team of five works the bevvy of heavy equipment on site, which includes a massive front-end loader and dump truck that do the bulk of the really heavy lifting on the property. Various other contractors are in and out regularly.
There is an area set aside with “dirty” soil and gravel, as Myers and Tetrault termed it. The contaminated soil is covered by a tarp and awaits removal.
“It’s been tested and it’s going to the Ridge Landfill,” Tetrault said. “We get a qualified carrier to take it there.”
He added the amount of contaminated soil and gravel on the property is “about where we thought it would be.” He and his business partners spent several hundred thousand dollars prior to purchasing the property, and Tetrault said soil boring has continued on site.
“We’re finding a little bit here and a little bit there. We’re cleaning it up as we go,” he said. “We have the old city dump (on the southwest side of the property). There’s probably about six acres there we’re going to have to cap and repurpose.”
Harris Concrete is contracted to break up the concrete and Clarke Construction are in for various other work on site.
The concrete crushing is ongoing. There are huge piles of broken-up material in various stages of crushing, from large chunks all the way down to B gravel.
Contrary to rumours, none of it is leaving the property. Speculation was that the gravel is worth millions and the owners were going to sell it off, but they said they have plans for it on site.
Myers and Tetrault said it will be used as the base for parking lots and roads that will go on and through the property.
However, Tetrault admitted he’d love to get the concrete rubble dealt with.
“A lot of this concrete is in our way right now. Our goal is by Christmas to have all the old Navistar building concrete gone,” he said.
“Most of this site will be clean by Christmas; no more environmental problems,” he said.
On top of all the concrete, there are also piles of rubble from the old Navistar facility. Tetrault said when the demolition took place, everything that came down was just dumped in the old stamping pits on the property.
“When they tore the building down, the debris – it’s a mix of brick, steel, dirt, gravel, roofing – they threw that in the old pits. We’re digging that up,” he said. “We’ll bring a magnet in and separate it all. The steel will go to a recycler, and the brick will be ground up, and the other stuff will go to the landfill.”
As the concrete crushing continues, a lone building sits on the site, move-in ready. Myers said they purchased that 65,000-square-foot building last year and it fit one of the existing concrete pads perfectly.
They will soon erect another structure nearby.
“We just bought a 66,000-sq.-ft building. Some company bought it and before they could pay for it, they went bust,” he said. “The building manufacturer called us. We made a deal to buy it and we’re going to build it on spec.”
Even with the two sizeable buildings earmarked to occupy a portion of the property, Tetrault said they will have barely scratched the surface.
“What’s nice about this site is we’ve got 80 acres. We can take a different configuration of buildings and make them fit,” he said.
The plans are fluid as the team still would like to have a retail element along Richmond Street, with the industrial element accessible off Merritt Avenue and Keil Drive.
“We are trying to assemble the right combination,” Tetrault said. “We’ve got 80 acres of heavy industrial land that’s zoned properly and also serviced.”
Myers said municipal officials continue to support the initiative.
“Paul Lacina, the building inspectors and all the guys at the city have been very co-operative with us. They’re excited to see what we are doing here,” he said. “We’re kind of doing something that no one else could get done, really.”
Stuart McFadden, director of economic development for the municipality, said he’s impressed with the work that has taken place on the land.
“There is a lot of work to do to get it cleaned up. But they (the owners) are very hopeful,” he said. “They want to create a lot of jobs and I feel the same way.”
Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff said he’s anticipating big things in time on that property.
“They’re progressing well. They’re cleaning up the site. One building is up and they’re putting up a second,” he said. “There is a lot of interest, particularly with the plants going up in Windsor.”
He said speculation on spinoff jobs from the massive $5-billion electric vehicle battery plant would be in the thousands.
“Certainly, some of those will arrive in Chatham-Kent,” Canniff said. “And their property (the Navistar site) is shovel ready. I would love to see in the next five years for it to be full and employing as many people as Navistar did, but with eight-to-10 businesses.”
At its peak, Navistar employed more than 1,200 people in Chatham.
Myers and Tetrault said companies have been sniffing around, but there has been nothing signed as of this point.
McFadden said the Navistar property is most certainly on his department’s radar, and even that of the province.
“The province has looked for communities to submit proposals for larger parcels of land. We’ve pitched that one twice,” he said of the Navistar land. “This is overseas. It takes a little more time.”
McFadden said closer to home, the property, and others are in economic development’s portfolio
“We’re doing our best, when there are opportunities available, to make sure that property is shown; that one and others,” he said.
Through it all, the digging and crushing continues on site.
And the corn growing.