From Brownfield to Beauty

How do we use trees to clean up soil? With funding from the U.S. Forest Service, we made a video that shows you how we’ve transformed 11 acres of vacant brownfields in Muskegon, MI into urban tree farms using fast-growing poplar trees that clean up soil while providing a host of other benefits.

In 2012, Delta Institute began working in Muskegon to clean up the Zephyr oil refinery site, as well as other brownfield sites, through funding made available by the U.S. Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Our partners for this work have included the Environmental Forest Consultants, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRD), Michigan State University (MSU), Montague Tree Farm, Merit Labs and Grand Rapids DEQ.

Phytoremediation is a process that uses plants, like hybrid poplar trees, to draw contaminants out of the soil, or to stabilize them within the soil.  When utilized on vacant land, the trees also beautify the site, which can help attract potential developers. Watch the video to see how we’re using phytoremediation in Muskegon as an interim land management strategy – to help clean up, beautify, and prepare the site for a more permanent redevelopment solution. Currently, we’ve planted over 5,500 poplar trees across 11 acres of brownfield sites in Muskegon, and another 4-7 acres will be planted in Spring 2017.

As an interim land management strategy, phytoremediation with hybrid poplars is replicable for brownfield sites that are not severely polluted. We’re working on similar projects in Gary, Indiana, and we see potential for many other post-industrial cities to use phytoremediation as an interim strategy to both improve the land, activate and beautify brownfield sites, and create economic development opportunities in the process.

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