Velsicol warning marker removed

St. Louis Utilities Director Kurt Giles drives the utility vehicle that carried the granite marker from the former Velsicol site Wednesday. Sun Photo by SUSAN FIELD. 


By SUSAN FIELD, The Morning Sun

POSTED: 10/16/13, 6:29 PM EDT |

William Shrum was a member of the St. Louis City Council in the 1970s, when the former Michigan Chemical plant “went down.”

After taking a break, Shrum returned and has been a council member for 20 years.

He was there for the bad three decades ago, and he was there for the good Wednesday, when the tombstone-like marker at the former plant was removed and taken to its new home at the St. Louis Historical Society.

A stigma of the past that has haunted the community for so long, the granite marker was paraded to its new location as city officials, Pine River Superfund Task Force members and others gathered for the event.

Formerly located near the gates of the former Velsicol plant, the marker was placed on top of the buried plant site by a judge’s order in 1982.

Now, what stands in front of the site is a stone bench symbolizing life and the future, while the granite marker will be a relic of the community’s past, task force chair Jane Keon said.

Shrum, St. Louis Mayor Jim Kelly, City Manager Bob McConkie and others were on hand to follow the marker to the historical society, where heavy equipment will be needed to place it on a concrete foundation that has been poured.

McConkie said Wednesday was a very important day for the city.

“It’s putting to rest the stigma of death and starting a new era for the city,” he said, adding that the cleanup process will be long and involved. “It’s the beginning of a new day for the health and welfare of both residents and the environment.”

Since the marker had been on the Velsicol site for more than 30 years, its place is at the historical society, Shrum said.

Kelly told the group gathered at the site, with the marker strapped in the back of a John Deere utility vehicle, that “that was then, this is now.”

Kelly spoke of living in a nearby house as a young boy, riding his bicycle down the gravel road and seeing the once-prosperous plant become a mess.

“This is the beginning of the end,” he said of the site.

Kelly also said the city is still paying for what Michigan Chemical did, likely figuratively as well as literally.

Keon said at the time the marker was placed, it made sense because of the death of the chemical plant.

It also signified the approaching death of the city, but residents persevered and St. Louis rebounded through hard work of city officials, Keon said.

A massive cleanup, closing roughly $354 million, is in the design phase, she said.

Because of the efforts of the task force, the United States Department of Justice submitted a motion calling for the end of the 1982 consent judgement that required the marker with its warning, Keon said.