Morris approves contract for environmental services regarding battery fire site

Smoke billows from the fire at 919 E. Benton St. in Morris. The building contains more than 100,000 pounds of lithium batteries and the east side of Morris has been evacuated.

The City of Morris approved a contract with HR Green on Monday for environmental services regarding the former site of Superior Battery, which burned in June 2021, forcing nearly 4,000 residents living within a half-mile radius out of their homes.

Brown said said this contract with HR Green is the first step in a process where the city’s hands have been tied up to this point.

“This is the first step in conjunction working with the Attorney General’s Office and the US EPA and the IEPA in getting this property looked at so we could possibly purchase it,” Brown said. “We have to find out what contaminants are there, but this is the first of hopefully many phases we’ll be looking at in order to do so.”

Brown said there will be a lot of surveying going on around the site at 919 Benton St. for the next several weeks. He said this stage could take six to eight weeks, and then it’ll move on to phase two, which could take two to three months.

“It could take longer,” Brown said. “We’ll have to go back with some of this empirical data, both with phase one and phase two and the US EPA and the IEPA and what the chemicals are, what the cleanup is going to look like and what this would be as a liability if we even took this on.”

Brown said the Attorney General hasn’t allowed the city to do anything up to this point, but they’re allowing Morris to complete phase one and phase two to start the process and get ahead of it.

Brown said the EPA did its job in getting the batteries cleaned up but there’s still other questions with the site: It was a paper mill many years ago, and he isn’t sure what’s left over from that.

The building was being used to store lithium batteries when it caught fire, which caused clouds of black smoke carrying hazardous chemicals to fill the air. The fire burned for nearly two weeks.

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec covers Grundy County and the City of Morris, Coal City, Minooka, and more for the Morris Herald-News