EPA finishes $4 million cleanup at Dixon scrapyard

Now, city officials looking toward future development in riverfront

DIXON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has completed nearly $4 million of cleanup at the former Dixon Iron & Metal Co. scrapyard, and city officials are taking the next steps in priming the property for future riverfront development.

In 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began $3 million in emergency cleanup work at the site, 78 Monroe Ave., after contaminants were found going into the river and recently wrapped up $745,000 in further remediation that began in the summer.

More than 20,000 tons of contaminated soils have been removed and replaced with clean materials. Countless amounts of garbage, debris, drums, tires and scrap metal have been cleared from the site, Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said. In September, the U.S. EPA finished river sediment removal.

The scrapyard is part of the Viaduct Point riverfront revitalization project footprint, with the overall goal being to prime the area for future development, including extending the city bike path along the river and up to the viaducts, as well as attracting commercial development.

“The former DIMCO site is expected to be a place where residents and visitors can gather and play along the riverfront,” Arellano said. “The city of Dixon will engage and support development around and on the DIMCO site to bring amenities like an open-air amphitheater, boardwalk, restaurants, riverfront businesses and a hotel.”

The city acquired the Dixon Iron and Metal Co. scrapyard in 2019 through abandonment court, after about 2 years of extending a contract to buy the property while environmental tests were conducted. Dixon Iron, formerly owned by Jim Pitchford, closed in late 2017.

Previous tests found levels of heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, that exceeded EPA standards.

The city originally partnered with the Illinois EPA for testing at the site, and the state agency recommended the junkyard for time-critical remediation by the feds.

“This type of assistance is rare, and it has positioned the site to be transformed from an underutilized contaminated eyesore to a vibrant extension of downtown Dixon,” he said.

To date, the U.S. EPA has assisted the city with more than $3.75 million in time-critical removal actions.

The city is now preparing an application to the U.S. EPA Brownfields Program for a cleanup grant to address groundwater and residual soil contamination and demolish remaining structures at the site.

“This is one of the largest environmental remediations that has ever occurred in the rural regions of northwest Illinois,” Arellano said. “The positive impact will be felt downstream from Dixon, through Sterling/Rock Falls, and all the way to the Quad Cities where the Rock River meets the great Mississippi.”

Once the property has a clean bill of environmental health, the city can move forward with extending the bike path. Work on that project could begin in 2023.

In 2016, the city received a $2 million Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant to extend its bike path 1.6 miles – stretching east on River Road toward Raynor Garage Doors and west along the river with a ramp to the viaducts running to Seventh Street. In June, the city received $1.4 million more from the state for the project.

The city is continuing to move forward with quality-of-life improvements in town, Arellano said.

“We certainly look forward to when the multi-million ITEP path system can break ground, and Dixon moves from successful environmental clean up into new riverfront development.”

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.