March 13 2013 12:00 AM

City looking for more regulation after north Lansing coal fire

Wednesday, Aug. 15 — During a community meeting Monday night, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said the city is looking into new regulations on large coal storage piles close to residential areas after one caught fire in a north Lansing neighborhood earlier this month. 

“Jarring” was the word Bernero used to describe the size of the coal pile, and he said he was shocked to see one so close to the Shady Oak Neighborhood, which is north of North Grand River Avenue and west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in the 4th Ward.

Bernero said City Attorney Brig Smith is looking into how closely the city can regulate coal storage near neighborhood areas. He said after the meeting that it looks like the city may have some power to do so, but details would be forthcoming.

On Aug. 3 and 5, the Lansing Fire Department responded to calls from north side residents living by the Conrad Yelvington Distributors Transfer Yard near the intersection of North Grand River Avenue and North Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. A massive coal pile had caught fire and began to smolder deep within the mound, causing smoke, dust and an atrocious smell to permeate the neighborhood. The Fire Department used trucks to remove sections of the pile to extinguish the smoldering coal.

Mike McIntosh, rail manager for the transfer facility, said the coal combusted because of excessive heat and lack of rain. The coal was destined for Michigan State University’s T.B. Simon Power Plant.

The smell is what first signaled to residents that something was wrong. Many of them had coal dust covering their houses, clogging their pool filters and coating their lawn furniture.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Division issued the company a nuisance violation for the smell. It said the company would have 21 days to respond to the violation, come up with a plan and submit it for review to prevent these situations from occurring in the future.

Conrad Yelvington officials said residents should call them if there was anything the company could do to help out the neighbors with their concerns and offered an apology.

Lansing Fire Chief Randy Talifarro said the air monitors brought on site did not “raise any flags” and there didn’t appear to be any cause for concern about residents’ health.

Many of the neighbors were upset it took so long for something to be done about the burning coal, but they’re happy the situation was resolved and that Conrad Yelvington is active in trying to remedy the situation. One woman had her house power washed by the company to remove the dust.

Shady Oak resident Chris Hannahs was pleased with the way the distributor responded after the fire was extinguished.

“They’re definitely working to try to clean it up,” he said. “They’re doing what they can do.”