Cleanup at Scherer Bros.


Planners have big ideas for riverfront land in Northeast Minneapolis, especially the land north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, where Scherer Brothers Lumber used to operate; including a park on the river and possibly a residential, commercial or mixed-use development on the eastern portion of the property.

But before any of those big plans can proceed, a lot of nasty stuff will have to be removed from there.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), which bought the property last year for $7.7 million, will hear about the land’s environmental issues and proposed cleanup plans at its 5 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Aug. 3 and the board’s headquarters, 2117 W. River Road.

MPRB plans to demolish the buildings on the property this fall, and complete the environmental cleanup late this year or early next year. The buildings include a one-story showroom, a three-story office and storage building, a one-story storage and wood shop building, a one-story shop building with a partial mezzanine, a partial two-story shop and warehouse, and two one-story warehouses.
MPRB officials say environmental investigation documents and cleanup plans will be available at beginning July 25. MPRB has enrolled the property in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup Program, and Hennepin County will provide up to $1 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding through its Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund.

What’s in there?

According to environmental investigation documents provided by MPRB, Peer Engineering investigators went through the buildings and provided an inventory of items that commonly contain hazardous materials that will need to be safely disposed of prior to demolition.
They were assigned to look for asbestos, lead-based paint, potentially-hazardous materials and caulking that contains polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). They did not find contaminated caulking, but did find numerous examples of the others.

They found more than 1,000 fluorescent bulbs, hundreds of fluorescent fixtures, dozens of smoke alarms, electrical transformers, electrical panels, HVAC units, ceiling-mounted heaters, high-intensity lamps, thermostats, and hydraulic door closers.

Peer investigators found examples of suspected lead-based paint in several of the buildings, and tested samples, finding lead levels that exceed state environmental standards.

In addition, Peer reviewed earlier soil and ground water investigations of the property, and conducted current tests. They found evidence of petroleum (probably from a leaking underground storage tank), diesel-range organics, mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, chloroform, dichloroethylene and trichloroethylene, some in amounts that exceed state and federal guidelines for the kinds of activities planners anticipate for the site.

How to get rid of it

Interior and exterior building parts that contain more than 1 percent asbestos have to be removed and disposed of before demolition. Asbestos that becomes airborne can cause a rare and virulent form of lung cancer if inhaled.

Equipment that commonly contains hazardous materials also must be removed before demolition. For example, older electrical transformers often contain PCBs, and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury.

The most extensive cleanup activity, however, will likely involve contaminated soil on the site.
Last year, R.J. Rykken Consultants conducted a “limited soil investigation” and recommended that 36,000 square feet of soil, to a depth of four feet, be removed and disposed of—about 4,000 cubic yards.

The Rykken report indicates that state standards will allow park use on contaminated land “in less accessible locations (below a depth of four feet or beneath permanent structures/pavements) with institutional controls that limit the future use of the site.”

What can the average person do?

  • Attend the Aug. 3 MPRB meeting to learn about the contamination and the cleanup plans.
  • Read the documents available online at or in person by contacting Cliff Swenson at 612-230-6473 or
  • Provide your comments. Written comments on the plan will be accepted through August 15 by David Jaeger, supervisor of the Contaminated Lands Unit at Hennepin County, at or Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services, Suite 200, 417 N Fifth St.,  Minneapolis, MN 55401.  The County will coordinate with MPRB and the MPCA in responding to comments.