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Turning Tragedy into Inspiration for Highland Park

May 16, 2019

View of gas station building near Avalon VillageBeth Vens of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Remediation and Redevelopment Division (RRD) shares her experience in connecting with Mama Shu, the driving force behind Avalon Village in Highland Park.

One morning, I was listening to National Public Radio and heard an interview with Mama Shu from Highland Park.  Shu created Avalon Village, a movement to reclaim Highland Park in response to the death of her young son by a hit-and-run driver. She was determined to use her pain for good and reclaim Avalon Street, house-by-house, block-by-block, for her neighborhood. Shu bought several homes and turned them into safe places for neighborhood children to do homework, receive tutoring, and provide snacks. She mowed the lawns in vacant lots and cleaned up the streets.  Shu discussed her hopes of having a café and greenhouse at the end of Avalon Street at the site of an old gas station during the interview.

I knew Refined Petroleum Funding was available for old gas stations, and she verified the existence of an old gas station with dispenser islands on Avalon Street.  There were no files for this address and no releases reported for the gas station.

I contacted Avalon Village and the city of Highland Park representatives to propose state funding to investigate the property, to determine if underground storage tanks remained at the property, and if so, to remove the tanks, and any contamination remaining from the tanks. Avalon Village and the city of Highland Park representatives were delighted to learn of the funding and provided access to allow the work to be conducted.

View of underground tank being removed at Avalon VillageEGLE's RRD contracted with Wood Consultants to conduct a geophysical evaluation. They identified four buried tanks and discovered contamination. A contractor was then hired to remove two waste oil tanks and two gasoline tanks from the ground, some still containing product. The contamination extended under the gas station building and the adjacent building that was abandoned and condemned. Both were removed to allow for the excavation of the contamination.  Significant staining, odors, and soil contamination were present from the buried tanks, and 3,567 cubic yards of soil were removed from the property. Clean fill soils filled in the excavation and the site was covered with crushed stone at the surface.

Community members and Shu were very engaged with the remediation project and enthusiastic about the work done for the community, allowing for the vision of the café and greenhouse to come closer to reality. It was a true team effort involving Avalon Village, Mama Shu, the city of Highland Park, EGLE-RRD, and Wood Consultants.

For additional information and progress of The Avalon Village, visit

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