Controlled burn of unwanted structure

PLEASANT PLAINS TWP. — Rolling flames ripped through what used to be the Cajun Bayou restaurant and bar on M-37 in Pleasant Plains Township on Thursday, Aug. 31.

The Baldwin Fire Department conducted a controlled burn of the building to not only get rid of blight, but to remove the structure so contaminants 30 to 40 feet directly below can be treated, said Pleasant Plains Zoning Administrator Robert Sanders.

The abandoned and dilapidated structure sat on what is known as the Wash King Laundry site and is listed as a superfund site — locations authorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be placed on the National Priorities List requiring long-term cleanup of hazardous waste contamination.

The Wash King Laundry building was located directly south of the Cajun Bayou building on the same parcel of land.

“Pleasant Plains Township dedicated a lot of time — two years — to finalize removing this structure,” Sanders said. “The township and county worked collaboratively to get it down. We had to go through the 79th District Court to get a judgment for the fire demo. The Department of Environmental Quality is involved because of the contamination. By removing the building, we receive funds to adequately remove the contaminants.”

According to the epa.gov/superfund website, the contamination began when Wash King Laundry, which began operations in 1962, used the solvent perchloroethylene — a health risk. In the dry cleaning process, hazardous chemicals from solvents and laundry waste seeped into the soil and groundwater.  The contaminated groundwater plume extends to the Pere Marquette River.

Construction of the remedy, which included groundwater extraction and treatment, soil vapor extraction, drainage and removal of the laundromat building, took place between 1999 and 2001, according to the EPA website, which said maintenance activities are ongoing.

“Residences and businesses in the contaminated area are on the same well system, including Baldwin Canoe and Paul Bunyan Antiques. They can’t have basic wells because of the contaminants,” Sanders said. “The affected area has been placed on a community water system a number of years ago.”

Bob Jellinski, owner of Paul Bunyan Antiques, located just north of the controlled-burn site, said the Cajun Bayou has been abandoned since the owners closed the business about 2001.

“The building has been around a long time as a bar and restaurant,” he said. “It first opened as the Bunny Inn, and then it was the Windjammer for many years before becoming the Cajun Bayou. After the business shut down, the building has been gradually decaying all these years. The owners just walked away.”

Baldwin Fire Department Chief Marty Walker said he was glad the department assisted in removing the building.

“It is nice to see this building burn down. It was an eyesore,” he said. “We also were able to supplement our fire budget income, with $1,000 we received for burning it going directly to deficit wages.

“This fire demo gives department members practice. New firefighters can get up close to the burning structure and feel the heat while controlling the flames with the hose. They can feel the heat through their masks. This prepares them better for when there is a real fire.”

Lake Township Fire Department and Lilly Township Fire Department also were on site to help with the demolition, Walker said.

Firefighters ignited the building at 6:30 p.m. by lighting a huge pile of cardboard boxes with a propane torch. It took about 15 minutes for the first collapse, and the fire slowed down by 7:20 p.m.

Deputy Chief Kevin Braddy said the building burned quickly.

“Most of the building caught fire quickly, but it took longer for the north side to burn because of an air conditioner unit,” he said.

Pleasant Plains Supervisor Tammy Ghent said she was excited to see the building burn.

“We have been trying to remove this building for a long time,” she said. “It is nice to get it taken care of. It helps our fire department out, improves the township’s appearances and is a big step in getting the contamination treated.”

After the cement is removed from the site so there is bare earth, the DEQ will burn off contaminants in the ground, said Walker.