Zoning issues and TCE may get in the way of a medical marijuana dispensary in Camdenton. Here's what you need to know.

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
The front side of the former Modine building in Camdenton.

The possibility of a medical marijuana dispensary moving into the old Modine building in Camdenton is becoming more of a reality each day. The building’s current owner Rick Mai and owner’s rep DJ Seberger have been steadily making progress to repair the building and install fixtures to get the plant back up and running. However, between difficulty with licensing, city variances and TCE, there is still a long road ahead. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Medical Marijuana Facility Plans

There is still a long road to travel before the reality of a medical marijuana distribution site in Camdenton comes to fruition. That being said, the vision Mai and Seberger have for the site is massive.

The manufacturing side of the former Modine building, which has been cleaned and readied for the possible installation of a marijuana cultivation and production facility.

The group has already done a big portion of the work required to rehab the building for manufacturing and growing. The back end of the building houses the large, manufacturing area. This will be split to accommodate both the growing and cultivating of the marijuana, as well as the production of items sold by the facility such as vapes and tinctures. The building consists of 130,000 sqft of space. Mai says they hope to build 30,000 feet of canopy space. 

A portion of the rehabilitated lobby area within the former Modine building.

The front end of the building would be the entrance, where customers would enter the dispensary. This area has seen the most work at this point, with newly installed carpeting and office spaces. The group also has plans to install windows along a wall for the viewing of the production and growing of marijuana, similar to what you might see in a brewery.

Mai says the building has required a ton of work to rehab the damage done by graffiti and other building wear, as well as the overgrowth accumulated within the building over time. 

The facility’s products are for medical purposes and sold per the prescription of a doctor. 

Seberger says that, if all goes to plan, the business could supply Camdenton with hundreds of new jobs. This would be anything from accounting work to security and more. However, Mai says that if they are not able to get licensing and variances approved, they will consider selling the building to another company. 

“This could put a ton of people to work and they would be great paying jobs,” Mai said. 

The building’s history with TCE

Many Camdenton residents have expressed concern with the use of the former Modine facility due to the presence of trichloroethylene (TCE). 

The 130,000 square-foot former Modine plant has sat empty on a 67-acre property in the residential neighborhood in the middle of Camdenton. Some residents still worry about the pre-1990 releases of TCE. The building has been vacant since 2012 when Modine closed the facility. 

Modine Manufacturing purchased the plant in 1990 and conducted manufacturing operations until its closure. Modine had not used or disposed of TCE at the site after they took over ownership of the facility. 

Prior to Modine taking ownership of the plant, it was owned and operated by Dawson Metals and Hamilton Sundstrand. Beginning in 1967, these companies used the degreasing chemical to clean metal parts on a regular basis through 1990. 

The discovery of TCE in the Camdenton water system forced the city to shut down the old Mulberrry Street well and construct another well across town around 1999. 

Long term exposure to TCE can cause immune system issues as well as liver and kidney cancers. 

To help residents understand the work that has been done since, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Environmental Engineer Christine Kump-Mitchell, P.E., project manager at the Modine site, provided a timeline of removal and containment efforts completed at the site. 

According to the information provided by DNR, they initially focused their efforts on soil contamination from former operations at the site prior to Modine’s involvement. These activities included digging up and removing 4800 cubic yards of soil contaminated with TCE and related compounds in 2001 and an additional 4700 tons of contaminated soil in 2002 from the building. Sample confirmed that all TCE-impacted soil was removed to the site-specific cleanup levels, which were developed to be protective of groundwater. 

One of the key issues with TCE is the danger it presents to air quality when it becomes a vapor. DNR says there have been recent advances in the understanding of vapor migration from contaminated soil and groundwater in the subsurface and the associated health effects. 

Based on this, Kump-Mitchell says the investigation shifted to focus on vapors inside and under the manufacturing building, including the source(s) for those vapors. During an investigation of the vapors inside and the soil gas in 2015, Modine encountered at least one soil vapor source that was not previously identified. 

In 2016, Modine’s consultants began a site-wide soil vapor investigation. 

Phase I of the investigation included sampling soil vapor, soil and groundwater near the building to further evaluate possible pathways the vapors could use to migrate toward off-site residential properties. Quarterly indoor air sampling at 24 residences in the neighborhood around the building was later conducted. Residences were removed from the sampling program when results from four consecutive sampling events were below action levels. The last residence completed the quarterly sampling program in October 2019. 

Phase II of the investigation was conducted in 2017 and 2018, and focused on the soil vapor and soil under the building. Modine’s consultants used a camera connected to a robotic unit to look inside the sanitary sewer lines and other piping under the building to look for any cracks or breaks in the piping that previously carried contaminated wastewater. Phase II also included passive soil vapor sampling and soil boring advancement and sampling under the building floor. 

This sampling identified where TCE-contaminated soil was located under the building’s floor. The Revised Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Facility Investigation (RFI) Report, dated June 2020, provides a summary of the investigation activities at the site. The RFI report included a human health risk assessment that evaluated the potential risks to future workers. The human health risk assessment found the potential risk from vapor intrusion for future occupancy of the building. 

Is it safe to work in the building moving forward?

Currently, the primary concern is the presence of TCE in the air inside the building, which is above levels of health concern. DNR had previously requested that Modine conduct additional indoor air sampling to establish a new post-renovation baseline of indoor air conditions for the facility. This was completed in Oct. 2020. The results confirmed the presence of TCE above levels of health concern inside, similar to concentrations observed in 2015.

To combat this, Modine installed six portable air-purifying units inside the office area of the building to address indoor vapors. Modine is currency conducting more testings to determine pathways for vapors to entire the building, such as cracks in the foundation or penetrations through the building slab. Another round of indoor sampling will also be done to see if corrective measures taken have been effective in removing these vapors.

With all of this work completed, DNR met with Mai Investments both before and after purchasing the building. They say that the environmental public health impacts associated with the building were explained. They are currently working together to ensure that indoor air concentrations are below levels of health concern moving forward to resume safe commercial/industrial use. 

“There are a number of technologies available to address indoor air vapors, including active sub-slab depressurization systems, passive barriers, venting systems and adjusting the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to create positive pressure throughout the building,” Kump-Mitchell said. “These technologies can be implemented as interim and/or final measures to address the indoor air concentrations inside the building.”

Once testing confirms that TCE concentrations are below levels of health concern, work can resume in the building. Future air tests will be required. Technologies are available with minimal interference to address the soil source areas under the building.

Would it be better to just tear the building down?

One of the common ideas seen for quick remediation of this TCE issue is to simply tear the building down and not allow future industry to move in. Kump-Mitchell says that a future Corrective Measures Study Report will identify and evaluate several potential remedies for cleaning up the contaminated soil.  Once the department approves the Corrective Measures Study Report, the department will present the proposed final remedy to the public. The public will have an opportunity to review and provide comments on the proposed final remedy and the administrative record (documents) supporting the proposal. The department will respond to all written comments prior to selecting the final remedy.

Currently, the idea of removing the foundation to excavate all contamination below has its faults. 

“The building foundation currently serves as a “cap” that prevents the infiltration of rainwater that could leach contaminants from soil to groundwater,” Kump-Mitchell says. “Removal of the concrete foundation could expose contaminated soil to leaching to groundwater for as long as the excavation is open.”

On top of the concerns of removing this “cap”, Kump-Mitchell says the practicality of excavation can be impacted by the presence of buildings or underground utilities, soil type, the required depth of excavation and volume of material to be excavated. Removing this much soil at a large site requires the management of stormwater and control of dust from the excavation. Also, off-site disposal of the contaminated soil may also involve a significant amount of large truck traffic passing through surrounding neighborhoods, resulting in increased traffic flow, noise and potential odors. 

Where it goes from here

The group still has some legwork to do to open their medical marijuana facility. 

Currently, there are a number of steps that still need to be completed and approved. First of which is a variance approval by the Camdenton Board of Adjustments. 

Camdenton Mayor John McNabb explained that the building currently needed approval by the board because laws currently require marijuana cultivation facilities to be at least 1,000 ft from schools, liquor stores, churches and public housing. The building currently has an entire block of homes across the street, violating this code. The board of adjustments has to approve a change to this restriction within Camdenton in order for plans to proceed. 

The group have already made contact with the board and attempted to pass the approval, but ran into a snag. Originally, the vote looked to have been secured, until an issue with the use of a city water pipe by the group was raised. It was alleged that the group was stealing water from a pipe to clean the building without prior approval or payment. This led to the board holding off on submitting a vote of approval.

Since this, McNabb says that the group has applied for their water license and have turned on an account to pay for usage. City Administrator Jeff Hooker says this should no longer be an issue. 

The process of obtaining a new vote by the board could take up until the end of March or the beginning of April to complete. 

The group also still needs to secure licensing to operate their production. In 2020, the state received more than 2,200 applications for 192 dispensaries, 60 cultivation and 86 processing marijuana licenses. Seburger says they have not yet secured their licensing, but have made an appeal to the state about the scoring they received for approval. If their appeal fails, Seburger says they have discussed the possibility of working with another licensed cultivator to work in their building.