Varying levels of contamination on properties cited as reason


IMLAY CITY — After months and months of meetings, environmental testing and legal opinions on a possible deal, the Tri-City Times has learned Sage Creek Winery has backed away from a potential deal to purchase city-owned property for an expansion of their Memphis-based operation.

Earlier this year, Sage Creek officials and supporters filled the Imlay City Commission meeting room to give a presentation of their business plan to come to Imlay City.

The intent was to negotiate a deal with city officials on purchasing three parcels of land; the old city fire hall, the former DPW garage and a property that’s known as ‘the old sign shop.”

Three sections of city-owned property have each tested positive for some degree of soil contamination, halting plans for Sage Creek to bring their successful winery business to Imlay City. Pictured above, Sage Creek representatives speak with the Imlay City Commission earlier last year.

However, environmental issues came to light, following soil testing done this fall. That, combined with long, drawn out legal issues in getting a deal done, were all factors in the process. At several city commission meetings this summer and early fall, commission members expressed their frustration at how long the process was taking.

In an email to the city from one of the owners of Sage Creek, Mike Dausey, it states, “We wanted to reach out and inform everyone involved that we have decided to put the Imlay City Project on hold for now.”

The message went on to say, “After the latest developments, regarding the fire hall’s additional testing that needs to be completed; I know from experience that the State and Federal regulations for alcohol production at the fire hall will not be approved until all testing is completed.”

Dausey concluded by saying, “We want to thank everyone for the consideration and opportunity for this potential partnership and the work everyone did to try and make it a reality.”

The city had proposed a price tag of $50,000 for the three properties, along with other requirements covered in the proposed contract.

Sage Creek owners also had protections built into their part of the agreement, should it have been approved and they proceeded to invest thousands of dollars in renovations.

Eventually, both sides agreed it would be best to have the property tested for contamination. City Manager Craig Horton said test results from EGLE finally came back, after a lengthy delay, and the report showed all three sites “had issues.”

A meeting between all of those involved in the potential deal, including EGLE representatives, was planned for December 14.

Horton said despite the fact that the assigned EGLE representative, “was sensitive to our situation and was trying to find a way for it to work out,” ultimately, the Department of EGLE in Lansing was less cooperative and nixed the deal, unless radical improvements to the property were made.

Horton commented, “The City, DDA and Lapeer Development are still trying to set up a meeting with representatives at Sage Creek to see if there is anything any of us can do to help continue with the Imlay City site. As you can see, it is not the City causing the project to be put on hold, it is the State and we have no control over that.”

Dausey said owners have been looking at other potential sites for a possible expansion, mentioning the areas of Shelby Township, Sterling Heights or Rochester as possible locations.

“Nothing has been purchased. We are still looking,” he said. “We’ve kind of had a feeling since August or September that the Imlay City site was not going to work. We were looking forward to coming there.”

After sharing the news of the failed attempt last week with the city, Dausey told the Tri-City Times, “I really want to especially thank two people who really put a lot of time in to this, right from the start. Police Chief Brett Selby and Lapeer County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director, Sam Moore. Those guys were great to work with and did everything they possibly could. We don’t blame anyone. Especially the folks on the commission.”

Chief Selby, who was among those making initial contacts with Sage Creek owners about the possibility of locating in Imlay City is disappointed about the bad news.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “I started this whole process almost a year ago and now, it’s come down to this.”

While not calling anyone out by name, the Chief said he felt a few people (not from the city) involved in making the deal happen, instead “screwed up the whole deal.”

In light of the most recent loss of a potential business locating on the property, city officials have not said if they intend to attempt to have the contaminated soil on the site remediated to correct the situation.