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Saginaw News Editorial, 09/24/06

Navigation and remediation
Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dow Chemical Co.'s interest in possibly -- emphasis on possibly -- using a Saginaw River spoils dump for its contaminated dredgings sparked an outcry last week from an environmental watchdog group.

The Lone Tree Council's motives aside, a lot of questions need answers before the site accepts a single load of contaminated dredgings from Dow.

Still, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the state Department of Environmental Quality and Dow would discuss where the Midland chemical giant would dispose of its dredgings. Dow and the state are negotiating a plan to clean up dioxin in the Tittabawassee River flood plain. The contaminated soil has to go somewhere. If it is feasible and safe to dump additional spoils at the site straddling Zilwaukee and Frankenlust townships, the state should consider it.

Looking at every option to make a cleanup more affordable makes sense. Dow and the state's goal is to come up with a safe, reasonable plan to remove dioxin contamination from the region's waterways.

Before Dow could use the site, however, there are daunting regulatory obstacles. An Environmental Protection Agency memo brandished by the Lone Tree Council's Michelle Hurd Riddick last week noted that Dow was concerned about its cost to use the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-built facility. Dow would have to pay to improve the spoils site and then obtain a new permit to replace the one Saginaw County obtained for the Saginaw River dredgings.

Saginaw County Public Works Commissioner James A. Koski was skeptical that the Corps of Engineers would agree to the use. Koski said the Corps' goal is to keep the river open -- not dispose of dioxin or other contaminants.

Meanwhile, the Lone Tree Council is correct that the public deserves to know what's going on with the river dredging and Dow's cleanup efforts.

Dow has helped finance the dredge site through the Saginaw River Alliance, which has contributed $1.5 million toward the $5 million project. The Midland-based corporation's interests are clear. Dow wants to know where it can dispose of spoils if and when the state orders it to dredge.

The primary goal, however, is to keep the Saginaw River open to shipping. That's why the Army Corps of Engineers is building the spoils dump. It's what the Corps intends to use the site for -- and what the Lone Tree Council is fighting to delay. It's important not to confuse the dioxin cleanup efforts with the pressing need to keep the Saginaw River open. If the river chokes to shipping, the region's economy will take a worse dredging.

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