Dredging disposal site wrong

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Saginaw News editorial Oct. 2, "River dredging: No time to delay," didn't tell the whole story. Given the graphic photographs of the havoc reeked by Hurricane Katrina on New Orlean's poorly planned, poorly maintained levees, you would think a little caution would be in order in designing a landfill on the edge of the Saginaw River.

The Saginaw News seems so enamored of preserving river jobs that it's prepared to ignore river tourism, the economic benefits of sound planning and the next generation, (which surely will inherit a Superfund site if this project is built as planned).

In the 1970s, when rivers never froze or worse, caught fire, the country as a whole woke up and through pioneering efforts such as the Clean Water Act, developed a process to avoid future disasters and work towards clean water. Now, as Michigan struggles economically, we are prepared to shuck those safeguards in a misguided effort to preserve jobs.

Public Works Commissioner James A. Koski, river businesses and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers want this site come hell or high water, and they don't seem to care what rules are broken, what local zoning is abridged, what the impact is on local wildlife and people or the community living downstream.

We want a site, too -- but not near a residential area, within 400 acres of prime farmland, next to the Crow Island State Game Area in a flood plain that was under water in 1986.

If those reasons aren't sufficient for opposing the Dredged Materials Disposal Facility, there are plenty of others.

For a start, the order of good site planning was ignored, permits were obtained before the Corps' provided a detailed project plan. These permits came from a political decision in Lansing, not a considered decision after careful fieldwork and public comment. Now the state is stuck with the proverbial pig in the poke. Though the editorial claimed that federal, state and local officials all have signed off on the disposal site, Lone Tree has obtained from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality through the Freedom of Information Act, 18 pages of staff criticism of the structure and operation of the project. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region V sent to the Corps on May 5, 2003, and Nov. 8, 2004, some 12 pages of critical comments, including it is not an appropriate location for the disposal of sediments contaminated with high concentrations of dioxins.

Many in the public have been told or gotten the impression that the disposal site not only will enable shipping, but in fact remove contaminants from the river and improve the ecology -- wrong!

In reality, it will make the problems worse. It will be an open slurry pit concentrating the toxics and creating exposure pathways for humans and wildlife, destabilizing the river sediment and sending it downstream to Saginaw Bay and creating a site that will be vulnerable to flooding, erosion and leaching of the contaminants.

Then there are the huge process failures:

t This is a major federal project -- but no environmental impact statement has been completed.

t This will result in a major discharge of water to the river, but no federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (as required by the Clean Water Act) has been secured.

This is a major encroachment into wetlands and flood plain with no local approvals and a total disregard for the reality of flooding.

Despite The News' casual dismissal of a "handful of concerns" and "strong assurances of officials that the site is safe," it fails to mention that, according to one DEQ specialist, the Corps' plan "does not adequately address the concerns for the potential release of hazardous substances from operations of the river dredging disposal facility, and does not adequately address protection of public health and the environment from potential exposure pathways from the operation of the facility."

We want a healthy, vibrant ecology and economy and believe we can have both -- but not by building on the cheap or short-circuiting safeguards. We want the dioxin and other contaminants removed from the river and stored safely way from human and environmental exposure, but that will take more than the hurried efforts shown to date, and it will require the presence of the party responsible for the prime contaminant, the Dow Chemical Co. v

Terry R. Miller of Bay City is chairman of the Lone Tree Council, a Tri-City environmental organization.

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site www.trwnews.net for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.