Thomas Township frustrated with dioxin delays to launch riverside park

 By Barrie Barber | The Saginaw News May 23, 2010, 5:51AM

THOMAS TWP. — Thomas Township hopes to turn a one-time golf course into a park on the Tittabawassee River, but it won’t happen soon.

The state Department of Natural Resources and Environment won’t give a go-ahead or award any money until the issue of dioxin contamination is resolved, said Township Manager Russell P. Taylor.

The Saginaw County Road Commission recently extended an option until June 1, 2013 for the township to purchase the $160,000 wetlands property.

The township put $2,000 down to buy most of the former Hidden Hollows golf course in 2006. Taylor said the township would buy it for the same price the Road Commission acquired it. The land on the west side of the river is just north of Gratiot.

“The challenges remain with the whole dioxin issue,” Taylor said. “Until that gets a little more cleared up and settled, then we’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode right now. We’ve tried to apply for grants in the past, and the (state) has disqualified us because of the dioxin issue.”

The township has asked the state what it must do to resolve the obstacles.

“They’ve not given us any direction on any of that. I don’t know what needs to be done down there. It’s frustrating because you don’t know exactly how to address it,” Taylor said.

Robert McCann, a state Department of Natural Resources and Environment spokesman, said it doesn’t make sense to build a park now because dioxin would recontaminate the land when the river floods. In a letter to the township, the state has declared the site has “high concentrations of dioxins and furans.”

“We think it’s a perfectly good idea to have a park there, but we need to address the dioxin issue first,” McCann said. “Until the dioxin issue is taken care of, the park idea just doesn’t make any sense.”

The state, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Midland-based Dow Chemical Co., the acknowledged source of the decades-old dioxin released into the river, have worked on a cleanup plan for years. Dow has hired crews to clean West Michigan Park and Imerman Memorial Park in Saginaw Township and Freeland Festival Park in Tittabwassee Township after seasonal floods at the riverside recreation areas.

McCann contended all sides are closer to a permanent cleanup along the waterway because authorities have “tens of thousands” of soil and water samples that will permit a detailed plan.

“It’s going to be sooner rather than later at this point,” he said. “Now that we’ve got the data we need ... we’re getting very close.” He would not speculate on a timeline.

Dow spokeswoman Mary Draves said the chemical giant has moved ahead on an agreement it reached with the EPA and the state in January, but she couldn’t speculate on when the permanent removal of dioxin would start.

Back on land, planners envision the park will have nature trails, a boat launch and a pavilion and restrooms in a verdant landscape along a quarter-mile of the tree-lined, winding river. Depending on what’s built, Taylor estimated a rough cost at half-a-million dollars.

“It’s pretty scenic because there’s no homes directly around this area and it has a lot of river frontage,” said Community Development Director Daniel M. Sika.

“We’ve been told that along those banks are some of the best walleye fishing along the river,” Taylor said.

The Road Commission bought the land as part of a wetlands mitigation agreement with the state during the two-lane expansion and bridge widening of State Street west of M-47 in 2004, said agency Manager Brian J. Wendling

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site 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.