Lone Tree Council and TRW Dioxin Update
September 20 , 2005 # 50


2005 Spent talking about public involvement

The end of summer brings with it the end of the ongoing DEQ- Dow public meetings to talk about public involvement. Residents of the Saginaw Bay Watershed have been invited to dozens of meetings to discuss, debate and wrangle over a " public participation process". The results of these meetings has been a resounding rejection of the DOW DEQ Community Advisory Council model; a select group of 20 or so people chosen by another group of people. Essentially a committee to select a committee. Time and again, Dow and DEQ have been told that the communities favor a town hall forum. I think it fair to suggest that Dow and DEQ wanted badly to avoid a town hall format on this very contentious issue of Dow's dioxin contamination of Michigan's largest watershed. I would further suggest the residents of the watershed have spoken and DEQ has a responsibility to abide by our wishes. Dow's John Musser voiced concern that town hall meetings can get out of control. Hand picked community panels are a staple of the Dow public relations strategy because it allows Dow to co-op community leaders and frame their issue. It is no secret that Dow's lobbyist and paid consultants do not want any semblance of a town hall format. What Mr. Musser is really worried about is a format which Dow cannot control. A format where there is a free exchange and an expectation of being held accountable for the truth and for substantive details. There is nothing more democratic than a town hall forum and we should all rejoice in the resounding public support for future meetings using this forum. It will most interesting to see what DEQ and Dow propose next.

Fish Advisories

The final report, the Tittabawassee River Fish Consumption Health Consultation, was released last month by ATSDR and MDCH.

Carp, catfish and white bass in the Tittabawassee River contain high levels of dioxin and should not be eaten, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Women of childbearing age and children under the age of 15 years old are advised not to eat smallmouth bass but others can eat smallmouth bass once a week, the department said last week. Walleye, which travel from Lake Huron through the Saginaw River to reach the Tittabawassee, contain some of the lowest dioxin levels. Women and children can safely eat one monthly meal of walleye under 22 inches and six annual meals of walleye over 22 inches. Some news headlines stated walleye are "safe to eat".............but only if you're a man. You cannot, however, safely eat walleye if you're a woman of child bearing age or if you're a child. Now you know the rest of the story. If you have to count the length of the fish and the number of permitted meals a year THE FISH ARE NOT SAFE.

Zilwaukee Twp- Dioxin and the pending DMDF

To date two contested cases have been filed with the DEQ administrative law judge (ALJ) objecting to the dredged materials disposal facility ( DMDF) sited in Zilwaukee Twp. The first case filed by Lone Tree Council and the National Wildlife Federation and the second case filed by Zilwaukee Twp are still awaiting hearing dates before the ALJ.

Zilwaukee Twp legal arguments
In light of what is known about the project, as well as what is yet unknown about the project, there are significant foreseeable adverse effects associated with the proposed DMDF. Further, there are feasible and prudent alternatives to locating the disposal facility in the proposed location. Thus, DEQ cannot issue a wetlands/floodplain/inland streams permit for the proposed DMDF.

Lone Tree Council and National Wildlife Federations Legal Arguments


The bottom line is this project has not been done correctly from day one and it is not acceptable. The Saginaw River and Bay will never come off the federal Area of Concern list so long as projects planned on the cheap are permitted to move forward. Too many folks insist this project is not about dioxin or environmental quality. They insist it is merely about dredging for navigational purposes. Their insistence may be convenient but it is none the less irresponsible. Just because it's a navigational dredge doesn't preclude doing it right! The dioxin levels in the dredged spoils rival any found along the Tittabawassee.

It is the presence of Dow Chemical's dioxin in the Saginaw River which make this site in a floodplain of Zilwaukee Twp so unsuitable. Putting contaminated sediments in a pit in a floodplain defies all science and logic. Yet, not one entity, agency or politician is willing to demand that it be done right. Their failure to hold Dow Chemical liable for their contamination and permitting this project to move forward "on the cheap" ( Army Corp of Engineers quote) is nothing but negligent. This issue isn't just about Zilwaukee Twp. This is a watershed issue because it will impact the entire ecosystem down river. This ill designed site will be a slurry pit of rotting, smelling organics to rival the odor nuisance of the sugar beet plants. Saginaw County taxpayers will own this site after 20 years; a site that has all the potential to be a huge liability and burden requiring cleanup by future generations. Why? Because of poor planning, an arrogant Army Corp of Engineers, politicized DEQ and lame leadership at all levels of government. We have a continuous river system running from Dow Chemical's plant in Midland down the Tittabawassee to Saginaw Bay. The failure to develop a coordinated plan for the entire watershed has been by design. It's just too politically uncomfortable to deal with Dow Chemical's responsibility. So Dow gets a free pass on the navigational channel even though the laws of Michigan hold them responsible. Politics trumps science to the determent of this great water resource and public health while elected officials look the other way. They deal behind closed doors or dance on the periphery, always non committal, so as to not offend Dow or the governor who has taken a personal hand in this matter.

The Zilwaukee site is the model for Dow. In the Framework Agreement signed by the state and Dow ( after 8 months of closed door meetings) Dow was assured they could use a site comparable to the one in Zilwaukee: "The parties understand and agree that Dow may propose dredged material disposal options other than disposal in a Type II landfill, such as an engineered disposal facility similar to confined disposal facilities used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to contain dredged materials. Any disposal facility used by Dow must be operated and maintained in accordance with applicable law." " In accordance with applicable law." Why? Saginaw County hasn't had to follow the law. The Corp of Engineers hasn't followed the law. To date we have no reason to believe Dow will be made to do so. None of us will ever know what conversations took place between Dow and the state of Michigan for eight months but you can rest assured that is was by design that the navigational channel of the upper Saginaw River was deliberately omitted from an already heedless Framework. In 2000 I chaired the Saginaw County solid waste planning committee and I can assure you that we have stricter standards for the disposal of household trash than the Corp of Engineers has for this heavily dioxin contaminated sediment that will be tossed in the backyards of Zilwaukee Twp. If this project is not done correctly, in accordance with the law, then Dow Chemical doesn't have to do it correctly when they began cleanup along the rivers ( if ever) . A huge Pandora's box has been opened up as a result of the Framework. No public good ever comes out of secret negotiations between the state and the polluter.
If this project doesn't get off the ground the blame rests entirely with Saginaw County, the Corp of Engineers and the State of Michigan. No one is above the law. Not Dow Chemical and not the Army Corp of Engineers. The failure at all levels to bring everyone to the table for a coordinated long term plan for this watershed is pathetic. We will be leaving a legacy no one will be proud of. The entrenched arrogance and turf mentality prevent the many principles from engaging in long term planning to the benefit of commerce, recreation and resource protection and restoration. The courts provide us the opportunity to break through the bureaucracy and layers of politics and regulators who cannot think out of their regulatory boxes.

We'll keep you posted.

Michelle Hurd Riddick
Lone Tree Council

Source: Lone Tree Council and TRW

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 source organization's web site link is listed above. The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.