As I waded out just west of the Open Space in Traverse City around 10 a.m. July 29, I felt that familiar sense of excitement. At the second sand bar I dropped my monofin and stepped into it. A short distance away, on one of the many boats moored near the beach, I overheard a woman talking loudly on a cell phone, admitting that her boat flushes directly into the bay and that her son uses it frequently.
I wondered how common that is.
I eased into the water and slipped beneath the surface. In the stillness below I aimed for deeper water and relaxed in the almost frictionless liquid blue of the bay. I barely noticed the beer cans and plastic cups strewn along the way.
Breathing up in deeper water I saw the bright pectoral fins of a Freshwater Drum, an amazing fish that eats zebra mussels. Taking a cue from something in the Drums body language, I looked over my shoulder to find a huge pair of carp just feet away. The carp breezed by, turned restlessly and glided in again for a close look. My mask leaked a little from smiling.
Time to part company. A few easy strokes and I looked up to find a propeller trail right over my head! I surfaced directly in the wake of a grey inflatable. Its young, blond driver looked back at me over his shoulder but didnt circle back to apologize or see if Id been injured. He passed within 40 feet of my dive flag well short of the 200-foot legal limit. I blew off the rage with a few fin sprints then got out for the day.
DEFECATING IN THE BAY
August 4, 9:10am: My daughter along with a freediver friend and I were back at the same spot gearing up for another dive. I looked over at one of the boats moored near the beach and saw a sleepy little boy come out from under the awning. Expecting him to jump in for a morning swim I was surprised when he pulled down his pants and defecated into the bay 20 feet from the swimming beach. He missed a little and, after a few minutes, his mom came out with a sponge-mop to wash the remaining feces into the water.
As we swam off the sand bar and into the beautiful blue, past the beer cans and plastic cups, we found a discarded diaper.
These incidents point to a less obvious and more insidious problem. Based on what Ive seen, heard and learned it is VERY likely that many of the boaters who moor along our beaches routinely dump raw human waste directly into the waters just a few yards from these beaches. In addition to being illegal this is apt to result in very high bacteria counts during the peak season, particularly with a north wind blowing the waste toward the beaches.
An account of the last incident and the MC numbers of the boat were provided to the Grand Traverse County Sheriff Departments Marine Division. However, across-the-board enforcement of this would be very difficult - since most boaters are likely to be more covert.
I believe the specific problem here is Traverse Citys willingness to allow boats to moor all summer proximate to the beaches at the south end of the bay. This amounts to a free marina -- without the controls and safeguards -- and these boaters frequently stay overnight on their boats throughout the summer. During the peak summer vacation times, there are many boats moving in and out among swimmers, which is the most obvious danger. Yet the city remains willing to give over most of the prime shoreline to boaters; reserving relatively small areas for swimming.
Based on the quantity of discarded materials, such as beer and pop cans, garments, diapers, cups, etc., we have a real problem with boaters who have no respect for the environment or for marine laws.
This abuse of the environment, and life-threatening disregard for the law, is not a matter of speculation. It is a repeatedly observed and documented fact.
Obviously, not all boaters behave this way. Nonetheless the question remains: Can we, as a community, afford to continue to reward abuse with privilege?
UPDATE: ‘Grease‘ now playing at septage facility
Bugs 1: Fats, oil and grease 0.
Just like the weather lately, the microbial bugs at the Grand Traverse County Septage Facility got really hot last week. Hot enough to chew up restaurant grease.
This is a milestone for the facility and comes on the heels of the Express report that area haulers were frustrated that the facility, after being operational for two years, still couldnt process whats called grease trap waste. Area haulers have had to apply the waste on farmlands, but were running out of space and feared they might have to start hauling the stuff downstate.
The countys auto-thermophylic aerobic digester (ATAD) is essentially a stew of sewage-eating microbes. It had to reach 120 degrees in order to eat the grease thats mixed with more diluted wastewater. On Tuesday last week, it reached 124 degrees Fahrenheit.
The digester, overseen by the consulting firm of Gourdie-Fraser, will ultimately produce class A or exceptional biosolids, which can be sold as fertilizer for vegetables and fruit.
This is great news for the Grand Traverse Bay watershed, said Chris Buday, director of the septage facility.
Over 20 million gallons of septage, holding tank and special waste was processed at the Septage Treatment Facility since May of 2005. We are now ready to receive the next 20 million gallons and prevent that waste from polluting the regions watersheds.
Walt Steuer of Steuer Pumping Service said hes taking a wait-and-see attitude. At this point, the facility has just called a couple of haulers for their loadsbut not him.
They aint called us, they aint had a meeting to tell us when we can start using it. Right now, its a start-up. You can call it a success when they can tell all of us to come in on a daily basis. -- by Anne Stanton