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Bay Harbor‘s Pollution: Company should Clean up Its Mess

Kevin L. Cronk - November 18th, 2004
Little Traverse Bay is the focal point of our regional economy and quality of life. During recent years, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council has developed a watershed management plan to protect and improve water quality of the Bay and its tributaries.
Even as the plan was being finalized, an unknown, yet extremely serious water pollution problem was occurring. In what has turned out to be the greatest source of contamination to the Bay in recent history, CMS Energy, Inc. shut down a system that collected contaminated seepage from cement kiln dust (CKD) in Bay Harbor, essentially allowing the polluted water to flow freely into Little Traverse Bay.
Although CMS blames the system shutdown on technical difficulties, a conscious decision was made by somebody to halt operations instead of correcting the problem.
Leachate (contaminated seepage) from the kiln dust pile underneath the Bay Harbor Golf Course, with mercury levels 230 times greater than allowable limits and with a pH value showing the water to be more alkaline than household bleach, was allowed to flow into the Bay for eight months until the problem was uncovered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

WORSE THAN BLEACH
Even after the leachate collection system was restarted, pH values in shoreline areas exceeded that of bleach, indicating that the system is not capturing all the contaminated water.
The pretreatment system, constructed and maintained by CMS, lowers the pH of captured leachate to an acceptable level, but does not address the high mercury concentration or that of other toxins. The Petoskey Waste Water Treatment Plant issued an Industrial Pretreatment Program (IPP) permit to CMS with terms for accepting the water, but CMS has continually violated both mercury and discharge limits.
This raises a number of important questions:

• How much leachate from the western kiln dust pile is missed by the collection system and is leachate from the eastern pile contaminating the Bay?
• How will CMS deal with additional volume when it is already exceeding IPP permit limitations?
• What is the fate of mercury and other toxins? Do they end up in the Bay?

Tip of the Mitt has developed recommendations that address the contamination issue. To begin with, just as we are taught as children to clean up our messes, CMS should be expected to clean up after theirs. CMS should be required to perform remediation to counter the effects of the pollution, such as funding stormwater system improvements around the Bay.
In fact, there are 63 recommended actions developed for the Little Traverse Bay Watershed Protection Plan that CMS could choose from.
Collecting and treating all contaminated leachate will require more information. Shoreline water quality monitoring and a groundwater study are needed to determine discharge points and flow paths of the contamination. Upon obtaining this information, the collection system for seepage from the western kiln dust pile should be improved to capture all polluted water.
Furthermore, the pretreatment system needs to be upgraded to reduce mercury, arsenic and other toxins to acceptable levels, preventing any chance of contaminating the Bay.

PUT A CAP ON IT
As in similar situations, such as that of the Lafarge Cement Plant in Alpena, capping the kiln dust piles will reduce contamination by preventing the infiltration of rain water and irrigation water from the golf course.
Encapsulation requires removal of the dirt cap placed over the piles and replacing it with an impermeable layer, such as two feet of compacted clay or a HDPE (high density polyethylene) liner. Although this would require great expense and closing a portion of the golf course, the positive long-term impact to water quality of the Bay would be incalculable.
Although CMS is responsible for leachate collection and treatment, the responsibility for the encapsulation of the kiln dust pile may extend to other parties in Bay Harbor.
Our concern is for the health of the Little Traverse Bay, which impacts the health of our community and economy. By having all parties focus on addressing the problem, we are confident that a workable solution can be reached.

Kevin L. Cronk is the Monitoring & Re- search Coordinator for the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey.

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:Fundraiser for family
of Nichole Fetterolf

The Living Light Holistic Wellness Center and Oryana Natural Foods Co-op are selling gift certificates with 50% of the proceeds going to the family of Nichole Fetterolf.
Nichole‘s oldest daughter, Sierra, age 11, was one of the four victims of the tragic accident that occurred on Nov. 3 on Long Lake near Traverse City.
Nichole, a mother of three other children, is a massage therapist at the Living Light Holistic Wellness Center, which is trying to help her during this difficult time.
Living Light is offering 60-minute massage gift certificates at $65 each (call 231-995-9697 or stop by 812 W. Front Street, TC), with gift certificates available from Oryana at the store off 8th Street.
 
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