At its regular meeting on Oct. 17, the Van Buren Township Environmental Commission received a report from Matthew Best on the health of Belleville Lake.
Best, VBT Director of Public Services, said the blue green algae season is over.
He gave some background on the situation.
He said a resident contacted the state’s hotline for environmental complaints on the algae bloom in Belleville Lake. The state sent biology and chemistry department members out and took a bunch of samples.
They found one microsystem in Belleville Lake and four in Ford Lake that was a specific species of blue green algae that was fatal to pets.
He said they took a sample on a Wednesday and told the township on Friday afternoon, with a warning against contact.
“We ran out and put out signs,” Best said.
Since then there has been routine sampling from the state and by the end of September it was in just one location. On Oct. 4, all sites were declared free and clean of blue green algae.
Best said this is not new on the lake and it’s happened before, but the state has changed how it responds to issues and, “We may get more monitoring from them,” he said.
He said signs were put out at Sandy’s Marina, the DNR boat launches next to the BYC and on Rawsonville Road, Doane’s Landing, and Van Buren Park Beach.
He said the state had a boat and was looking for masses and they found it, but the lake now is free and clear of algae problems.
Environmental Commission chairman Dave Brownlee said the first time he saw the algae was on Sept. 25 at his place. He said it was slimy, like a paint slick 20′ in the water. It was gone two or three days later.
Brownlee said that he was told by Oakland University employees that it was a bad year for algae throughout the state.
“I saw it in 2016 in the lake,” Best recalled. “It’s like a skin.” He said it happens when there is phosphorus, heat, and a temperature inversion.
Best said the advisory against eating fish from the lake because of PFAs is still in effect. He said there is no data that they found it in Belleville Lake, but the state was being cautious.
Brownlee suggested they invite the Huron River Watershed Council to come out and talk to the commission on PFAs. He said the business in Wixom, perceived to be the cause of the PFAs in the Huron River now has a new filtration system.
Commissioner Ross asked if it was harmful to water the lawn or garden with water containing PFAs.
Best said that was a good question. He said there is no information on what harms a person with PFAs. “Did the state overreact? Possibly,” Best said, noting a lot of research is being done.
Possible drawdown of Belleville Lake
Best also gave a report on the proposed drawdown of Belleville Lake in late 2019. He said he’s been working with Eagle Creek, which operates the French Landing Dam, and they are working on a plan to submit to the MDNR, MDEQ, FERC, and others for approval of a drawdown.
“We are working on a plan of what the township would support in setting it up, working with our team. Our township would help,” he said.
Best said they will seek help from the Huron River Watershed Council, the BYC, schools, and corporate sponsorships. He said there is no budget for a lake drawdown and all the costs will be borne by Eagle Creek.
He said they will need a large group of volunteers to pick up garbage and glass along the edge of the lake once the water is down about five feet. There also will be loose woody debris, but stumps, trunks, and trees have to be left in place unless someone gets a permit from the state for removal.
Commissioner Norm Debuck asked if a trunk that has been snagging boats in the lake can be shortened and Best said it could be cut to level, but not removed.
That was good news to Debuck who said there is one stump everyone hits at the west end of the lake.
Best said the shoreline to Fireworks Island looks pretty rough and, “It’s something we could look at.”
“In the past a group of individuals cleaned it up,” Brownlee said.
Best said the island is owned by the township and could be considered a park or a part of the lake.
He said people have asked about the Eurasian Milfoil that is clogging the lake and he is talking with those who do Eurasian Milfoil mitigation to see if there is something that could be done with it once or at the time of the drawdown.
He’s also getting information on channel cleaning for those who have asked and the staff will provide limited technical support.
He said the county can clean the drain on Ryznar Drive and the residents can get together to dredge out the channel.
“The Supervisor has asked me to bring these ideas to the Environmental Commission, who will take the lead to coordinate these groups and the township will work with consultants on working to write grants.
“We’re looking to this committee to lead the groups,” Best concluded.
Brownlee asked when the decision will come from the township board on whether to do the drawdown or not.
Best said he is waiting for Eagle Creek to come back with the approval and then he will present it to the board of trustees and get an aye or nay.
“I’m at the mercy of the agencies,” Best said.
It was suggested the University of Michigan Rowing team could help, as well as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
“We need a good planning map to use,” Brownlee said, noting homeowners will probably clean up in front of their properties. He said the commission members need to be ready to hit the ground running.
Best said the township has to make sure they are following the rules and will offer leadership.
“If residents want to do channel cleaning, we don’t have jurisdiction to do that work,” Best said. When he last looked at Ryznar Drive channel cleaning it was estimated it would take a $150,000 special assessment district.
“It’s a really huge thing,” Best said of the lake drawdown. He said they could close all the schools for one day and all the kids in the high school could clean up the lake. “That’s what they did before. We’ll work with the school.
“We could have Belleville residents go across the lake and clean up Harmony Lane and Harmony Lane residents go across and clean up Belleville. They would get to know their neighbors across the lake. They can get their hands dirty and it would give them a feeling of ownership,” he said.
Brownlee asked if the schedule would be after the 2019 boating season, two weeks to draw down the water, two weeks with it down, and then two weeks to get it back up to level. Best said it might be faster, depending on the weather.
“Be ready to hit the ground running,” Brownlee said to commission members. “Our next meeting will be after the township meeting. He said people are asking what they can do. They have to be told what they can’t do. Edison Pond wants to dredge and they need to contact DEQ for a permit. Seawall contractors put in seawalls whether the water is up or down.
“The more they know, the better,” Brownlee said of the community.
“I’ve already started on my lake drawdown plan and I’ll bring it to the next meeting,” Best said.
“If you’re on the lake or not, you have to think like a lake resident,” Brownlee said to commission members. “Do your homework. Make a game plan. We can contact church groups, boat launches.”
Debuck and Brownlee mentioned that a town meeting and a Q and A session would be good.
“Either way, we’ll have a town meeting,” Best said. “If we draw or if we don’t. We’ll get public input on what they want for the lake and what we can do. That would be February-ish. That would give them time to do what they have to do.”
Best said when it was hot and the lake had the algae bloom, people were talking about the milfoil clogging the west end of Belleville Lake.
Best said it is a perennial plant, prolifically propagated by seeds and from cuttings. He said it can grow one to three inches per day as long as it has sunlight and 20 feet of water. It prevents other plans below it from growing. He said when you drive a boat over it, swim, or animals are in the leaves, the plants break up and grow.
He said Belleville Lake is part of the Huron River and if Linden has it upstream, then “we have it.”
He said if Belleville Lake has a drawdown, they are looking into if anything can be done about the Milfoil at that time.
He said if they were planning to use a chemical in the water to kill the Milfoil, the MDEQ would require a lake aquatic plant survey and lake management plan, which costs about $150,000.
Best said it would take a high concentration to work before it is washed away. It costs about $280 – $500 an acre and Belleville Lake is 1,260 acres. That means it would be $350,000 – $650,000 for one application, just for the treatment.
He said there are 300 lake owners and a SAD of $1,200 to $2,100 would be $400 or $700 a year for three years, without interest.
“It’s coming back, so you’d have to have treatment over time … once a year for the first five years,” Best said.
“I’m going to continue to look into milfoil, which the township takes seriously, but it’s very involved.” Best said.
He said there is no magic solution, but once you control it, it can be spot treated, but it would take years to get there.
“We’ll look into it to see what we can do,” he said.
“If we had the lake down five feet for the whole winter, that would kill the milfoil,” Brownlee said. “If you do it every year.”
Best said of the four companies he talked to, none had done the treatment during a drawdown.
“Kent Lake didn’t use to have a problem. Now it’s everywhere,” Best said.
Commissioner Merritt said Country Pond subdivision sprayed for phragmites, the invasive reed grass, and they’re dead.
“They’ll probably be back next year,” Best said.
Best said that Susanne Hanf, environmental engineer from Cadillac Asphalt, called and talked with him at length about the commission’s comments about a runoff pipe from Cadillac.
She sent a letter stating the “track out and storm water controls” are in place at their facility at 1785 Rawsonville Rd. She said in accordance with their air permit they use a street sweeper to cleanup track out from the facility. She said typically the plant roadways, entrance and exit to the Service Drive is swept several times per week while the plant is in operation.
She said they also have a NPDES Storm Water permit and plan for this location, adding they are not aware of any unusual characteristics with their storm water discharge. She offered to walk them through the facility and show them what they have.
Commissioner Tony Gibson said the pipe comes out of the berm and discharges into the roadside ditch and massive amounts of water come out when it rains.
Brownlee said its a very new culvert, put in in the last year or so, and we just wanted to be sure nothing bad was getting into Belleville Lake.
Commissioners said they would be interested in a tour of the facility and Best said he would call Hanf.
At other business in the two-hour-and-38-minute meeting, the board:
• Unanimously re-elected David Brownlee as chairman and Norman Debuck as vice chairman for the next year;
• Set a possible special commission meeting for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 20, with the lake drawdown the only item on the agenda. This is in case the township board approves the drawdown. The November meeting had been cancelled because it is the day before Thanksgiving;
• Discussed the household hazardous waste day on Oct. 13 at US Ecology, with everyone agreeing signage was not good and several drivers were seen passing the turnoff into the event and having to turn around and come back. Brownlee said it was the busiest he’s ever seen and he was there at 10:30 a.m. Commissioner Ross said at 1 p.m., he was the only one there.