By Rosemary K. Otzman
The Van Buren Township Environmental Commission was informed of a sewage overflow by Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority in the Snow/Grove Road area in Ypsilanti Township near Rawsonville School on Sept. 15.
At its regular meeting on Sept. 17, Brenda Kurtz, the commission’s recording secretary, alerted the commission members of a call to VBT from YCUA late in the day on Sept. 15 reporting the spill.
YCUA was following state protocol in alerting the state and the township downstream from the spill.
Kurtz said YCUA told her they are testing inlets and outlets by the waterway and it may have gotten into the storm sewers which run into the river. The Huron River runs through VBT, which is in the Huron Water Shed.
By state law, the testing had to be completed by the third day, Kurtz said, and the township was waiting for the report.
She said she alerted VBT Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Wright, who could shut the beach at Van Buren Park if necessary, and the Water and Sewer Department.
Environmental Commission member David Wilson asked if the Van Buren Park beach was closed and Kurtz said she didn’t know.
“I had not heard about it,” said VBT Trustee Jeff Jahr, a township board member who sits on the Environmental Commission. “Why are we hearing about it at seven o’clock tonight?”
Jahr said Supervisor Linda Combs had not alerted the township board or the Environmental Commission about the spill.
Kurtz reminded them she works in the building department and since there is no environmental officer or director of planning and economic development at the moment the call from YCUA got directed to her.
When the commission members started peppering Kurtz with questions, Jahr said, “We’re not trying to shoot the messenger,” just trying to get whatever information they could.
Kurtz was asked who was leading the building and planning department in the absence of a director and Kurtz said two employees of McKenna Associates were coming in to do the work. Jim Albus is in the building department part time and Patrick Sloan does planning and zoning three days a week.
“There is no environmental person,” said Commission Chairman David Brownlee.
“This guy did not know who to call,” Kurtz said of the YCUA representative.
“Does this present a public health issue? Should we close the beach?” Jahr asked.
Chairman Brownlee said for YCUA it would be the Willow Drain into the river.
Kurtz said that Wright asked to get the report when it came. The commission members wanted it, too.
“There’s lots of talk about warning the people about things, such as sirens for tornados, etcetera, but Nixle is not being used,” Jahr said, referring to the internet alert put out by the police department.
“They could shut down Belleville Road at I-94 and we wouldn’t hear about it on Nixle,” Brownlee agreed.
Jahr said the Environmental Committee, full of people who are educated in environmental matters (he excluded himself as an expert), is a resource that doesn’t get used by the township.
“We need a better information flow to this group,” Brownlee agreed.
“It’s nice to know they reported we have a spill, but what does that mean?” Jahr asked.
Wilson asked if Wright can close the beach “like this” and he snapped his fingers.
Jahr replied that she closed it when a swimming float got loose, so he assumes she can close it quickly.
They were advised a sign is posted when the beach is closed.
Brownlee asked about specifics of how the beach is closed since people approach the beach from both the land and the water.
Jahr asked if the township should develop some other method of advising the public. He said the township used to have someone in the recreation department that would do testing of the lake in several places and shouldn’t the township get back to that?
He said they should use Nixle, the website, posting at the DNR sites, and Sandy’s Marina has always cooperated.
Jahr said the commission should recommend to the township board both the testing and coming up with ways of alerting the public.
“There is no method of alerting the public and Mr. Brownlee has been pushing that for some time,” Jahr said.
“That’s a piece of unfinished business,” Brownlee agreed.
“Let’s shoot the messenger and get on with the agenda,” Jahr said jokingly to Kurtz.
Fracking, Wayne Disposal
The Environmental Commission then discussed the recent VBT Board information session on Wayne Disposal and the low-level radioactive fracking waste that had been scheduled to be delivered from Pennsylvania to the hazardous landfill in VBT.
After the Detroit Free Press published a series of articles on the subject, the deliveries have been put on hold until Gov. Snyder’s new commission is formed and looks into fracking waste and other issues.
Wilson said he had submitted six questions at that information session and every one was answered.
Brownlee said he has been studying fracking and the trouble he had with the information given at the meeting is that the content of the sludge from the fracking is considered “proprietary” and he knows the EQ landfill on the I-94 North Service Drive has a chemistry lab and has to know every single compound in there.
He said he got a phone call from state Sen. Pat Colbeck who gave his support to the township.
Brownlee said he has found that deep wells are put in near fracking operations and the fluid from the fracking is sent down the deep well to get rid of it.
He is seeking more information from Kerry Durnan, Director of Operations for of Wayne Disposal, on the proprietary content of the sludge.
If the response from Durnan is unsatisfactory, Brownlee said he is going to seek out information from the State of Michigan saying, “You are giving a permit for fracking and deep-well injection. How can you know what’s being put down there?”
Jahr said the landfill knows what’s in the sludge and he is concerned about its reaction with the landfill liner.
“As host community, we should know what’s in the landfill,” Brownlee said.
“We should damn well insist upon it,” said Wilson. “We should raise hell.”
Brownlee said he is calling Durnan and if the answer he gets is “proprietary”, he said, “I won’t be happy.”
Wilson made a motion that Brownlee’s efforts are strongly endorsed by the commission.
Wilson said the more knowledge the better and the oil companies do not want the people to know what’s in the sludge.
Jahr said he thinks VBT Supervisor Linda Combs would be supportive of this effort, but they don’t need a fancy motion.
The commission did pass a motion that the commission unanimously supports Chairman Brownlee in his efforts.
Jahr said if there is to be a local person named to the Governor’s committee, he would like to put out a couple names from the Environmental Commission.
After a brief discussion on radio-activity, Wilson said, “I’m not worried about radiation. I’m worried about the proprietaries.”
Brownlee said his studies show there are 200 deep-injection wells and tremors are developing.
Jahr said he understands several nearby communities have passed moratoriums on drilling wells.
Brownlee said this subject is not going away any time soon, so he urged fellow commission members to study up on fracking.
“Become familiar with the subject because we’ll have a lot of conversation on this over the next few years,” Brownlee said.
The commission also discussed recent visits to the recycling center in Huron Township and a visit to French Landing Dam with a representative of FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
By Rosemary K. Otzman