After a 45-minute closed-door session June 21, the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously in open session to join Waste Management of Michigan in a civil lawsuit against the Wayne County Conservation District concerning wetlands. Trustee Sherry Frazier was absent and excused.
Supervisor Kevin McNamara said it couldn’t be discussed publicly because it was a legal subject, but later said the Independent’s linking this to the wet-mesic flatwoods – a rare forested wetlands — was correct.
In statements broadcast by Channel 7 News last October, Wayne County Conservation District Executive Director Dr. Constance M. Boris said she is furious that the state of Michigan is allowing one of the seven rare wetlands known to be left in Michigan to be destroyed. The largest such wetland is on Belle Isle.
One of the wet-mesic flatwoods is on property owned by Waste Management in Van Buren Township near I-275, she said.
In 2019, Waste Management asked Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to allow it to expand its Woodland Meadows landfill. Waste Management told the state it needed more room at the landfill, but expanding its capacity meant filling in at least 44 acres of wetlands, including about 12 acres of rare wet-mesic flatwoods.
In October of 2020, EGLE approved its permit. The Wayne County Conservation District tried to challenge that decision in court but lost. An administrative law judge said the Conservation District did not have standing in the case.
EGLE did require Waste Management to create and restore 70 acres of new wetlands and to preserve 22 acres of existing forested wetlands in exchange for the landfill expansion. The landfill mitigation will be miles away in a different watershed.
Dr. Boris said the wet-mesic flatwoods is a super sponge with big trees, some over 200 years old, that have roots taking up all the water. She said she feared losing the rare wetland in Van Buren Township could make the flooding in Wayne County worse than it already is.
Even though the construction was already approved at Woodland Meadows, the Wayne County Conservation District appealed EGLE’s decision to the state’s Environmental Permit Review Commission, which has higher standing. In December the commission reversed the administrative law judge’s order dismissing the matter for lack of standing. The panel determined that the Wayne County Conservation District was an “aggrieved” person and able to petition for a contested case hearing regarding the permit. So, this went back to the administrative law judge to hear the merits of the case and determine whether Waste Management’s permit was properly issued.
Boris and her attorney Gerard Mantese also took Waste Management to Wayne County Circuit Court and got a court order and Waste Management agreed to pause the construction at the wetland site in the northwest quarter of the property for six months to give the circuit court case time to be resolved. After several court sessions this year on that case, the settlement conference was adjourned to Sept. 22 and a case evaluation set for Nov. 10.