News Articles

DEQ boss tours area projects

September 7th, 2013

Source: Monroe News
By: Charles Slat

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant got a glimpse Friday of local efforts to reclaim old industrial sites.
Work is under way to remove or lower more dams along the River Raisin in Monroe to improve game fish spawning and migration from Lake Erie.
A new building addition has popped up at the area’s sewage treatment plant to reduce the chances of pollution from overflows during rainy weather.
And an abandoned riverfront paper mill building laden with hazards soon will be demolished and the land restored to natural riverbank.
They are a few of the City of Monroe’s environmental projects that led Michigan’s environmental chief to embark on a day-long tour of the community Friday.
Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, met with community leaders and then went on a bus tour of area environmental projects, many of which used brownfield grants and loans to turn old or contaminated industrial buildings and land into new industrial sites, houses and even a national park.
Mr. Wyant said his visit to Monroe was part of a goal to visit 60 communities within the next year to familiarize himself with the challenges and successes they have experienced and how the DEQ might assist them better.
“The highlight today is brownfield development, and we got a nice list today of how we could make the program better. That was the big take-away for me,” he said.
“We’ve undersold and underperformed on brownfield redevelopment recently,” he said. “What I heard here today is that jobs are fundamental and bringing back the tax base is key. We have a role in protecting the public health and the environment, but we also want to balance that with a focus on brownfield development.”
Earlier, Mr. Wyant told community leaders and regulatory partners attending a tour kickoff at the Port of Monroe office that Monroe’s track record in reclaiming brownfields “could be the model for other communities.”
While reflecting on the area’s successes, Port Commission Chairman Thomas Krzyston said he felt the next big redevelopment challenge in the area will be the former Ford Motor Co. plant in Monroe, once the area’s biggest employer.
The aged and sprawling industrial plant, part of which still is used for parts warehousing, is on a 500-acre site where industrial poisons were entombed during a previous environmental clean-up.
He said demolition of the obsolete plant might cost from $8 million to $16 million, but would provide potential sites for several new smaller manufacturing facilities, especially because the site already is served by water, electricity, sewer, rail, roads and natural gas.
Mike Gifford, regional brownfield coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said reclaiming old industrial sites is a good investment.
“For every dollar we invest in a project, it leverages another $17 in public and private investment,” he said.
Among the sites Mr. Wyant toured by bus Friday were DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant; the Gerdau steel plant; Ventower, the wind-tower manufacturer; former Consolidated Paper Co. property; water and wastewater treatment plants; the River Raisin dam projects; River Raisin National Battlefield Park; Mason Run housing community; Townes on Front Street condominiums; River Bend Commons, and the La-Z-Boy Incorporated headquarters construction site.

BUI Decision Public Comment Period

August 23rd, 2013

The Public Comment Period for the BUI permits is now open. If you have an interest in the BUI process, please follow the links below for more information.

You can view the meeting calendar at: http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,1607,7-135-3308_3325—,00.html

The draft removal documentation is available at: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-ogl-aoc-RestoringBeneficialUses_377630_7.pdf?20130822230157

The public comment period ends on September 9th, so please take care to have your comments in before that time.

River improvement plan back on track

August 11th, 2013

Source: Monroe News

Did the Waterloo Dam canal project just dodge a bullet?
A years-long plan to bring better fishing, canoeing and kayaking to the River Raisin seemed to be in jeopardy just as it was gaining steam. The improved recreational opportunities depended substantially on building a channel to divert water around the Waterloo Dam at Veterans Park on N. Custer Rd.
The idea was to entice more fish from Lake Erie into the river while also making it possible to canoe the 23 miles between Dundee and Lake Erie. Work already has been done on some of the other dams in the river.
Enter the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which heard about the project from a fishing blog.
The 11th-hour concern: Proposed changes also might invite the dreaded sea lamprey to move up the river, spawn and multiply.
It isn’t a frivolous concern. The lamprey is deadly, preying on all species of Great Lakes fish, including our prized walleye. They attach themselves to fish and suck out fluids until the host is destroyed.
Dale Burkett, director of the sea lamprey control project for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, explained recently that about $20 million is spent on the lakes each year to keep the lamprey under control. But new projects such as the Waterloo channel can threaten a delicate balance.
Thankfully the City of Monroe heard last week that the work can continue if some modifications are made. Dan Stefanski, a member of the city’s Committee on the Environment, will propose a closeable gate that could be shut if lamprey seemed to be on the way.
The next step will be to get final approval of that contingency so that the work can be completed and the public can start enjoying the results of years of dreams, plans and finding funding.
When completed, it will mean small watercraft can get through downtown Monroe’s portion of the river and out to the lake for the first time in 70 years.
It means another enhancement that supports other relatively recent changes: a multi-million-dollar effort to remove toxic sediment from the river, a riverwalk that spans long stretches along the south side, park and riverfront development, and the creation and growth of the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge.
Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, was in Monroe recently to check up on grant-funded environmental projects. He was pleased and impressed with the thoughtful approach to the local initiatives, bringing environmental improvements, recreation potential and the public together.
Like those who plant trees, the believers who have envisioned the River Raisin as it could be are people who mark the future by years and even decades, not in months or a few seasons.
The river, marshes, wildlife and lake are priceless natural resources that have been neglected and abused too often in the past. They cannot be returned to pristine condition, but they can be improved, appreciated and protected from here on.
The individuals and agencies involved deserve the thanks of the entire community for bringing the pieces together to start realizing results. It is exhilarating to think about the future and the exciting advancements still to come.

Waterloo Dam bypass project moving ahead

August 1st, 2013

Source: Monroe News
By: Charles Slat

Concerns about the potential for sea lamprey infestations will not dash a plan to build a canal around the Waterloo Dam at Veterans Park.
A plan to build a canal that will skirt the Waterloo Dam at Veterans Park on the River Raisin apparently is a step closer to reality with conditional approval from federal wildlife officials.
The project, part of an effort to improve fish habitat in the river by removing dams along the waterway, was in question due to concerns that such a canal would provide passage for invasive and parasitic sea lampreys as well as game fish.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service did not want to see the Waterloo Dam canal project begin until it took surveys for lamprey larvae and did other studies of the proposal.
“We just got a report on it,” said Dan Stefanski, a member of the City of Monroe’s Committee on the Environment. “They want us to build a safeguard in just in case we get infested with the lamprey, but they’re going to support our request.”
“We’re going to have to develop something to submit. I’m going to suggest a slide gate,” he said.
Mr. Stefanski, who also serves on a citizen advisory panel on cleaning up the river, was part of a contingent of local officials and state Department of Natural Resources officials who hosted Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, on a tour of grant-funded environmental project in the Monroe area.
Mr. Allan wanted to see first-hand progress made on river-related projects that will get the River Raisin taken off a federal list of highly contaminated sites around the Great Lakes.
Mr. Allan said he was impressed with what he saw. “There’s been spectacular progress on the river and the dams to improve habitat and reconnect people to that water body,” he said.
The tour included visits to the Port of Monroe, other sites along the river where low dams were removed and replaced with rock arches last year, Sterling State Park and the Waterloo Dam.
Dr. John Hartig, manager of the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, also provided an overview on the growth of the refuge, which now includes 5,800 acres from the River Rouge down to the Michigan-Ohio line.
He also said refuge officials will be celebrating memos of understanding with Canadian officials to solidify their international cooperation on conservation during ceremonies Aug. 17 at the Erie State Game Area.
Mr. Stefanski said it is likely that a closeable gate will be incorporated into the canal to shut if off if lamprey seem to be migrating upstream.
He was unsure if the $1.5 million canal project could be started this year, although a contract for the work, including two other downstream dams, is expected to be awarded soon.
Mr. Allan said the projects were impressive, but so was the citizen participation.
“It’s pretty spectacular. The level of engagement in the community has been so phenomenal,” he said.
His office coordinates state agency input and works with federal agencies on projects “to try to prioritize them so we get most bang for the buck for these federal dollars,” he said.
“This is a very holistic viewpoint about the river,” Mr. Allan added. “It shows how we’re thinking about the health of the whole river and how to connect people to the river.”

Soaring Again

June 3rd, 2013

There are more eagles in Monroe County today than there were 200 years ago during the early years of the French Town settlement.

“We’re seeing more bald eagles than the settlers would have seen,” said Gerry Wykes, a retired interpreter for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks and Frenchtown Township resident. Mr. Wykes remembers taking a class of students to a bald eagle’s nest in a woodlot near Swan Creek off Port Sunlight Rd. near Estral Beach in the late 1980s. “It was one of the first nests built in Monroe County at the time,” he recalled last week. “It got to be well known. The nest was so big, you could see it from” U.S. Turnpike. The fact the nest is still around today is a testament to the comeback the predator bird has made in the region in the past 25 years.

Thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT, pollution-control measures and legislation, the bald eagle is no longer on the endangered and threatened species list as it was in the 1960s and ’70s. Instead, the national symbol for freedom and democracy is thriving along the Lake Erie shoreline and its numbers continue to grow rapidly.

“It’s amazing what conservation can do,” Mr. Wykes said. “That’s our national symbol. It’s one thing that most people are aware of and concerned about that it (won’t) go extinct. It scared everybody to the point where they said we can’t let it go.”

Almost extinct

Yet they almost did become extinct. A study of nests that existed from 1961 to 1987 showed no bald eagle young were produced in Michigan during that time. The eagle, which has been protected by federal laws from hunters since the early 1900s, saw its numbers drop to almost zero in Michigan. Mr. Wykes cited several reasons why their numbers decreased.

  • First, at one time in the 1900s, farmers shot them in their fields and many of the eagle eggs were collected and sold for money.
  • Thieves would take the eggs from their nests and blow the yoke out and decorate the shells, Mr. Wykes said.
  • The biggest reason they almost disappeared was the lack of laws to protect the birds, their food and habitat.

“The bottom fell out in the late 1950s when DDT was sprayed in fields and it got into the food chain when it drained into rivers and streams,” Mr. Wykes said. “DDT was a real nasty thing after World War II. It didn’t kill them, but had a big impact on their eggs.” Eagles eat both live and dead fish and ducks in the lakes and other dead animals. Eagles are at the end of the food chain. With the DDT chemical in their digestive systems, some eaglets were born with malformed beaks or their egg shells were “super thin,” he said. When the mother eagle sat on them, they broke, killing the young. “Around 1969, at the height of the DDT scare, only 38 percent of bald eagle nests were able to produce any young,” Mr. Wykes said. “The rest all failed.”

DDT was banned for most uses in 1972, but it has long-lasting effects. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other heavy metals used in Monroe’s paper mills and other industries also threatened the eagles and other natural predators like ospreys by seeping into their food chain.

Numbers Rise

Eventually, with new federal laws being enacted in the 1970s and ’80s to protect the eagles, the tide began to change and more eaglets survived. A Michigan bald eagle survey started in 1986 found 86 pairs of eagles nesting in the state. The large birds require a large body of water nearby like the western basin of Lake Erie to sustain nests. By 2011, their number had grown to 700 nesting pairs.

“That’s a very healthy population and a dramatic change from what had been,” he said. “All it took was preservation. The DDT ban and pollution-control measures made a difference.”

Employees for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitored eagles in the mid-1980s to gather data on the birds. They placed metal or plastic bands on the legs of the young and also took blood samples to check for body weight and to determine the amount of mercury and other pollution in the birds. Annual bird counts by organizations like the Erie Shores Birding Association also produced evidence of the eagles’ rebound. In the Christmas Bird Count last December, 83 bald eagles were found in the area of DTE’s Monroe Power Plant. The survey showed 46 adults plus 37 young birds with dark heads and that were younger than 5.

The survey also counted 46 red-tailed hawks and almost 40 Downy woodpeckers, another positive sign for the environment.

“Bob Pettit (a member of of the Erie Shores Birding Association) told me they saw so many eagles it was almost not eventful to find one, Mr. Wykes said. “That’s how far we’ve come.”

Around 1987, the first pair of eaglets produced in Wayne County in 100 years were found in Pointe Mouillee and banded by the FWS. That marked another breakthrough in the birds’ comeback, as food sources for the birds like Walleye and Perch began to rebound.

“They are a great feeder fish,” he said about the eagles. “The walleye and perch are important for their survival. There’s an important economic reason to keep them here” as well.

Work Not Done

But despite the rising number of eagles in the area, there remains some doubts about their future, Mr. Wykes said. Eaglets being sampled are still showing traces of PCBs in their system or some malformations are still being found, so there are still some dangers out there.

“We should be constantly vigilant,” he said. “We’re happy that they’re back, but the work isn’t done yet. Their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. But like salamanders and fresh-water clams, they could soon disappear if pollution continues and their habitat is destroyed.”