Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News, September 20, 2006
Michelle Hurd Riddick, center, speaks outside of the Saginaw County Governmental Center on Tuesday during a press conference regarding what a Lone Tree Council press release called a “dredged materials storage facility” being constructed in Zilwaukee and Frankenlust townships. With Riddick are, from left, Betty Damore, who lives in the Tittabawassee River floodplain, Terry Miller, Chairman of the Lone Tree Council, Ellen Burns, a Zilwaukee Township resident, and Pat Bradt, Zilwaukee Township Clerk. “It’s totally irresponsible of Dow Chemical to want to put their dredgings into that inadequate site,” Damore said.
After spending days at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region V headquarters in Chicago digging for information, members of the Lone Tree Council, a grass-roots group that first discovered the state and federal government knew about local dioxin contamination and didn’t share that information with the public, say they have made another discovery.
The Saginaw Riverside dredged materials disposal facility — which they have been fighting because of its inability to hold contaminated soil and to keep the public safe from contaminated dust, and its potential to recontaminate the river — also might be used someday to hold Tittabawassee River sediment.
They say this move is dangerous and sneaky.
“Toxic sludge should be disposed of in a licensed hazardous waste facility,” said Lone Tree Council founder Terry Miller. “Transferring it from the river bottom to the flood plain wouldn’t be a cleanup at all, but simply a rearranging of toxic sediment in a different part of the watershed. The idea that Dow is considering this, and that government regulators aren’t rejecting it out of hand, is outrageous.”
Midland’s Dow Chemical Co. is likely the source of the contamination and is working with the state and federal governments to resolve the matter. In unrelated work, the Army Corps of Engineers and Saginaw County officials have been working for more than five years to dredge the Saginaw for navigational purposes.
And so the two issues have become related.
Saginaw County Commission Chair Cheryl Hadsall declined to comment on the matter because of pending lawsuits. One has been filed by Frankenlust Township leaders and one by Zilwaukee officials who claim that Saginaw County officials have overstepped boundaries by going ahead with plans for the basin. Another federal case filed by the Lone Tree Council requests an environmental impact statement before a disposal facility is filled.
As far as Hadsall is concerned, the discussion over Tittabawassee soils is merely a rumor and the only soil going into the disposal basin is Saginaw River soil removed for navigational purposes.
And while the EPA told the Corps in 2004 that the proposed Zilwaukee dumping area “is not an appropriate location for the disposal of sediments contaminated with high concentrations of dioxins,” some say that could change. Dow, for one, has been looking into design features of the basin to see if its uses could be expanded.
Dow spokesman John Musser confirmed the company’s interest in the design and said that hasn’t been a secret.
Musser said Dow has paid between $300,000 and $400,000 to the group in support of the project, which was at risk of losing federal grant money if the company didn’t come up with a share. “We were asked to help with that, and we did,” Musser said.
James A. Koski, Saginaw County public works commissioner, said this morning the county hasn’t received any money directly from Dow, though Dow acknowledges supplying money to the River Alliance, a group with business interests in keeping the river navigable.
Musser said Dow has been upfront about its interest in the facility as a potential resting place for Tittabawassee River soils — if it is decided someday that some dredging will be done there.
“We’ve been supportive,” Musser said. “We’ve made that public statement. We would like to use that site.”
It would be up to Saginaw County, owner of the facility, to approve disposal there.
Koski said the site isn’t being built for that. He acknowledges the dialogue with Dow, but said the Lone Tree Council’s suggestion that there have been secret negotiations is incorrect. “Negotiation is the wrong word,” Koski said. “It was an inquiry as to what the site could be used for.”
He said that without starting at square one with a redesign, public input and permitting, there wouldn’t be room, or state or federal approval, for Tittabawassee soil disposal.
“The site we’re working on is a Saginaw River dredging site,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
While Saginaw County has accepted liability for maintenance of the site as a partner in the project, he said that because of the knowledge of contamination, it is seeking insurance to cover potential contamination-related expenses. The River Alliance, he said, will cover the cost of insurance.