Judge clears way for dredge basin

JEREMIAH STETTLER, THE SAGINAW NEWS, MAY 10, 2006
“TWO FOR THE GOOD GUYS!” EXCLAIMS MORONIC OFFICIAL KOSKI AS TOWNSFOLK FAIL IN THEIR BID TO KEEP TOXIC DIXOIN SLUDGE AWAY FROM THEIR HOMES
DETROIT — A U.S. District Court judge has refused to stop construction of a nearly 300-acre storage basin for dredge spoils along the Saginaw River.
Judge Bernard A. Friedman denied a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Tuesday that would have kept the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from beginning work this week on a disposal site for river muck in Zilwaukee and Frankenlust townships.
The judge ruled that the project will not cause “irreparable harm” to human health or the environment, despite claims to the contrary by litigants Lone Tree Council and Environment Michigan.
The decision comes as the second victory in less than a month for Saginaw County, which owns the 281-acre property that someday could hold silt sucked from the Saginaw River. The county has faced rising litigation in the weeks before the Corps of Engineers starts construction on the property.
Bay County Circuit Judge Lawrence M. Bielawski denied an injunction sought last month by Frankenlust Township officials who claimed the county had trampled over their zoning laws.
Now comes Friedman’s decision.
“Two for the good guys!” exclaimed Saginaw County Public Works Commissioner James A. Koski after the ruling.
Koski said construction could begin as early as Thursday on a storage basin fashioned out of clay that could hold up to 3.1 million cubic yards of dredge spoils.
The project is a key component of the corps plan to dredge the upper Saginaw River. Without it, dock owners say commercial shipping could slow to a trickle and even stop, threatening up to 280 jobs tied directly to river commerce.
Environmentalists call it a faulty project that will endanger the lives of people and wildlife along the Saginaw River. What worries them is dioxin, a persistent byproduct of chemical manufacturing and other industrial processes that scientists have linked to birth defects, immunodeficiencies and some forms of cancer in laboratory animals.
The Corps of Engineers has found dioxin levels up to 11,812 parts per trillion in the river channel — 131 times higher than the state limit of 90 parts per trillion.
Environmentalists say those contaminants, if not handled properly, could have far-reaching implications on the people and animals that live around the proposed dredge disposal site.
“The dioxins in the Saginaw River are the same ones which in the Tittabawassee River triggered all kinds of public health and environmental interventions by regulatory agencies,” said Lone Tree Council spokeswoman Michelle Hurd Riddick.
Koski contends the site is safe.
“We are making it safer than the corps has built anywhere,” he said. “I am absolutely and totally confident that it was done right.”
Lone Tree filed suit in U.S. District Court last week to stop the project. The organization claims federal law requires the Corps of Engineers to conduct a rigorous environmental impact statement before using the site.
The corps disagrees, saying the site lacks the “significant” environmental impacts to warrant it.
Lone Tree still will get its chance to argue for a comprehensive environmental review. Friedman denied the injunction but said environmentalists may pursue their claims for an environmental impact statement before Judge David M. Lawson in Bay City.
Hurd Riddick said she is disappointed but not undeterred.
“It is one battle of many,” she said. “You win some, and you lose some. Our focus has always been getting the EIS done. That is where our focus will stay.” v
Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.

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