06 July 2017
What is now a five-mile stretch of luxury homes, a yacht club, golf course and more, looking out over Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, was once home to the a limestone quarry and cement plant.
Northern Michigan has long been well known as a vacation destination, popular for its natural beauty and many opportunities for outdoor enjoyment, far away from the hustle and bustle of big city crowds, traffic and noise.
<p></p><p>Although tourism has long been a major economic driver for the area, over the years there have been many industrial enterprises spread around the area.</p><p></p><p>Those industries — big or small — can go a long way to stabilizing the area’s economy by creating year-round employment that is not subject to the seasonal nature of tourism. Unfortunately, industrial operations sometimes come with negative impacts on the environment — specifically, ground contamination.</p><p></p><p>Bay Harbor</p><p></p><p>Perhaps the best known large-scale ground contamination site in Northern Michigan is now well hidden by the Bay Harbor development.</p><p></p><p>What is now a five-mile stretch of luxury homes, a yacht club, golf course and more, looking out over Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, was once home to the a limestone quarry and cement plant.</p><p></p><p>Although the project reclaimed what had been an industrial eyesore along a prime section of Lake Michigan shoreline and turned it into a luxury development, not all of the site’s past went away when the development was constructed.</p><p></p><p>The process of making cement creates a waste product known as cement kiln dust. Many tons of the waste product were on the Bay Harbor site when the cement plant closed. Some portions of the new development — in particular the golf course — were built directly on top of the covered kiln dust piles.</p><p></p><p>The problem is, when water — either from rainfall or groundwater — comes into contact with the the dust, it can leach substances from the dust and potentially contaminate adjacent waters — in this case Little Traverse Bay. This leachate can have high pH and can contain heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead, which pose adverse impacts to water quality, fish and other aquatic life — and, potentially, human health with direct contact.</p><p></p><p>In August 2004, public health officials found shoreline waters with elevated pH, enough to warn the public against bare contact with the water there. Eventually these caustic alkaline levels were found in locations near each of the four state-permitted capped kiln dust piles. The discovery showed that the initial plan for capturing the leachate and sending it to be treated at the Petoskey wastewater treatment plant was not working.</p><p></p><p>In the following years, CMS Land Company, which is responsible for the ongoing cleanup effort, spent millions to construct a new collection and treatment system on site. At first the collected leachate was trucked offsite and disposed of in a deep injection well in Johannesburg. Today, most of the leachate is treated on-site and then released into Little Traverse Bay.</p><p></p><p>In fact, June 14 marked the five-year anniversary of a 2012 agreement between CMS and state officials under which the state has primary oversight responsibilities for the site.</p><p></p><p>The last public health advisory concerning contact with water along Bay Harbor’s shoreline was lifted in 2012.</p><p></p><p>Elaine Pelc, environmental analyst with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said CMS has completed all of its requirements and now is primarily in a maintenance and monitoring mode for the facility. In addition to the regular monitoring of the discharge that takes place and regular monitoring of pH levels in the bay along the shoreline, Pelc said an ecological assessment that was first done in 2008 is being repeated now.</p><p></p><p>Pelc said it is somewhat difficult to exactly gauge how well the system is improving the overall quality of the water in the bay because there isn’t a good baseline of data of what was going into the bay for decades before the collection efforts began.</p><p></p><p>“We can tell it hasn’t gotten any worse,” she said.</p><p></p><p>For now, monitoring of the site will continue for at least the next 25 years under the agreement.</p><p></p><p>Superfund sites</p><p></p><p>There are two other major contamination sites in Northern Michigan — one each in Petoskey and Charlevoix, and both at one time involved the respective communities’ municipal water systems and are part of the federal Superfund cleanup program.</p><p></p><p>In Charlevoix, the problem involved three sites on the south side of town where dry cleaning and machine shop solvents were dumped on the ground and eventually made their way to the aquifer from which the city’s municipal water system drew its water.</p><p></p><p>After contaminants showed up in the city’s water supply, a major effort among state, federal and local officials resulted in the city switching from the well to Lake Michigan for its water supply.</p><p></p><p>In a similar scenario, solvents that were disposed of on the ground at the former Petoskey Manufacturing site at the corner of West Lake and Wachtel streets in Petoskey, eventually migrated to a nearby municipal water supply well. In Petoskey’s case, in addition to some on-site cleanup efforts, the affected well was abandoned and capped and a new well was sunk elsewhere to replace it.</p><p></p><p>While both of those efforts addressed the issue of people coming in contact with the contaminants through the water supply, in recent years a new concern has emerged for both of those cases. Through advancements in science, officials have learned that vapor from some of the chemicals in the ground, can, under the right circumstances, seep into the basements of homes. Prolonged exposure to breathing these vapors can be harmful.</p><p></p><p>Most recently in the area of the Petoskey site, state and federal officials have reached out to nearby property owners asking for permission to test for such vapors.</p><p></p><p>All the others</p><p></p><p>Although the Bay Harbor site and the two Superfund sites in Charlevoix and Petoskey had — and in some cases still have — the potential to affect large numbers of people, thus prompting their respective notoriety, there are also many other sites around the area where underground contamination is present. Those locations don’t get as much attention because they pose less risk and/or pose a risk to far to fewer people.</p><p></p><p>Two of the most common types of contamination come from some current, or past, manufacturing sites and from leaking underground storage tanks.</p><p></p><p>What’s in your neighborhood?</p><p></p><p>The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has a website which can identify just that. Of course, it only shows known sites, but the Environmental Mapper site allows people to navigate a map of any area in the state looking for symbols that show where contamination, or potential contamination sites, are.</p><p></p><p>Baseline environmental assessment sites</p><p></p><p>Many of the sites, marked with a pink circle with a the letter “B” on it, are what’s known as baseline environmental assessment sites.</p><p></p><p>The assessment is part of a state program under which a person can buy, lease, or foreclose on contaminated (or potentially contaminated) property and be protected from liability for cleanup of contamination on the property (provided he or she did not cause the contamination). The program requires that an assessment be done at the site and that the information be disclosed to the state and any future purchasers of the property.</p><p></p><p>Underground storage tanks</p><p></p><p>Underground storage tanks, such as those used to store petroleum products at gas stations and vehicle repair shops are a common source of ground contamination. A state map shows sites where leaking tanks have been identified and those where other tanks, either active or inactive, are located. A green triangle marks the site of a closed leaking underground storage tank, a red circle marks the site of an open leaking tank site. A gold cross and a blue star respectively mark active underground storage tank and inactive tank sites.</p><p></p><p>A prime example of how such sites are often handled took place in Charlevoix County in 2015 at a site near the corner of Boyne City-East Jordan Road and Deer Lake Road.</p><p></p><p>In that instance the state spent about $450,000 to clean up contamination from the former site of leaking a underground storage tank at the former Clare’s Country Corner gas station location.</p><p></p><p>At the time, Pelc said the contamination came from any of six underground gasoline storage tanks that were installed at the site from 1971 through 1982.</p><p></p><p>The contamination was discovered when the tanks were removed in 1994. She said some initial cleanup took place at the time the tanks were removed, but the owners didn’t have enough money to pay to complete the cleanup work.</p><p></p><p>“In Northern Michigan it’s very typical to have these old mom-and-pop stations,” Pelc said. “They were able to do some work at the time (of the tank removal), but the costs are so significant, that an average person can’t afford anymore.”</p><p></p><p>She said in these situations, the DEQ steps in and looks at any type of “pathway” the contamination might find that would pose a risk to people.</p><p></p><p>The remaining contamination lingered until 2012 when the DEQ installed monitoring wells at the site and nearby. Later, regular monitoring showed that the contamination had begun to migrate close to nearby Deer Creek and Deer Lake, which is what ultimately prompted state officials to step in and do further cleanup work.</p><p></p><p>“The goal is to remove the lion’s share of the contamination in the soil and groundwater,” Pelc said.</p><p></p><p>The cleanup was paid for through money in the state’s Refined Petroleum Fund. Money in the fund comes from a 7/8th-of-a-cent-per-gallon environmental fee that is levied on all refined petroleum products sold in Michigan.</p><p></p><p>Pelc noted that there are thousands of sites across Michigan like the one on Boyne City-East Jordan Road and in many cases there is no liable party to pay for the cleanup. That means its up to the state to take care of the work.</p><p></p><p>“Each one of these has different risks associated with it. It’s a matter of triaging them,” she said.</p><p></p><p>There are currently 26 leaking underground storage tank contamination sites in Charlevoix County that are listed as “open” with the DEQ and 53 that have been listed as “closed” (cleanup work has been competed). In Emmet County, there are 26 open sites and 58 closed.</p><p></p><p>Restrictive covenants</p><p></p><p>In some cases, part of the response to a contaminated site results in a deed restriction being place on all or part of a parcel of property.</p><p></p><p>For instance, the owner of the property might be allowed to use the site for most purposes, but might be prohibited from drawing groundwater from a portion of the property, or from disturbing the surface of the ground in a portion of the property.</p><p></p><p>In one slightly different way of approaching this, rather than imposing restrictive covenants on hundreds of properties, in 2002, the Charlevoix City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting water wells to be used for a good portion of the city south of the Pine River Channel and Round Lake because of various contamination sources.</p><p></p><p>What should you be concerned about?</p><p></p><p>With all those different markers showing up on maps it could be concerning to some property owners.</p><p></p><p>Pelc said factors that go into determining the risk associated with various sites for contamination are related to the likelihood and the severity of potential exposure to the contaminant.</p><p></p><p>“It all goes back to the possible pathways of exposure,” she said. “You want to look at where do you get your drinking water. If you are on a municipal water system, you should have a really good water supply. If you life out in the middle of nowhere far away from commercial activity, you should be fine. If you have a well and you live near a current or former gas station, you could consider having the water from your well tested.”</p><p></p><p>Pelc said testing with a private company costs about $75, is fairly simple to do and results come back in a matter of a few weeks.</p><p></p>
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