From the Headlines

Community benefits? The State Fairgrounds Development Coalition, a grassroots neighborhood group, continues to raise concerns about the new Amazon distribution center being built on the former Michigan Fairgrounds property. Community members are especially worried about how trucks from the center could impact air quality, although Amazon said it’s committed to reaching “net-zero carbon” by 2040 and has already begun to use electric vehicles. The coalition has asked a Wayne County judge for an interpretation of Detroit’s community benefits ordinance, which they say should have been triggered by the deal, and would provide certain guarantees for job creation and environmental protection. (Detroit News)

Greening the museum: The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American history has embarked on an ambitious plan to become the largest “green museum campus” in the country, taking steps to increase energy efficiency, boost recycling and infiltrate stormwater. Better stormwater management can help prevent flooding and combined sewer overflows, which occur when treatment facilities are overwhelmed, sending untreated sewage into waterways. The courtyard was built with permeable pavers to help with stormwater management, one of several projects that will save the museum $1,700 a year in drainage fees. “From my standpoint, climate change is here and (organizations) like Wright are setting a good example, investing in something that is very much needed and has a good impact on living for the people of Detroit,” said Sanjiv Sinha, the senior vice president for water resources at Environmental Consulting and Technology, which has been working with the Wright Museum. (Crain’s Detroit Business)

Not closing: Rumors circulated on social media this week that the Bowen Branch of the Detroit Public Library was going to close and be turned into a trucking logistics center. The Bowen Branch is located on West Vernor Highway near the Ambassador Bridge and residents worried that a new logistics center would bring even more truck traffic and air pollution into the neighborhood. But, so far, these rumors have not been substantiated. “These permanent closing rumors being circulated have caught us all by surprise,” Katie Dowgiewicz, a Detroit Public Library spokesperson wrote in an email. “The library has no intention of closing the Bowen Branch as it is an integral part of its Southwest community, providing crucial resources, computers and internet access, programs and a gathering place for the neighborhood.” (Detour Detroit) 

Elevated lead: Officials in St. Clair Shores issued an advisory after eight out of 62 water testing locations in the city were found to have lead above the 15 parts per billion action level. About 2.7% of the city’s 26,369 water customers have lead service lines, which are the greatest source of lead in drinking water. The city is offering faucet filters or pitcher filters to these customers. (Detroit News, Planet Detroit)

Plumbing money: Beginning this month, Michigan water utilities have 20 years to replace every lead service line that connects the water main with a residence. For some cities, like Ferndale and Hamtramck, this means replacing more than 90% of their service lines, which could get expensive. It will primarily be ratepayers who foot the bill for these replacements, many of whom live in cities where residents are already struggling to pay their water bills. Escanaba, in the Upper Peninsula, is asking for an extended timeline for service line replacements in order to spread out the cost for its ratepayers. Others are hoping that the Biden administration will include money for water systems in new infrastructure spending. President Joe Biden seems to favor such action, saying at a November campaign rally in Flint, “What happened in Flint will never happen again.” (Bridge)

Lead Q&A: For Michigan residents who still have lead service lines or are concerned about the issue more generally, Bridge interviewed Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research helped uncover the Flint water crisis, to ask how people could protect themselves and their families. Here are a few of her recommendations:

  • Install a lead-clearing filter certified by the National Sanitation Foundation.
  • If you haven’t used your water for several hours, flush the service line by running the cold water until it’s noticeably colder. This means that it is coming from the main and not the service line. 
  • Unscrew and clean out the aerators at the end of your faucets at least twice a year. Lead particles can get stuck inside of these.
  • Never use hot water from the tap for cooking and drinking. Lead and other contaminants dissolve more quickly in hot water. (Bridge)

APPROVED, provisionally: U.S. District Judge Judith Levy granted preliminary approval to the $641 million settlement between Flint residents and the state of Michigan over the city’s water crisis. “Litigation has its benefits, but also its limitations, and the preliminary approval of this settlement does not affect or preclude other avenues of redress,” Levy wrote in her ruling. Significantly, 80% of the settlement money will go to children who were under 18 when they were exposed to the city’s lead-tainted drinking water. Those affected by the crisis can now choose to opt into the deal, which can include formally objecting to aspects of it. They may also choose to opt-out and sue separately. (Detroit News)

Energy choice: Ann Arbor leaders have expressed frustration with DTE Energy’s reliability and the speed with which the utility is transitioning to clean energy sources. After considering creating a municipal utility, the city’s sustainability team is now endorsing community choice aggregation (CCA). This would allow the city to purchase renewable energy on behalf of residents and businesses, but leave the utility in place to handle things like distribution and billing. State-wide legislation would be required to allow for the practice, but once in place, any municipality in the state could use it. Ann Arbor hopes that CCA can help the city meet its goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2027. (Midwest Energy News)

Utter waste: Robert J. Massey, president of Oil Chem Inc., has pled guilty to dumping nearly 50 million gallons of untreated landfill leachates into Flint’s water system over more than eight years. Leachates are formed when water is filtered through landfill waste and are known to contain PFAS chemicals, PCBs, and heavy metals. Massey failed to disclose that he was receiving the leachates when he applied for a permit in 2008. The waste that he discharged ended up in the Flint River, downstream from the drinking water intake that was used in 2014 and 2015. (MLive)

Orders: On his first day as president, Biden signed a number of executive orders, including one to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, which seeks to avert catastrophic climate change. He also rescinded the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would have moved Canadian tar-sands oil to the Gulf Coast. The new president’s push to reverse some of the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks received another assist from a federal appeals court, which struck down a plan to relax emissions standards for power plants. This ruling could give the new administration more latitude to impose stronger emissions standards, potentially forcing utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources. As for the Great Lakes, Biden inherits the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program with strong bipartisan support and funding that was reauthorized for five years earlier this month. (New York Times, Toledo Blade)


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