From the Headlines – November 29-December 2, 2021

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Riverfront redux: The Detroit Bulk Storage site on the Detroit River has collapsed, again. A previous collapse in 2019 raised concerns about radioactive contamination from the site–which had been used to make atomic bomb components–moving into downstream drinking water intakes. However, no excessive levels of radioactivity or other contamination from soils and sediments were found following that event. With this collapse, a pile of gravel took out a 100-foot portion of seawall, sending it into a boat slip owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are once again concerns about contaminated soil moving into the river and water tests are being performed for polychlorinated biphenyls, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, and metals. David Bell, director of Detroit’s Building Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department, said the collapse appears to be the result of improper storage of bulk materials. Property owner Revere Dock had been required to store materials 291 feet from the seawall, a rule that  Bell said had “apparently” been broken. (Freep, Crain’s)

Unaffordable H20: Water and sewer bills have risen twice as fast as wages for low-income workers since the mid-1980s — only health care has become more expensive, That’s according to a report by the University of Michigan Water Center, Michigan State University Extension and Safe Water Engineering. “If we continue on this trajectory, more people are going to have challenges affording their water and more communities are going to run into problems,” said Jennifer Read, director of the Water Center. Costs are driven by an aging infrastructure and emerging contaminants like PFAS. The group recommends policies including a prohibition on shutoffs for low-income households — something Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s representative Dr. Abdul El-Sayed has told Planet Detroit can’t happen without federal support. (Detroit News, Planet Detroit)

In the flood zone: More residents of Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood will be required to buy flood insurance after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determined that a larger portion of the neighborhood’s east side is a floodplain. In recent years, the neighborhood has seen flooding both from the Detroit River and the canals that run through the area as well as sewer backups that have filled basements. The floodplain designation means that homeowners will have to pay an average of $800 per year for flood insurance. “We’re very concerned it’s yet another displacing pressure for lower-income homeowners,” said Josh Elling, CEO of Jefferson East Inc. Detroiters would get a slight break on the cost of flood insurance because the city is part of FEMA’s Community Rating System for floodplain management, which gives residents an automatic 10 percent discount. (Crain’s, Bridge Detroit)

No asphalt: Environmental advocates scored a victory this week when the city of Detroit turned down the proposal by Asphalt Specialists Inc. to build an asphalt mixing plant near the interchange of I-96 and the Southfield Freeway. In addition to highway emissions, residents of the area already faced environmental impacts from a Waste Management facility and a Department of Public Works yard. Residents expressed concerns about the noise, emissions, and truck traffic that would come with the project. “I think we all support the need to fix the damn roads, but we can’t do that by creating additional environmental harm in the community,” said Kathryn Savoie, Detroit community health director for the Ecology Center. The company has until December 14 to appeal the city’s decision with the Board of Zoning Appeals. (Crain’s)

Bus barn: Detroit’s City Council gave the go-ahead for a new transit center at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds. The $18.6 million project will use the old Dairy Cattle Building as the main access point. The Coliseum building will be torn down, although its facade will be used as an entryway. Two of the council’s more progressive members, Raquel Castañeda-López and Mary Sheffield, voted against the project, expressing concerns about air and noise pollution. Sheffield said the project should be delayed to address community concerns and so the city can avoid taking on more debt when federal infrastructure money is on the way. (Freep) 

Mystery plant: MLive reporters recently used a mapping tool developed by ProPublica to reveal possible air pollution coming from an Ypsilanti Township ink manufacturing facility, which had never been permitted by state regulators. The Electronics Imaging Inc. plant has been operating for 17 years and potentially sending air pollution to 5,530 people in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Although the company reported emissions of chromium and cobalt to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it believed it was exempt from reporting to Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). EGLE believes the company may have overstated the level of emissions when reporting to the EPA. And the company might not now require an air quality permit after shipping some operations overseas. However, regulators are looking into Electronics Imaging’s production of water-based organic ink to see if it complies with state rules. (MLive, ProPublica)

Lead (in)action: Last month, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed $300 million worth of spending to help remove lead service lines, aid utilities in addressing high lead levels, and connect well-water users with municipal sources. This would be an expansion of her $500 million MI Clean Water Plan that could be paid for with federal COVID relief. But it would require approval by the majority Republican legislature. The state also formed a “Corrosion Control Advisory Panel” to help advise agencies on the use of corrosion control chemicals. Corrosion control is important because it prevents lead in service lines from sloughing off into the water. More rigorous testing methods that were rolled out following the Flint water crisis mean that a larger number of cities may be finding lead in their water. However, as Planet Detroit reported this week, water systems continue to incorporate water tests from pipes that aren’t made of lead and are performing infrequent testing and not checking enough pipes. “It’s giving residents a false sense of confidence in their water quality,” said Elin Betanzo, who helped expose the Flint water crisis and runs the Michigan-based water advocacy group Safe Water Engineering. (Channel 4, Michigan Radio, Detroit News, Planet Detroit)

Legal wranglings: The state of Michigan will drop its federal lawsuit against Enbridge Energy over the company’s Line 5 pipeline to focus on a separate lawsuit filed in state court. A federal judge recently refused to send the lawsuit back to state court. “While I respectfully disagree, the federal court has now decided to keep the lawsuit I filed in November 2020. I believe the people of Michigan, and our state courts, should have the final say on whether this oil company should continue pumping 23 million gallons of crude oil through the Straits of Mackinac every day,” Whitmer said in a press release. Circuit Judge James Jamo had put the state lawsuit on hold, awaiting developments in the federal case. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the state lawsuit “is the quickest and most viable path to permanently decommission Line 5.” (Freep)


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