From the headlines— February 21-25, 2022

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Rate hike: The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) will increase wholesale water rates 3.7% and sewer rates 2.4% in July, triggering rate hikes in the 88 communities it serves across Metro Detroit. Similar hikes are planned for the following year, and GLWA projections show a need for 3% hikes for the fiscal years of 2025 to 2027. “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 Jen Read, director of the University of Michigan Water Center. Her previous research showed that low-income Detroit households spend around at least 25% of their disposable income on water and sewer service. Detroit’s water shutoff moratorium is set to expire at the end of 2022, raising the possibility of widespread disconnections if the city fails to create a plan for water affordability. (Detroit News)

Not dead yet: The dream and or nightmare of an asphalt plant on the west side of the city lives on, with Asphalt Specialists appealing a decision to block the facility before the Board of Zoning Appeals. In a Free Press article, the company argues that the asphalt plant is not really a manufacturing facility, but merely a place where ingredients are “mixed to create asphalt”, which sounds a lot like “manufacturing” to a non-asphalt specialist. Detroit’s Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department denied the proposal for the plant in November, after receiving 200 emails opposing the project and 3 in favor. This is not likely to be the last attempt to build an asphalt “mixing facility” in Michigan, with asphalt set to take the lion’s share of coming federal infrastructure dollars. (Deadline Detroit, Freep, New York Times)

Sovereign ‘stuff’: The Detroit Police Department (DPD) employed a helicopter and several officers in tactical gear to interrupt an Indigenous sugarbush ceremony in Rouge Park on Friday. Organizers said they had a valid burn permit and memorandum of understanding for holding the event. “We tried to talk to them about the Religious Freedom Act,” organizer Rosebud Bear-Schneider said. “We tried to tell them about our sovereignty. They didn’t want to hear anything of it.” In a video shared on social media, an officer said, “The sovereign stuff is not valid.” The DPD subsequently apologized for interrupting the ceremony. According to the Sugarbush Project’s website, it’s intended to bring African American and Indigenous youth together to learn about maple syrup production and Native American traditions. (Freep, MLive)

Beaver cull: About a decade after beavers reappeared on Belle Isle, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has made the controversial decision to kill several of the animals on the island and one beaver at Milliken State Park. “We’re not trying to eradicate beavers on Belle Isle,” said Ron Olson, DNR’s chief of parks and recreation. “Beavers move around the Detroit River quite prolifically, and we believe there are probably as many as eight beavers on Belle Isle, which is a lot.” Olson says the aquatic mammals have been taking out shade trees on Belle Isle and potentially damming up a stormwater drainage project at Milliken State Park. Melissa McLeod, who runs the Feral Detroit Instagram page, says she has observed some of the willow trees regrow after being taken down by beavers and believes this may be more of cosmetic issue than an ecological one. “I think it’s kind of a competition between, you know, who gets to shape Belle Isle more, us or them?” she said. “And of course, it’s going to be us.” (Metro Times, Freep)

More trouble in Flat Rock: The fire department in Flat Rock placed booms in a section of the Huron River near downtown to control a chemical spill. The incident comes just months after a gas leak at the Ford Motor Company’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant leaked into city sewers, causing dangerous fumes that compelled hundreds of residents to leave their homes for weeks. Hugh McDiarmid, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), says the agency is checking the sewers and trying to find the source of the leak, which is occurring 10 miles from where the Huron flows into Lake Erie. (Bridge)

Waterworks: GLWA will invest around $1.73 billion between 2023 and 2027 to improve its ability to manage flooding and severe weather in metro Detroit. This includes $100 to rehabilitate the Detroit River Interceptor on the east side of the city and $250 million to update the Freud Pump Station and replace the Conner Creek Pump Station. Both pumping stations experienced problems during last June’s flooding. GLWA spokesperson Molly Young said the authority will use low-cost state and federal loans as well as grants to pay for the improvements. Meanwhile, commissioners in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties announced a regional partnership to address water infrastructure issues in the region along with an effort to look at broadband access. “The social and economic challenges associated with internet accessibility and water infrastructure don’t recognize our local boundaries, so it is up to us to work in a way that improves life for our residents now and creates sustainable solutions for the future,” said Oakland County Commission Chair David T. Woodward. (City Pulse, MI Radio, AP)

Watching the watchers: Following several years of high lead levels in Benton Harbor’s drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) inspector general will conduct an investigation into how the agency handled the crisis. “For years, Benton Harbor residents said the water was contaminated and for years we were ignored,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney, a community organizer and water rights advocate in the city. “An investigation into what the EPA did and did not do for this environmental justice community is long overdue.” Michael Davis, a director with the inspector general, says the investigation is part of a broader effort to better serve marginalized communities and make them aware of environmental threats. (WaPo)

City water: Footwear company Wolverine Worldwide will pay to connect an additional 250 to 300 homes to municipal water in Plainfield Township near Grand Rapids, part of a $69.5 settlement the manufacturer agreed to after contaminating the wells for around 1,000 homes with toxic PFAS chemicals. Wolverine disposed of tannery waste from its Rockford facility in unlined dumpsites in northern Kent County in the 1960s and 1970s, allowing the so-called forever chemicals to leach into the groundwater. “Residents in the north Plainfield Township area there have dealt with a lot over the last five-plus years with this,” said Rick Solle, director of Plainfield Township Public Services. “For the majority of them, it’s kind of a relief to be taken on the next step and be rid of the wells and groundwater concerns that they’ve had.” (MLive)


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