“Shocked”: Michigan Lawmakers’ Eyes Opened to Disaster on the Kalamazoo River
An ecological crisis in West Michigan has finally made it to Lansing, and lawmakers are shocked by what they are learning about it. But for residents, especially those who enjoy leisure on the Kalamazoo River in the Comstock area, downtown Kalamazoo, Parchment, and beyond, this is anything but news.
The Kalamazoo River Alliance is a local group that has been trying desperately to raise awareness about a massive sediment release by Eagle Creek Renewable Energy that has choked the ecosystem in the river and has also left an ugly mess along several miles of the river downstream of the Morrow Dam in Comstock Township. The group has also been concerned in general about the condition of the Kalamazoo River.
Along with the sediment release, the river in the Kalamazoo area has been plagued for decades with mistreatment. Everything from pollution from factories, PFAS, and massive amounts of trash and other signs that pride in the waterway in this area has seriously been lacking for a long time. But the sediment release has taken things to a whole new level, and some legislators have now had their eyes opened to exactly how bad it is.
A hearing was held in Lansing on Wednesday which featured photos and videos showing the effects that nearly 370,000 cubic feet of sediment have had on the Kalamazoo River since it was unleashed into the waters in 2019. Several lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Ed McBroom of the Upper Peninsula, exclaimed their disappointment and surprise at what they were seeing.
MLive reports that McBroom even apologized to Democrat Sen. Sean McCann of Kalamazoo for not being aware of how bad it was. McCann is currently working on a bill that would give the state more authority to issue emergency cleanup orders for situations like the one along the river in the Kalamazoo area.
Ryan Baker, Presidents of the Kalamazoo River Alliance is hopeful that McCann's bill will pass and give the long-delayed clean-up of the sediment the kick that it needs.
Senate Bill 813 should be a great step forward for Michigan agencies. This bill will the state enforce infractions that were previously very difficult and time consuming to reslove. - Ryan Baker
In November 2019, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, the company that now owns the dam, lowered it at Morrow Lake for what they said were emergency repairs. It allowed the massive amounts of sediment to gradually work their way into the water, piling up for miles downstream. The sludge has affected everything from the river bed, banks, public access points and has choked the wildlife habitat in the area. Anglers say that the fish population, already not considered safe to eat for other reasons, has severely harmed the population as well as spawning. The sediment is up to 10 feet deep in some spots.
But it's the lack of action that has made this situation even more concerning, as well as the way ECRE went about the emergency repair. A violation notice was sent by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy in 2020, saying “the state was not consulted before, but rather after or at best concurrently before the start of the drawdown.” The company did do a small removal of 2,000 cubic yards of sediment in the spring of 2021 but has done nothing further, despite saying they would step up efforts during the summer of 2021. MLive reports that talks stalled in the fall of last year and that EGLE is now threatening legal action.
And Eagle Creek Renewable Energy had no representation at Wednesday's hearing. The company has released a statement though through a public relations firm...
“We have spent millions of dollars on project repair and river restoration work and are still committed to a fair settlement to provide the environment that we and the community expect and deserve while providing valuable green renewable electricity to West Michigan,” said a statement attributed to STS Hydropower. “We have been in active discussions with EGLE for over a year in an effort to reach a settlement. We remain committed to those discussions provided the ultimate settlement reflects our efforts to maintain public safety.” - Eagle Creek Renewable Energy
Things Change: Downtown Kalamazoo 2007-2022