State regulators to consider Enbridge’s plan to dredge oil from Kalamazoo River bottom

Jul 8, 2013

The deadline to comment on a plan to clean more oil from the bottom of the Kalamazoo River is this week. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 180,000 gallons (plus or minus 100,000 gallons) have settled on the river bottom.

The oil is what’s left from the pipeline spill that happened almost three years ago. The EPA is ordering Enbridge Energy to dig some of it up. The agency estimates the dredging will remove about 1,200 to 1,800 gallons of submerged oil.

The EPA posted an update on the proposal in June.

The 162,000-168,000 gallons of oil that will remain in the river after this dredging work is complete will not be able to be recovered right away without causing significant adverse impacts to the river. Instead, it must be carefully monitored and collected over time using traps that gather contaminated sediment. Future oil recovery will depend on whether the crude eventually moves to the areas with these sediment traps.

Not everybody’s happy with the dredging plan.

“We don’t have a problem with Enbridge cleaning the river. Our issue is with where the site is,” said Larry Bell, owner of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. His manufacturing center is about sixty-feet away from one of the spots where dredging is planned in Morrow Lake.

Bell says a couple of hundred people tour Bell's Brewery each week.

“If just before the brewery you see this major, what amounts to a really smelly landfill, and mass amounts of trucks with contaminated soil, I don’t know that that’s really the image we want,” Bell said. He was told there would be between 10,000 and 20,00 truckloads of soil removed.

Bell and people who live nearby expressed concerns about the location at a Comstock Township meeting last week. Bell is worried about the truck traffic, the smell or air pollution, and potential contamination if one of the trucks spills the dredging spoils.

“The big thing is, we’re not getting any information,” Bell said.

The EPA has community meetings scheduled later this month. But that’s long after the state will stop taking comments on the proposed dredging plan. While the EPA is ordering Enbridge to do the dredging, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will be the agency to grant the permit Enbridge will need to do the work.

MDEQ is taking the feedback into consideration.

“This really kind of for us marked the first time that we were hearing from the community that they’ve got an issue here,” MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said. “Some of the concerns that were raised about this location and this project were absolutely valid in our mind. So we’re not going to be issuing a permit for the dredge work to commence until we can resolve some of the issues with the site location for the dredge spoils.”

The dredge spoils will need to be shipped to a landfill that can handle such waste.

You can find individual permit requests for the five dredging locations by clicking below. Public comments are welcome until July 10 or 11, depending on the permit.

Upstream of Ceresco Dam in Marshall and Emmett Townships

Upstream of the Battle Creek spillway in Emmett Township

Morrow Lake and Morrow Lake Delta in Comstock Township

Downstream of the Custer Drive Bridge in Bedford Township

Kalamazoo River northeast of the intersection of G Drive North and River Road East in Emmett Township