Small Town, Big Sewer Environmental Threat

Small Town, Big Sewer Environmental Threat

Small Town, Big Sewer Environmental Threat

By David Brigham, President of Leelanau Forum

The village of Northport lies near the end of the Leelanau Peninsula on Grand Traverse Bay. Native Americans of the Ottawa Chippewa Tribe lived here before the early settlers. The agricultural community grew from the early settlers who realized the hilly landscape near Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay was suitable for fruit crops. The beauty of the area and proximity to Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay has drawn tourists formany years. Today,Northport is primarily a retirement community.

In the beginning,most citizens supported the concept of a sewer for Northport to enable the downtown commercial district a greater opportunity to re-develop and to repair and upgrade the marina septic. However, they never imagined theywould be forced to hook up to such a large sewer system. It is the most expensive sewer system, per household, that theMichigan State Revolving Fund ever sponsored. While the cost and size were shocking, the citizens became very dismayed when they discovered that the design called for a groundwater discharge to Northport Creek, a designated coldwater trout stream. If the community had realized these basic facts up front, the supportmay not have been there. Why did it have to be this way? This was the question that led the Leelanau Forum and others to take a stand and attempt to influence design change before the permitswere issued. The Forumcontends that Northport Creek should never be part of a sewer. It is unnecessary. There are alternatives.

In early summer of 2007 the Forum and private citizens filed a complaint in circuit court under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. The complaint contends that the Northport Wastewater Treatment Plant will likely pollute the environment, Northport Creek and Grand Traverse Bay. Four experts, including a Hydrogeologist and Professional Engineer specializing in wastewater treatment have submitted sworn testimony explaining why the Northport sewer, as designed,will fail.

Our concerns today are even greater than previously stated. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that theWastewater Treatment Site is “contaminated” with inorganics. Contaminants found in the groundwater samples include arsenic,lead,manganese, sodium, and ammonia. The source of contamination is old hospital lagoons that are now closed, which are directly adjacent to Northport Creek. The lagoons have leaked and the plume of contamination has migrated off-site onto adjacent property, into Northport Creek and Grand Traverse Bay. Experts contend that the discharge of 132,000 gallons per day of sewer effluent into wet soils adjacent to the Creek will exacerbate existing contamination impacting the quality of Northport Creek and posing a public health threat.

The reasons to protect Northport Creek are obvious to local residents. The Creek corridor is mostly wild, undeveloped and a special natural resource. Young people with a bicycle and fishing pole can access Northport Creek. The Northport Sportsman’s Club, established in 1933, holds an annual trout derby at the Mill Pond on the Creek. The derby has become a popular Northport tradition for approximately 30 years that offers young people the opportunity to catch their first fish, while beginning to realize and appreciate the value of our natural resources. The Creek pathway, as it enters and passes through the Village, becomes a special natural feature. Man cannot create anything this unique but has the opportunity to hold it in high regard and protect it.

As stewards of the environment and with the financial support of organizations like Freshwater Future, the Leelanau Forum will continue to inform citizens and protect the natural environment of Northport Village and the surrounding area.

For more information, please contact the Leelanau Forum, aMichigan non-profit corporation organized in 1987. P.O. Box 25,Northport,Michigan 49670 (231) 386-5785.

 

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.