Lake Michigan Update: Creativity May Be the Solution to Avoid Pollution of the Jordan River

Lake Michigan Update: Creativity May Be the Solution to Avoid Pollution of the Jordan River

By John Richter, Friends of the Jordan River Watershed, East Jordan, Michigan

A combination of thinking outside the box, problem solving with creativity, considering alternative partners, and just plain using common sense led the Friends of the Jordan River Watershed and the newly formed POWER Coalition (Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources) to a proposed alternative for the disposal of toxic leachate. Luxury lakeshore homes were built atop abandoned cement factory kiln dust, which now seeps toxic leachate, into Lake Michigan. The toxic leachate, a caustic substance formed when water passes through cement kiln dust (CKD), is as strong as household bleach and has been found seeping at several locations into Lake Michigan at Bay Harbor since 2004. Deposits of CKD, a waste product from the cement plant that once operated in the area, remain beneath portions of the upscale resort and adjacent township park.

The company’s cleanup plan involves collecting a portion of the toxic leachate and taking it to Grand Traverse County’s sewage treatment plant and treating some of the toxic leachate that is then taken to a commercial disposal well in Montmorency County. To control clean-up costs, CMS is seeking to develop an injection well of its own through its Beeland Group affiliate to handle disposal.The proposed well site is about five miles east of Alba in Antrim County’s Star Township and about 30 miles from Bay Harbor.

The Friends of the Jordan River Watershed oppose the well based on the risk of contamination to the ground water that is a significant source of the Jordan River and the risk of contamination to drinking water supplies. The Friends of the Jordan River and the people of Antrim County are the grateful heirs to a proud conservation legacy and sacred trust.We inherited the unspoiled Jordan Valley from our prudent predecessors and have the solemn obligation to be good stewards of this priceless gift and pass this legacy on to future generations. The Alba waste disposal well represents a real and present danger to the “Crown Jewel” of Michigan’s riverine ecosystems, the Jordan River Watershed.

CMS has received permits for the injection well in Alba from the US EPA and the MDEQ. Star Township, Friends of the Jordan River Watershed, and Antrim County appealed both the EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) permit. The State Administrative Law Judge denied the MDEQ appeal. The appeal of the EPA permit is pending.

In the meantime, another nearby cement company, St. Mary’s in Charlevoix has expressed interest in using the toxic leachate in their production process recycling what is now a waste into a resource.

Dirk Cox, spokesman for St. Mary’s stated in the “Charlevoix Courier” that “CMS Land Company and St. Marys are continuing to have very productive conversations,”

Cox quoted in the Courier article stated that, “St. Marys was invited to meet with the Friends of the Jordan team also, and at this point all three parties seem to agree that the concept of us using a portion of the Bay Harbor water in our process is worth pursuing. We hope to combine the contaminants in our product, and that way it will end up in someone’s driveway somewhere, which really is the safest place for it to be,” Cox said. “Still, we need to run tests to make sure it will end up that way and not get sent out in a smoke stack somewhere.”

St. Mary’s Cement is located in Charlevoix, less than 12 miles from Bay Harbor which would greatly reduce the cost of transporting the waste.

Although there are still many questions that need to be answered before St. Mary’s can potentially use the leachate—the fact that they are interested, opens new doors and changes the whole dynamic. Using the toxic leachate at St. Mary’s will reduce the volume of waste, but there will be additional volume that will need to be disposed. Currently, the amount of toxic leachate being collected is only from a portion of the site. The volume of toxic leachate will increase greatly as the clean up moves to address other CKD piles on site.

The Friends of the Jordan is hopeful that this approach will spur other alternatives, but we can’t lose site of the bigger goal of the need to cleanup Bay Harbor and halt the release of CKD leachate into Little Traverse Bay. In 2005, the U.S. EPA ordered “to remove, isolate, or contain” the CKD at Bay Harbor. The waste disposal well in Alba will not solve the problems at Bay Harbor.

As Star Township, Friends of the Jordan, and Antrim County await the outcome of the federal appeal, new ideas, creativity, and common sense may make the need for the injection well obsolete. Perhaps this new dynamic will generate some more common sense solutions to cleanup the entire site.

For more information, contact Friends of the Jordan River at 231-536-9947 or



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