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Already short on time, Enbridge’s plans to dredge oil from the Kalamazoo River delayed

Enbridge workers are still present on the water three years after the spill.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Enbridge workers are still present on the water three years after the spill.

It appears less likely that Enbridge will meet a federal deadline to dredge some of the oil that remains at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. The oil is left over from the company’s spill three years ago.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants the work done by the end of this year. They say the work will remove 12,000 – 18,000 gallons of “recoverable oil”.

Enbridge needs to get several permits from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality to do the dredging work in five locations.

The company also needs approval from Comstock Township for one of the major sites where the estimated 220,000 cubic yards of sediment will be dried out and turned into cement. Enbridge says landfills will take the cement at a lower tipping fee.

Enbridge tried to convince Comstock Township planning officials Thursday night that the company should be allowed to do the work in a light industrial area based on that manufacturing use.

“It’s very silly to think that they’re actually manufacturing – really? Do you want us to believe that they’re manufacturing waste?” Larry Bell, owner of Bell’s Brewery asked during the public hearing. Bell is suing Enbridge and the commercial park where the brewery’s manufacturing plant is located.

“This is not manufacturing. They’re here because of the EPA order. They’re not manufacturing a commodity,” Bell said, “Just because they started without a permit and they got money into it I don’t think that’s our problem. That’s their problem.”

“It’s an economic good,” Enbridge’s attorney Chris Tracy said of the cement. “Sometimes that means people pay you money for it, sometimes they don’t. It can depend on the product.”

Tracy presented the plans to the township’s planning commission after apologizing for not coming sooner. Enbridge set up a lot of equipment at the location near Morrow Lake in June, without getting township approval.

“There is a small slice of time here, that’s no excuse for not coming you to begin with,” Tracy said.

He also apologized to planning commissioners who said they were kicked off the proposed site when they attempted to see it.

About twenty people spoke during the public hearing. Most were critical of Enbridge’s dredging plan. There were worries about intense truck traffic, bad smells, air pollution and negative effects on property values.

“Enbridge made a history making mistake three years ago. And now they expect us to have faith in their performance. They ask us to believe in their abilities and have confidence in how they operate. Really?” Kelly Blaisdell asked.

Tracy said Enbridge only expected two trucks per hour to move loads off the site.

“So 220,000 yards is 220 days - and you ain’t got 220 days,” commissioner Steven Gazdag concluded.

“The order is within the water,” Enbridge operations manager Christopher Haux explained, “We must have all the material removed from the water within those – by December 31st.”

“So in other words you’re not going to have it off of the site in 220 days. You’re going to be another 6 months, depending on weather conditions,” Gazdag said, “That puts it more into perspective of what we’re really talking about.”

“We will continue to use the site until we can get the material off the site, solidify it, and be able to take it off to the landfills as they need it,” Haux said.

Planning commissioners decided they needed more clarification on whether this type of manufacturing would be an allowable use under the township’s zoning code. They tabled a decision until the zoning board of appeals makes a decision about that.

Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum wouldn’t say whether this delay in the company’s plans means they won’t be able to meet the EPA’s December 31st deadline.

“Right now the plan is to meet the deadline and that’s all I have at this time. You know, there’s too many unknowns,” Manshum said.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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