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Flint River dredging project will soon begin

steve carmody
Michigan Radio
Trees have already been removed a portion of the Flint River in preparation for the dredging operation

People walking near part of the Flint River will see, and likely smell, a major dredging project this summer.

About a quarter mile segment of the Flint River will be dredged to remove tons of soil contaminated with coal tar from a gas plant that closed a century ago.    The plant operated from the mid-1800’s to the late 1920’s. Consumers Energy bought the old coal plant back in the 1920’s.   

Jim Innes with the MDEQ is the project manager.    He says coal tar does present a potential health issue for people.

“There’s also an aquatic environment,” says Innes, “Although the chemicals that are in coal tar are not bio-accumulators, they can still cause damage to the aquatic environment.”

Crews have already removed trees along the riverbank.  The next step will be to prepare a site near the river where contaminated sludge from the river will drain before being disposed of.

The dredging is expected to take several months.

Consumers Energy’s Kevin Keane says Flint residents shouldn’t notice much about the dredging, except maybe the smell.

“It resembles moth balls or roofing tar,” says Keane, “The utility is taking steps to contain those odors.  And it will change on a day-to-day basis.  But the prevailing winds should move any odors away from the downtown area.”

Once the dredging is complete, the five-foot deep trench will be filled with layers of clay, sand and rock to help restore the riverbed. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.