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Detroit residents angry over permit allowing Grosse Pointe Park to dump sewage into Detroit River

Detroit River
Overhead view of the Detroit River

Some residents of Detroit's Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood say they're outraged with a decision to award a permit to Grosse Pointe Park that could allow the Detroit suburb to dump sewage into the Detroit River.

The construction permit for the wastewater system, obtained by Planet Detroit, was issued in February and allows Grosse Pointe Park to construct what's called an "extreme emergency relief valve."

The valve, which is projected to cost nearly $3 million, was built to combat sewage backups caused by heavy rain and flooding that have inundated basements and damaged property.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy explained that while it is illegal to dump sewage into bodies of water, the valve and the actions of the city of Grosse Pointe Park are legal and have been state and federally permitted.

The valve is designed for storms that occur about once every 25 years, an EGLE spokesperson said. "It is not something we expect to be deployed, except in the cases of the most massive storms — and then only to eliminate the public health hazard of sewage in basements."

But Detroit City Council Member Latisha Johnson said the valve would contribute to the contamination and pollution of the Detroit River and Detroit residents' property, as well as the harming of wildlife.

“This particular release valve will impact everyone on the Detroit river — everyone downstream from that point," Johnson said.

Johnson and others said they didn't have the chance to contest the permit or the valve construction.

In response, Grosse Pointe City Manager Nick Sizeland said the city has "gone above and beyond EGLE’s request for due diligence and information to upgrade our system."

"This process has been rigorous and the Grosse Pointe Park has worked closely with EGLE to answer questions and taken all reasonable steps to assure that the EERV system complied with state and federal law," Sizemore said. "We are aware of some misunderstanding of what the EERV system will accomplish and we take this matter seriously."

Sizemore pointed to what he said are 40 outfalls similar to the Grosse Pointe Park's planned EERV that lead to Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River. "While we hope to never turn this on, it is here to safely protect residents and downstream residents, just as the 40 others do,” he said.

Council Member Johnson said the cities need to find other solutions besides dumping. “We have to figure out how to treat rainwater and keep it from going into the system and going into marshlands,” she said.

“It falls on the city because the city created the infrastructure we have, but it takes more state funding for us to address it properly," said Johnson.

Toussaint joined Michigan Radio in June 2022 as a newsroom intern and is currently working in his second summer. He is a senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C., majoring in journalism and minoring in Afro-American Studies.