Additional Thoughts (Jan 18, 2020) – Gelman Plume Update

Jan 18, 2020 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Jan 18, 2020 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section

Additional thoughts…

This past Thursday night, all of City Council and other local governmental representatives attended a public forum on the topic of the Gelman Plume. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell arranged this meeting so that we could engage with staff from the federal EPA, state level EGLE, and the Michigan state attorneys office all at once. We asked a lot of questions about the standards and cleanup imposed by the EPA, as well as the process of requesting that federal assistance, i.e. making the Gelman plume a “Superfund” site. An item on this week’s agenda (postponed for many weeks) is a resolution to request federal assistance, via “SuperFund” site designation.

What we learned: the process of becoming a SuperFund site is long and the work of the EPA is slow, deliberate, and (once begun) ongoing. Most relevant to concerns I have heard about this issue: during any interim period of EPA process and study, the state would continue to enforce the existing consent judgement. Though EPA intervention is not an immediate solution, state regulators assure us that mitigation efforts in place right now (e.g. monitoring wells, regular pumping-and-treatment of water) would continue.

I heard one of my colleagues claim that residents have unrealistic expectations, that residents believe the EPA would perform ‘magic.’ I disagree with this demeaning assessment of our residents (many of whom have scientific expertise, and have invested time in educating themselves on this issue) as well as the oversimplification of the issue, generally. Our community has a lot to consider in weighing the value of EPA involvement against the option of direct negotiation with the polluter. The EPA this week emphasized the need for significant data in order to understand the problem fully before crafting solutions. That, in particular, was very reassuring to me.