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STATE BRIEFS

By the Associated Press • Jul 1, 2019 at 8:00 AM

2 dams in north-central Michigan game area set for upgrades

BACKUS TOWNSHIP — A north-central Michigan game area is getting ready for upgrades aimed at improving wetland management.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says preparation work starts this summer for fall construction in Roscommon County's Backus Creek State Game Area . Officials say one dam will get a larger water control structure and anther will undergo structural improvements.

Wildlife biologist Keith Fisher says the upgrades should boost the ability to control water levels in areas that provide wetland wildlife habitat. The efforts also support recreational opportunities, such as hunting and canoeing.

The game area will stay open during construction, but visitors should expect lower water levels and reduced access in certain areas. The construction is expected to be done by spring, though water levels will remain lower until fall 2020.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder named Harvard fellow

LANSING — Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is headed to Harvard University to teach, study and write on subjects related to state and local government.

Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government announced that Snyder begins work Monday as a senior research fellow. His fellowship is with the school's Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

Center Director Jeffrey Liebman says in a statement the former Republican governor, who served two terms starting in 2011, brings "expertise in management, public policy and promoting civility." Snyder says he looks forward to sharing his experiences.

Snyder has previously said he's most proud of keeping young people in Michigan and Detroit's turnaround, which began with a bankruptcy filing he authorized. He's also acknowledged failure at all levels of government for the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis.

EPA to test new cleanup method for former chemical plant

ST. LOUIS — The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to test a new method to remove soil contaminants in flood plains downstream from a former chemical plant in central Michigan.

If effective, the process could save millions of dollars in ongoing cleanup efforts at the Velsicol Chemical plant site in St. Louis, Michigan, which has become one of the country's costliest Superfund sites.

The agency has directed $30,000 in grant money to study the possible use of activated charcoal as a way to remove concentrations of the chemical DDT in flood plain soil, the Morning Sun reported .

DDT and other volatile organic chemicals, such as polybrominated biphenyls, were left behind at the site when the plant closed roughly 40 years ago. DDT seeped into the soil and was also found to have leaked into the nearby Pine River, costing more than $100 million to clean up.

The first phase of the site cleanup was completed last fall, and the second phase is underway. Workers will be inserting metal rods into the ground to remove chemicals from the soil. The rods bring the chemicals to boiling, and then they're siphoned off and destroyed.

The pilot study will spread activated charcoal over soil contaminated with DDT to test whether the chemical binds to carbon. The chemical would then remain in the soil but it would no longer be bioavailable to be taken up by organisms.

The land currently lacks soil creatures and insects, while robins that have chosen to nest in the area show uncharacteristic behaviors, according to Jane Keon, secretary of the Pine River Superfund Citizens Task Force. The group is an EPA-sanctioned community group that's been overseeing cleanup of the Superfund site.

EPA officials said the agency may present findings this summer, but that the entire process should take a year.

Plans move forward on $4.9M work at Great Lakes Museum

DETROIT — Plans are moving forward on $4.9 million in improvements at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Detroit's Belle Isle.

The Detroit Historical Society is holding a groundbreaking Monday on the first $1.5 million part of the four-phase outdoor enhancement project.

The first phase is to be completed by November. Outdoor maritime artifact displays will be upgraded and the anchor from the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975 and was immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot's song, will be highlighted in a Lost Mariners Memorial.

Other phases are expected to be completed by 2021, including a riverfront trail and a landscape that would approximate the natural setting of Belle Isle before it became a park. The Historical Society has raised $1.9 million and seeks support for the rest of the project.

Port of Ludington Maritime Museum has chronic flooding

The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum has chronic flooding, and the City of Ludington and the Mason County Historical Society have been waiting for federal permission to fix the problem for about a year, said Ludington City Manager Mitch Foster.

The problem stems from the museum building’s drainage system being connected to the city’s storm sewer system, Foster said. Both of the systems empty their water out the same outfall pipe, which passes through the seawall near the museum and drains into the lake channel. The outfall pipe has been overwhelmed by rain and high water this season, which causes water to backup into the museum, Foster said.

“The issue is that outfall pipe is too small, and so it’s not able to drain as well as it would if it was a much larger (pipe),” Foster said, adding, “And when it backs up, it backs up hard.”

Water bubbles up through the floor drains in the museum’s boiler room and is also seeping into the electrical room and the lighthouse exhibit room, which leads to the elevator.

There are four sump pumps and several dehumidifiers constantly running to remove water from the rooms.

“When it rains, the pumps can’t keep up,” said Rebecca Berringer, Mason County Historical Society executive director

Because of the slope of the land, storm water also runs downhill from the surrounding area toward the building. Water runs down the driveway and underneath the doors at the entrance. If too much water accumulates on the outside of the building’s southern side, the museum’s theater room will flood, as it did during a storm in August 2018.

In the aftermath of that storm, the museum shut down for a week, Berringer said, which was an estimated revenue loss of $25,000.

Flooding issues have continued since then because of the frequent rains, and possibly also the high lake level, she said.

The museum has closed for four days in June so far, including once this week due to having 4 feet of water in the elevator shaft. Each day the museum is closed is an estimated loss of $1,500 to $2,500 in revenue, Berringer said.

“We have 80 to 100 people per day, so when you have to close, that adds up quick,” she said.

The museum has had flooding issues since even before it opened for its first season in 2017, Berringer said. Back then, puddles appeared in the boiler room and only when it rained, and none of the museum or city staff members knew exactly why the flooding was happening.

In 2018, the city had the engineering firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber to take a look at the flooding issue.

Foster said city workers have attempted some solutions, which were unsuccessful.

“(City workers) have gone over there to use a big pump to try to pump water out of the storm system to allow (the museum’s drains) internally to catch up. We pumped for a half hour, got (the water) down by about 4 inches, and then 20 minutes after we stopped it, (the water) all went right back up.”

In order to create a long-term solution, a project has been proposed. It would include replacing the current outfall pipe with a larger pipe, expanding the dune grass in front of the museum’s entrance as a natural water retention area and separating the museum’s drainage system from the city’s storm sewer, according to Foster.

“So if the (city’s) storm water system has issues, it doesn’t impact the museum,” Foster said. “Right now, because they’re all connected into one system, as the lake level has risen, it’s pushing back on everything, in addition to the ground already being so saturated.”

The museum is located in the former U.S. Coast Guard station, which was built in 1934 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Coast Guard decommissioned the station after it built its current station in 2004, and it gave ownership of the former station to the City of Ludington. The Mason County Historical Society leases the building from the city and operates the museum.

As part of the city’s agreement with the historical society, the city is responsible for all of the large-scale maintenance on the building, which means the city would pay for the proposed project, Foster said.

The city already has $100,000 budgeted for the project. It’s mainly just waiting for permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard for permission to do the construction, Foster said, adding that the application process has taken approximately a year so far.

“(In July 2018), the city applied for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to do the work needed to upgrade that outfall pipe,” he said.

The permits are needed because the Army Corps of Engineers controls the seawall the outfall pipe goes through and the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the property south of the museum where the city would need an easement for the pipeline to go, Foster said. He said the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has already given its permission for the proposed project, but the two federal agencies have been slower to authorize the work.

“We’re in a waiting period,” Foster said. “We were told recently that they may not give us our permit until July of 2020, which would be devastating. The museum is having to close on a regular basis because of water issues. They’ve got multiple millions of dollars of investment in that facility and the priceless artifacts from the old shipping and maritime industry. If we continue to have these water issues and they aren’t addressed, they could lose a lot of it.

“It’s so frustrating ... because we have no control over it,” Foster said. “And it’s not like this is a natural issue — it’s the bureaucracy not giving us a permit that, to me, would seem very basic. We’re not asking to build a Taj Mahal on Coast Guard property. We’re asking to put a (bigger) hole in the seawall to allow us to pump water out to keep a multi-million dollar museum going. Tell me how that’s a bad thing.”

Foster said the city has been asking the Gov. Whitmer’s office and all of the local congressional and state senators and representatives for help — “anybody we can to try to push the Army Corps and the Coast Guard to move this along.”

Foster said he was told the Army Corps is processing many other real estate agreement applications from around the country and Ludington has to wait its turn.

“We’ve been in line for a year, waiting,” he said.

CLOSED DAYS

All of the artifacts in the lighthouse exhibit room are currently safe, as are the servers and internet connections in the electrical room because they’re higher than the puddles, Berringer said.

Members of the museum staff work in shifts using wet vacuums to suck up the puddles in order to keep the exhibit room and path to the elevator usable, Berringer said. The room is the main access to the elevator for people to get to the second and third floors. When the elevator shaft fills with water or the puddles are too deep in the exhibit room, the museum has to close, she said.

“They’re working very hard,” she said. “We have a limited number of staff, so that means when they’re doing this they can’t focus on other aspects of the job right now because they’re doing water management.”

Despite the standing water in those lower-level rooms, the museum is still usable and — hopefully — open seven days a week, Berringer said

“We want people to come and visit, and know that we’re doing the best we can to keep that impact as minimal as possible. For the most part, other than one exhibit area, the rest of the museum is open for people to enjoy,” she said. “We want to be open as much as possible.”

Berringer said when the museum is closed, notices will be posted on its website and Facebook page.

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