Waterfront Environmental Committee highlights progress at annual meeting

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 30, 2018

 Candice Miller

Candice Miller

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The St. Clair Shores Waterfront Environmental Committee highlighted the progress it’s made over the past year, as did Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, at the committee’s annual meeting earlier this month.

“Since 1995, we’ve gathered a total 734 tons of trash,” said Jill Wrubel, who helped begin the Nautical Coast Cleanup. She said there have been 6,500 volunteers over the past two decades. This year’s cleanup is scheduled for May 20, with registration beginning at Jefferson Yacht Club.

“Let’s keep Lake St. Clair healthy,” said Committee Chair Mark Balon. “You can do your part.”

The committee ended 2017 with a balance of $14,220.88, said Treasurer Erin Stahl. 

“This will definitely help us with a lot of different projects that are in the hopper for this year,” she said, including another lake marker at Blossom Heath Pier and a coloring activity book to interest children in the health of the lake. 

The 2017 Nautical Coast Cleanup cost $10,939, paid for with donations and sponsorships. 

“It does take a village to put on this event,” Stahl said.

Miller told committee members that she was born and raised in St. Clair Shores and, because of her family’s marina business, she spent a lot of time on the lake. She said she still remembers navigating a boat around the “dumping grounds” in the lake and is happy to see how far it has come since then.

“It’s amazing how clean Mother Nature can get in a hurry if we just let her breathe,” Miller said. “There has been a huge amount of progress.”

Likewise, she said there has been progress taking care of the county’s drain and sewer system since she took office in 2017, most famously the repair of the 15 Mile Road interceptor, which collapsed on Christmas Eve 2016. 

That led to the discharge of 12.7 million gallons of raw sewage into the Clinton River on Dec. 27, 2016, she said.

“That was an environmental disaster that that happened,” she said. “Since Jan. 1 (2017), we never discharged one drop of raw sewage after that.”

Miller also discussed the inspections of three drains that lead from Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores and Roseville into Lake St. Clair. 

“Back in the ’60s, there were a number of very large storm drains that were put in. They have never been inspected since they were put in,” she said.

The county discovered an illegal sewer hookup into the Stephens storm drain in Eastpointe, which has since been repaired. The inspections of the Martin Road (or 11 1/2 Mile) Drain and the Hetchler Drain have found a “few things, (but) nothing of the nature of what we found in that one apartment building,” she explained.

Miller said that there will never be a “silver bullet” for the health of the lake, but that in developing a comprehensive plan to inspect the county’s drains, they can do their part to keep the lake healthy.

The Chapaton Retention Basin in St. Clair Shores is also imperative to the health of the lake, she said. Built in 1968, it holds 28 million gallons of stormwater in the basin under its parking lot, and another 2 million gallons can be held in the outfall before discharge into Lake St. Clair. Miller said that 98 percent of the water retained is stormwater, and about 2 percent is sewer water during a large rain event. 

“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “Our goal would be that we eliminate CSOs (combined sewer overflows).”

She said she would like to open the facility up to the public for educational tours.

“Last year, we actually had a big cleanout. We are able to accommodate a lot more, retain a lot more before we spill,” she said. 

A plan is needed to fully separate stormdrains from sewage drains, she said. St. Clair Shores and Roseville have separated about 75 percent, but Eastpointe has only separated about 20 percent of its sewers. Miller said the process is “incredibly expensive,” but necessary.

“Your mayor and your City Council is totally committed to the environment,” she said. “We have to make a plan.”