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 Here is a view of the current retention structure in the canal behind the Chapaton Pump Station on Nine Mile Road.

Here is a view of the current retention structure in the canal behind the Chapaton Pump Station on Nine Mile Road.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Changes at Chapaton face challenge by EGLE

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 5, 2020

 Pictured is the break wall at the end of the pier. Macomb County Public Works’ plan would turn the peninsula into a wetlands area with areas for fishing and larger retention for combined sewage overflows.

Pictured is the break wall at the end of the pier. Macomb County Public Works’ plan would turn the peninsula into a wetlands area with areas for fishing and larger retention for combined sewage overflows.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — A plan to allow for up to 17 million gallons of additional storage in the Chapaton Retention Basin is facing opposition from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

EGLE has announced its intention to deny a permit to the Macomb County Office of Public Works to use a 1,400-foot man-made canal — through which treated combined sewage overflows travel to Lake St. Clair from the 28-million-gallon underground storage basin at Chapaton — as storage space for overflows.

Calling the proposal an “open air sewage structure,” EGLE said that the plan would use 1,400 feet of protected state waters where Chapaton Canal enters Lake St. Clair and convert the area into an open-air sewage lagoon.

According to Scott Dean, the strategic communications advisor for the Office of Public Information at EGLE, the department is “very much in favor of reducing overflows, but with permanent, long-term solutions.”

Dean explained that EGLE believes that the best opportunities for permanent solutions are upstream of the Chapaton facility. EGLE doesn’t want to construct additional storage space for treated wastewater “at the expense of more than a quarter mile of protected state waters that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and recreational amenities for the public.”

The plan doesn’t solve the root cause of the problem, he said.

“Addressing the loss of coastal wetlands, failed septic systems and illicit connections to urban stormwater systems in the area are permanent, longer-term solutions.”

EGLE also “has concerns with an open treated sewage lagoon with nearby residences roughly 100 feet away,” he added.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller countered that the canal is a man-made structure that was constructed 18 years ago for the same purpose.

“There’s a spit of land that’s behind Chapaton that we want to make ... into a wetlands area,” Miller said. “The sewage (water), it already will have been treated. We would hold it in there after a heavy rain event, rather than discharging into the lake.”

Combined sewer overflows already pass through the canal with minimal to no odor, Miller said. The proposed plans would use the “existing, permitted canal as additional retention space for combined sewers briefly during heavy rain.”

Macomb County Public Works Engineer Vincent Astorino said that the concept is the same for the new project as the existing canal, which was constructed in 2002. Currently, he said, the treated CSO that travels through the canal into the lake when it has to be discharged is 95%-98% stormwater, so calling the project a “sewage lagoon” is a misrepresentation, he said.

The plan includes the addition of fishing piers, wetland boardwalks and a nonfunctioning lighthouse.

“We thought we were going to increase the aesthetics and the values of people’s homes around there,” he told the St. Clair Shores City Council June 1.

Mayor Kip Walby agreed.

“We haven’t received complaints (about the existing canal) and it’s been in existence since 2002,” he said. “It’s about the water and improving the entire system.”

Miller said that she believes that discharging combined sewer overflows into the lake “is bad,” but that EGLE believes CSOs “don’t really negatively impact water quality into the lake.”

“We have a fundamental disagreement here.”

Representatives from EGLE have told Miller that they don’t understand why the county is trying to expand the CSO storage when discharging the treated CSO into the lake is permitted by the state.

EGLE’s Water Resources Division has determined that the existing Chapaton Retention Basin complies with state and federal permit requirements, and its wastewater meets water quality standards at the time of discharge.

Miller said the reason is simple: “Because we don’t want to continue to pollute the lake.”

The Water Resources Division stated that “green stormwater infrastructure upstream” of the basin could be a viable option to decrease stormwater discharge without taking public waters for an open lagoon.

Miller agreed that there needs to be more green infrastructure, but she said that the amount needed to offset that much stormwater is virtually impossible to construct in the area.

“In order for us to have more green infrastructure in Eastpointe and St. Clair Shores ... we would have to bulldoze entire neighborhoods and plant trees. It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’m about as green as you can get, but what they’re suggesting is not realistic, in my opinion.”

A virtual public meeting, followed by a public hearing, will be held by EGLE beginning at 6 p.m. June 18. The public meeting will be held 6-6:45 p.m., with the public hearing beginning at 7 p.m. Those wishing to attend the online meeting or hearing can go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/regis ter/4593396049407348748 to register. Pre-registration is not required, and attendees can simply go to the website at 6 p.m. June 18 if they wish.

The public can also submit comments on the proposed denial by June 23 by going to miwaters.deq.state.mi.us, selecting “public notice search” and searching for permit number MI0025585, then clicking “view,” followed by “add comment.”

Kevin O’Brien, the president of the Harbor Place Condo Association, said that the association, which is located immediately north of the peninsula, is opposed to the plan.

“We would like to point out that the current situation is quite functional,” he said, as the City Council considered sending a resolution in support of the project to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer June 1. “It discharges water quality that is excellent and meets state standards.”

O’Brien said that the association objects to giving up waterfront and finds the “open air combined sewage overflow basin” unacceptable right next to the lake.

The City Council also received 25 emails, including 15 homeowner petitions, in opposition to the plan.

Speaking at the June 1 meeting, Miller called the “open air sewage lagoon” a “gross mischaracterization of what we’re doing and said that her office had met with residents of the Harbor Club to explain the plans in detail.

“We’ve been very transparent about this,” she said.

The project has the support of every municipality in Macomb County, as well as all the state representatives, senators and federal officials representing the area, Miller said. The St. Clair Shores City Council approved sending the resolution to the governor 6-0.

“It’s not like it’s just me over here. It’s a locally driven initiative because we, all of us in St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe and Macomb County, we have a huge commitment to keeping our water clean,” she said.

The plan to expand the retention capacity of the Chapaton basin had a second phase, Miller said, which they are now designing. It involves the installation of “some rubber bladders at a couple of strategic locations where we’ll be able to hold back the sanitary sewage flow ... then slowly release it down to Detroit, rather than discharging,” Miller said. It is estimated to reduce CSOs by 20%.

The changes to Chapaton that EGLE is proposing to deny would have reduced CSOs by about 70%.

“To tell you I’m disappointed is a gross understatement,” Miller said.

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