Old bicycle parts are collected and put into a pile March 27 in the Clinton River Spillway, off Harper Avenue near Wellington Crescent in Clinton Township.

Old bicycle parts are collected and put into a pile March 27 in the Clinton River Spillway, off Harper Avenue near Wellington Crescent in Clinton Township.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Volunteers clean up area along Clinton River Spillway

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published April 3, 2021

 Volunteers spent a couple of hours sifting through various debris near the river, including items belonging to homeless individuals in the vicinity.

Volunteers spent a couple of hours sifting through various debris near the river, including items belonging to homeless individuals in the vicinity.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Dana Dugger has been fighting the good fight for years.

A longtime resident near the Clinton River Spillway, Dugger has been at the forefront of preserving the habitat from economic development. Recently, after 15 months of encouraging local, county and state officials to clean up blight and debris, he had some help.

On the morning of March 27, he said about 30 volunteers showed up in the area of Harper Avenue and Wellington Crescent. The effort was organized by Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer and Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, with help from Value Center Marketplace — which donated trash bags, bottled water and bags of ice.

Dugger said the response from the community was “fantastic,” with volunteers cleaning up approximately 95% of the debris and filling about 150 commercial garbage bags. The county’s drain maintenance team cut down brush prior to volunteers arriving so garbage could properly be removed.

“It was quite a mix of people, and we got a lot done,” Dugger said.

He had gone back and forth with Michael Gregg, chairperson of the Clinton River Spillway Inter-County Drainage Board and water resources program manager of the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.

Gregg reportedly told Dugger that the spillway board would not likely clean the area, due to multiple factors that included a lack of resources, no jurisdiction and a concern for social issues related to homeless people and campsites.

In a March 23 email, Gregg said he and Dugger spoke that morning, and the township resident reiterated his concerns. Gregg was notified of the cooperation of Meltzer and Miller in organizing a cleanup effort.

“The drainage board was very supportive of this partnership and recognizes its responsibility to maintain our property,” Gregg said. “That said, the board is sensitive to the use of this area as a homeless encampment and, through Macomb County, will attempt to provide alternative accommodations and counseling in the hopes that we aren’t merely moving this situation elsewhere.”

Dugger said tents on the riverbank are one thing but called trash accumulation “unacceptable.”

“You’re thinking it’s more important to not disturb the pile of junk from vagrants than protect the youngsters from getting into this pile of junk? … When it starts to be an attractive nuisance and a hazardous debris site because of all the crap that’s brought in there and left, no,” Dugger said. “The concern about the vagrants and the homeless being held to a higher status of the general safety of the public, as well as the kids who traverse the path and may be attracted to one of these sites — the safety of the public has got to be first and foremost.”

Prior to the cleanup event, Miller said her office was happy to partner with Meltzer and volunteers “to clean up an area that’s clearly a homeless enclave.” Her office provided rakes, pitchforks, gloves and reflective vests for volunteer use.

“Many people think the homeless are invisible,” Miller said. “They live among us. It’s pitiful, and it’s sad.”

After the cleanup, Miller expressed a “special thanks” to Dugger, saying his “relentless citizen activism” led to the debris’ removal.

Meltzer also said it is an issue related to homelessness. She said during the cleanup that items like knives, needles and stolen bikes were part of items collected.

“This is no home,” she said. “We don’t want the homeless living on what is here (in the spillway), which is garbage.”

However, she said more can be done by the spillway board to examine the accumulation of debris and individuals taking up in the area — be it by addressing possible mental health concerns or by seeking federal dollars to subsidize a lack of funds at the local level.

“How do we create an environment for (the homeless) where they’re still safe and don’t harm anybody else?” Meltzer said. “But we’ve got to keep them safe. (The spillway board) has to get involved in that; it’s got to be a priority. They’re going to have to deal with it, and I don’t think they have.”

Dugger is optimistic about the spillway area, but battles are still being waged — such as when it comes to cutting weeds.

The more attention paid leads to better results, he said.

“I think we’ve got more people more interested,” Dugger said. “It’s all about making it better for all of us.”

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