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Owner of Sunken Lake Michigan Barge Bound Over for Trial to Face Criminal Charges for Environmental Offenses

LANSING – Today, the owner of the twice-sunk barge, Donald Lewis Balcom, 88, of Traverse City, was bound over to face trial on seven charges, including trespassing and felony water pollution, announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. The charges against Balcom were announced in June after years of efforts by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to work with Balcom toward a resolution of the issue of the sunken industrial barge and alleged contamination to Grand Traverse Bay on the northeastern coast of Lake Michigan. 

Balcom owns Balcom Marine Contractors, and is alleged to have first illegally sunk the barge in 2020 on Lake Michigan bottomlands near Greilickville. The barge became partially submerged and released oil into the waters of Lake Michigan. In May of 2021, after being ordered by EGLE and the U.S. Coast Guard to move the barge, Mr. Balcom had it towed to a new location in Grand Traverse Bay just off the shore in Northport, where it illegally sunk for a second time. The barge sunk on Lake Michigan bottomlands close to shore, approximately 20 feet from the end of a residential dock. The barge remained there for over two years until Balcom arranged for the barge to be hauled ashore nearby only after criminal charges were issued by the Attorney General. The barge remains there today, still in violation of state law.  

“I relaunched the environmental crimes unit to fully harness our criminal prosecuting authority in defense of the State’s natural resources,” said Nessel. “My Department is committed to protecting the Great Lakes whenever they come under threat, and this relaunched Unit serves that promise. The alleged pollution and trespass, or treating the Grand Traverse Bay as a dumping ground for abandoned vessels, are criminal offenses against the Great Lakes which are central to both our way of life in Michigan and the livelihoods of many of our residents." 

The charges against Balcom are brought by the Attorney General’s environmental crimes unit and include a felony for the release of hazardous substances (oil) to waters of the State, as well as misdemeanors for trespass, marine safety violations, and placement of fill material (the barge) on Great Lakes submerged lands without a permit.   

Balcom will next appear for a pretrial conference before the Leelanau County Circuit Court on December 27th.


Please note: For all criminal proceedings, a criminal charge is merely an allegation. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The Department does not provide booking photos.



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