EGLE denies permit request for open sewage storage lagoon in Macomb County

August 14, 2020
Hugh McDiarmid,  

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced that it has denied Macomb County’s application to modify a discharge permit to allow an open-air sewage structure at the end of the Chapaton Retention Treatment Basin. The structure would increase storage of treated combined sewage by using 1,400 feet of protected state waters where Chapaton Canal enters Lake St. Clair and convert the area into an open-air lagoon. The lagoon would temporarily store treated combined sewage overflows during heavy rain events.

“We have an obligation to Michiganders to make the most effective use of limited dollars to protect our waterways from sewage releases,” said Teresa Seidel, director of EGLE’s Water Resources Division. “This project, though well-intended, had marginal impact and would have used public waters of the state.”

Seidel noted that increasing Chapaton’s storage capacity treats the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the sewage release problem. More environmentally-friendly solutions like removing illicit sewer connections, addressing failing septic systems, and filtering stormwater tributaries to the Chapaton Retention Treatment Basin through upstream green infrastructure projects would address the issue more permanently and effectively – without restricting use of public waters of the state, Seidel said.

Permitting and technical staff from EGLE’s Water Resources Division previously determined that the county’s existing Chapaton Retention Treatment Basin complies with state and federal permit requirements and its wastewater meets water quality standards at the time of discharge.

EGLE also rejected the county’s claim that the proposed lagoon would serve as a wetland, given the residual chlorine present in the treated wastewater, water depth of the canal, limited contact time with plant life, and the fact that it is not connected to the lake. EGLE also had concerns about the potential public nuisance created by an open-air sewage lagoon so close to existing residences, boat launches and a marina. Many of those concerns were expressed by neighbors of the facility during a June 18, 2020 public hearing on EGLE’s proposed denial.

“We have already begun to work with Macomb County to find solutions to protect Lake St. Clair, by issuing the county’s urban stormwater permit and starting review of a storage project in combined sewers that will reduce treated discharge. We have a shared mission with the county to protect the state’s waters,” Seidel said.

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