Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Correspondence with MDEQ about Construction Silt Runoff

First in a Series

In late October, I wrote the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) as follows:

Last spring, I did a survey of construction sites to determine whether silt fence had been deployed at urban (mostly residential) construction sites and whether there were signs of silt runoff to city drains.

Of the municipalities surveyed, the two MEAs [municipal enforcement agencies], Birmingham and Troy, had generally good compliance with strict local silt fence requirements.  The remaining municipalities, all CEAs [county enforcement agency], had virtually no silt fence at construction sites, and most sites showed evidence of heavy silt runoff to nearby sewers.

As to the latter, the explanation I was given was that the sewers led to a wastewater treatment plant where the silt was removed, so there was no harm done to natural water bodies.

That idea is patently false.

First of all, a deluge sufficient bring silt off of construction sites clogs the sewers with sediment, requiring later removal by vacuum pumpers.  Second, the sediment that does get through to the treatment plant adds a costly burden to the plant in removing it.  Third, the volume of water in such a deluge will, more often than not, cause sewer overflows, taking sediment directly into lakes and streams.

In those circumstances, sewers are merely underground extensions of natural bodies of water.

One of your department's webpages quotes the pertinent statute:

Part 91, Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) (Part 91) provides for the control of soil erosion and protects adjacent properties and the waters of the state from sedimentation.

A permit is generally required for any earth change activity which disturbs one or more acres of land or which is within 500 feet of a lake or stream.

My question to you is, does MDEQ acknowledge that, given the legislative intent, overflowing sewers are indistinguishable from lakes and streams (i.e., are one and the same), thus requiring a permit and abatement of silt runoff [at construction sites]?

Tomorrow: MDEQ’s response.

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