Bills would give environmental regulators the authority to compel cleanup of harmful sediment by the responsible parties

LANSING, Mich. (Dec. 21, 2021) — On the heels of a dam operator polluting the Kalamazoo River and failing to follow through with cleanup efforts for more than two years now, Sen. Sean McCann (D–Kalamazoo) and Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) today introduced bills to strengthen the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) authority to protect Michigan’s water and natural resources from damage by dam operators.

STS Hydropower are the operators of the Morrow Dam, located on the banks of the Kalamazoo River in Comstock Township. In October 2019, STS Hydropower lowered water levels around the dam in order to make repairs deemed necessary by federal regulators. As they did so, 400,000 cubic yards of sediment was released downstream into the river, where it remains and is causing ongoing damage to the river’s ecosystem of fish, wildlife, and vegetation.

“Most of us learn in kindergarten that if we make a mess, we are supposed to clean it up,” Sen. McCann said. “It is very clear to everyone involved that STS Hydropower is responsible for making this mess, but they have refused to clean it up. I don’t believe we’ve had a situation exactly like this one before in Michigan. Our laws need to be updated to give EGLE the tools to protect the Kalamazoo River and its ecosystem.”

Senate Bill 813 and House Bill 5661 would amend the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to give EGLE the authority to issue written emergency orders when inland lakes and streams are threatened with harm to “public health, safety, welfare, property, or the natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources.” These bills would allow for state environmental regulators to order responsible parties to conduct the immediate cleanup of sediment in the Kalamazoo River and similar situations, without the need for long periods of negotiation.

“The Kalamazoo River has been facing an ongoing, man-made ecological emergency for two years now, and Eagle Creek Renewable Energy and its subsidiary, STS Hydropower, should not be able to choose when or if they need to take responsibility for the mess they created,” Rep. Rogers said. “It is beyond unacceptable, and Sen. McCann and I will not sit idly by. The legislation that we are announcing today will give the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy the additional tools they need to require that responsible parties take corrective actions if they pollute our waterways.”

For months, state environmental regulators from EGLE have attempted to reach a settlement agreement with STS Hydropower on the essential cleanup activities, but they lack the necessary statutory power to require activities such as dredging to remove sediment without the company’s active agreement to participate.

On April 7, 2021, Sen. McCann and Rep. Rogers sent a joint letter to STS Hydropower that read in part:

“There are hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sediment deposited in the river that do not belong there. Any effort that stops at removing only 3,000 cubic yards of the most easily accessible material is inadequate and will not be accepted by our community. We and the constituents we represent want to know your plan for immediate, expanded dredging activities and additional measures to mitigate downstream spread.”

The company has completed no additional dredging activities and, since that letter, Eagle Creek informed EGLE that ‘they would not be moving forward with any additional work at this time.’”