Bills would give environmental officials tools to compel cleanup of harmful sediment by responsible parties 

LANSING, Mich. (June 22, 2023) — Yesterday, Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) and Rep. Julie M. Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) reintroduced legislation that would strengthen the authority of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to protect Michigan’s water and natural resources from damage by dam operators and other polluters. The bills are in response to environmental damage from a release of choking sediment from a Kalamazoo-area dam. 

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

In March 2022, Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit that is still pending against STS Hydropower following the mismanagement of dam repairs of the Kalamazoo River. Despite multiple attempts made by the State of Michigan and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to establish measures that would curtail drawdowns with environmental impacts, these demands have not been met. 

“One of the first lessons you learn in life is to clean up after yourself,” Sen. McCann said. “This situation is devastating for the Kalamazoo River and our community. Rep. Rogers and I have sent letters to STS Hydropower demanding action and our entire community has been pleading for them to clean up their mess. Our requests have been ignored or outright refused. It is crucial that our laws are updated to give EGLE mechanisms to protect our inland lakes and streams, and their ecosystems.” 

“It has been nearly four years since the Kalamazoo River faced a man-made ecological emergency, and little of it has been cleaned up. No company who causes harm to our rivers, lakes and streams should be able to walk away without taking responsibility for the mess they created,” Rep. Rogers said. “It is beyond unacceptable, and Sen. McCann and I are committed to giving 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.” 

Senate Bill 398 and House Bill 4832 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.” EGLE would also have the ability to order responsible parties to conduct immediate cleanup of sediment in the Kalamazoo River and similar situations, without the need for long periods of negotiation. 

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.” 

Last session, Sen. McCann and Rep. Rogers sought legislative recourse to STS Hydropower’s pollution in Kalamazoo and similar situations threatening our air, land and water around the state, but their efforts were stymied by the previous Legislature. They are continuing their fight this term and are confident that this issue will be finally resolved.