‘This is truly a last resort’
Not fighting the state on this could cost Plainfield Township as much as $8 million, advised attorney Douglas Van Essen of Silver & Van Essen Litigation and Counseling.
The Plainfield Township Board voted unanimously to enter into a lawsuit with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) during its Monday, August 3 meeting. According to Van Essen, the state has changed its mind on whether a lagoon in the township is a state body of water.
He said that on June 30 the head of the DEQ’s water management division told the township the lake had been reclassified as a state body of water, in part because of its size, in part because of the thriving fish and wildlife population it hosts.
Under the new designation, the township will no longer be able to discharge lime slurry used in treating water into the lake.
The reclassification could include removal of the sediment so far deposited, and require the creation of a new lagoon. This would land lock the township’s water plant and limit the ability to provide water to residents in the future. It could cost the township millions, Van Essen said.
Van Essen stressed that the lime is not a pollutant, and is not dangerous. It is the same product used in treating the water that township residents drink.
The township has been using the lagoon since 1988 for discharge. At that time, Van Essen said, the DEQ said the lake was not a state body of water and could be used for such a purpose. He stated that the law has not changed, only the opinion of the DEQ officials.
Coit Gravel Company owns the lagoon, located behind Family Fare on Northland Drive. Finished with mining from the location, the gravel company agreed to sell the lagoon to the township for $880,000. The sale would be financed by the gravel company for ten years and would allow the continued deposit of slurry.
“This will have to be settled in the courts,” Van Essen said. Building another lagoon is possible. The Plainfield Township water treatment property on Plainfield Avenue has room for a smaller lagoon. However, that land was taken through eminent domain because the township projects it will need to someday place wells there when water demands increase. It would also land-lock the plant, prohibiting planned future growth of the facility.
“We will ask the courts to find that the 1988 ruling was correct,” Van Essen told the board. “Laws have not changed.” Van Essen also projected that the DEQ could require the sediments already deposited be removed. “The cost to the township could literally be in the millions,” he warned.
Clerk Scott Harvey told residents attending the meeting that the board has been considering options in this case since December. He said their options are to spend a million to buy the lagoon. In the worst case scenario, it would be a seven or eight million dollar fix for the removal of slurry.
Trustee Jack Hagedorn asked if the state usually changes its mind on matters such as this. Van Essen said the state periodically changes laws, usually in regard to public health and safety. In this case, neither is at issue.
Supervisor George Meek said he felt the township had been wronged by the state. Twenty years ago they were told the lagoon could be used this way, and the township has moved forward based on that assurance. To come back years later with a different evaluation is a hardship on the township.
“This will not be a cheap endeavor,” Meek stated.