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Large clay-filled plume found in East Grand Traverse Bay raises environmental concerns

Oct 16, 2014

East Grand Traverse Bay
Credit User: Bryan Casteel / Flickr

One of Michigan's greatest natural treasures and most popular tourist destinations is Grand Traverse Bay.

So the appearance of a large plume of what looked like chocolate milk in East Grand Traverse Bay last month set off alarm bells.

It didn't take long to realize the murky plume in the East Bay came from clay-filled silt, which was seeping into the East Bay from a major construction site in Acme Township.

Now the state Department of Environmental Quality says the runoff from the Grand Traverse Town Center site violates various state and federal permits.

And those who love Grand Traverse Bay are deeply concerned.

"We had numerous calls from concerned citizens," says John Nelson, Grand Traverse Baykeeper. 

Nelson says after the site contractors acquired a special-use permit to uncover the 150-plus acres of clay-laden land, the site was left exposed without vegetation for week. Later, the clay soil was running off when a big rainstorm came. 

The issue, Nelson explains, is the land was uncovered all at once, rather than a little at a time. 

Nelson says the contractor is rectifying this mistake by covering the clay with top soil and sediment control mats. 

Nelson says the stream is running much clearer now than it did when the rainstorm came, but it's hard to tell what the effect of the runoff would be.

"The biggest worry is that it brings more nutrients into the East Bay," says Nelson. "Those nutrients create more algae growth on the bottom of the bay. And then we're concerned that the silt will cover up the habitat for the river bugs that are food for the fish." 

Nelson hopes this incident will be a learning experience and that counties, townships, and the state will enforce better control and oversight of  land-use permits. 

* Listen to John Nelson explain the concerns in East Grand Traverse Bay above.