Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

March 10, 2013

Editorial: Cleanup of black muck should be immediate

Given the problems the Boardman River dam removal effort has had, one would expect those running the project to be sensitive to new issues or questions — from a public relations perspective if nothing else.

That’s one reason the low-key, “there’s nothing to see here” response to the discovery of a tar-like black muck on the river bottom that has tested positive for unsafe levels of arsenic is so puzzling — and so unsatisfactory.

Sally Downer, who has spent her entire life along the shores of the Boardman and lives with her husband Dave on property that has been in her family since the 1940s, was out kayaking with a friend when they found large deposits of black muck on the river bottom. Dave Downer, who said the stuff resembles tar, collected a sample of the dark, viscous stuff in January and sent it to Traverse City-based SOS Analytical’s lab for testing.

The Downers had noticed changes in the river, including the appearance of dense silt, after an Oct. 6 flood caused by construction crews working to empty an upstream pond as part of a massive, multi-million dollar project to remove dams upstream from Boardman Lake and return the river to a more natural state.

A retaining wall that was part of a so-called “dewatering” system gave way, sending millions of gallons of water gushing downstream and tons of silt along with it. The water had been scheduled to be released gradually and most of the silt was expected to be dredged up and hauled away.

The flood did away with those plans.

Sally Downer said the river’s appearance changed. “This is a river where you could always see the bottom,” she said. “It turned black. It smelled.”

The silt has cleared up some, but Sally and her friend discovered the tar-like muck in mid-December. Test results showed levels of arsenic in the muck that exceed Michigan Department of Environmental Quality cleanup criteria, Dave Downer said, findings that he and his wife find troubling.

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