October 26, 2014
Part one in a series

Several agencies taking steps to resolve watershed problems in Arenac County

Tires have been present in many drains, E. Coli bacteria in Whitney

By Tim Barnum
News Editor | news@ogemawherald.com
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ARENAC COUNTY — Drains and rivers in Arenac County have seen their fair share of issues over the past year.

Arenac County Drain Commissioner Larry Davis said since last fall, between 500 and 600 tires have been collected in or near drains and rivers in the eastern half of the county.

Davis said the first incident, which was discovered in fall 2011, saw a large number of tires along an AuGres River easement. According to Davis, there appeared to be enough tires to fill a 10-yard dump truck. The pile of tires was at the end of a farm lane, Davis added.

According to Davis, somebody removed the tires, although he is unsure who moved them.

Another 60 tires were found dumped into the Whitney Drain late this winter, Davis said. They were dumped where the drain curves along Turner Road in Whitney Township, he said.

“We had to get them out of there before the ice broke and they went in the bay,” he said.

The tires were removed by Lynch’s Excavating and transported to a repair shop in AuGres, where they were stored so the Department of Environmental Quality could investigate them, Davis said.

However, Davis said the DEQ has not examined the tires, to his knowledge.

Tricia Confer, an environmental quality analyst with the DEQ in Bay City, said the DEQ investigates illegal tire dumps. But she added there is no environmental conservation officer in the Saginaw Bay DEQ district.

“I recommended that these be forwarded to the local authority,” she said.

Confer said around four years ago there were two environmental officers for the Saginaw Bay DEQ district. However, when the DEQ was combined with the Department of Natural Resources by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and then separated again by Gov. Rick Snyder, the law enforcement responsibility remained with the DNR. Confer said two environmental officers are being hired, but she is unaware which districts they will serve.

Confer added tires left in drains can hold stagnant water, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Davis said there can be bigger problems than mosquitoes, though. Tires in the Chief Drain in Turner Township, discovered March 22, blocked a culvert, which could back up water and cause flooding, Davis said.

There were 70 tires in the Chief Drain, according to Davis.

“That whole drain, for a half-mile, was covered by tires,” he said.

Removing the tires from the Chief Drain required the services of an excavator once again, Davis said. Some tires were submerged below two feet of water and could not be reached with a pole, like the ones dumped at the Whitney Drain. Fortunately for nearby residents, no flooding occurred, Davis said.

“I guess the good part of this is we’ve been able to remove them before we’ve had substantial rainfall,” he said.

March 15 there was also a tire issue, as about 60 tires were discovered in the Duck Lake Drain in AuGres Township.

Since no offenders have been apprehended, Davis said the drain commission and Arenac County taxpayers have been on the hook for removing the tires.

“I’ve got close to $3,000 just in the retrieval,” he said, adding the drain commission has not paid for disposal, which he said would cost $5 per tire.

It does look like the DEQ will provide funding for disposal, Confer said. The Arenac County Conser-vation District has applied for a tire pickup grant.

“They should get approved within the next week or so,” she said.

A grant last year only saw the DEQ collect approximately 250 tires, according to Confer.

The grant will provide up to $3,000, she added.

“It’s based on how many tires they get,” she said. “It’s $1.25 for regular vehicle tires.”

Sheriff Jim Mosciski told the Independent April 2 that Davis had contacted him within the past couple of weeks, and the Sheriff’s Department is investigating the tire issues.

“We’ve been getting some tips — some emails on suspects,” he said.

Mosciski added it will be more difficult to solve the cases than if his department was contacted after the first incident. Mosciski said it is the first time he is aware of that the Sheriff’s Department has had to deal with drain issues.

Officers patrolling areas where tire dumps have occurred have been advised to make more stops of suspicious vehicles, Mosciski said.

County Commissioner Mike Snyder said he thinks the tire issue will be resolved.

“I think we will eventually get close to whomever that was,” he said. “I think that there’s kind of a watch about that.”

Tires not the only issue

While Mike Snyder is confident the tire issue can be resolved, he said tackling another environmental concern with the drains —E. coli bacteria in the Whitney Drain — will be more difficult to tackle.

“It’s just a huge problem,” he said. “That’s the difficulty.”

Because the Whitney Drain runs through Iosco and Arenac counties, Mike Snyder said it is tough to pinpoint exactly where runoff causing the presence of E. coli is coming from.

“It is a monumental effort, literally, to deal with this,” he said.

Testing by the Central Michigan District Health Department has confirmed animal waste running into the drain causes the E. coli, but finding where animal waste is entering the drain is no easy task, according to Mike Snyder. Last year, one farmer was caught dumping septic into the drain, and closed off the pipes causing it, Snyder said.

But with several farms in the Whitney Drainage district, in multiple counties nonetheless, getting everyone to prevent animal refuse entering the drain will require the work of many people and agencies.

Several agencies are working on the issue, according to Mike Snyder. These include the Department of Natural Resources, the Prosecutor’s Office, the drain commission and the health department, among others. Residents near the Whitney Drain are also helping out with collecting test samples, Snyder said.

“They would go down and get samples as approved by the health department,” he said.

“The real frustration of all this, is the people along the lake, and people along the drain — they want a clear drain,” Snyder added.

Davis said the E. coli meeting is frustrating, but there is not much the drain commission and Whitney Intercounty Drainage Board can do about it.

“Our attitude is, get your E. coli out of our drain,” he said. “The E. coli is not a problem of the intercounty drainage board.”

Davis added the E. coli readings in the Whitney Drain so far this year have been lower than last year.

Mike Snyder said the health department has received a grant that will allow for continued E. coli testing in the drain.

But, he added, in the end, keeping animal waste out of the drain during periods of heavy rainfall is the way to keep E. coli out of the drain.

“It’s a runoff issue,” he said.

This is part one in a series of stories on the issues with Arenac County’s drains that have arisen over the past couple of years. This article was meant to inform readers as to what the issues are. Next week, Tim Barnum will be following up on this piece by talking to residents and elected officials in the affected areas to see the impact on their communities. He will also remain in contact with sources from this story, to receive updates from them. If there is a question you want Tim to ask, or to just keep up with the story, follow Tim on Twitter at OgemawTim.

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