Should Developments Discharge Into Boardman?

Posted in: United States Water News, Water Contamination
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Photo Credit: The Ticker

Article courtesy of The Ticker | June 8, 2015 | The Ticker | Shared as educational material

Two downtown Traverse City developments could pump millions of gallons of treated water directly into the Boardman River – a first for area brownfield sites, officials say.

Federated Properties is planning to break ground this fall on a five-story, mixed-used development at 124 West Front Street. At a recent Grand Traverse County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) meeting, the company sought approval for an environmental work plan detailing $1.7 million in reimbursable clean-up activities. Included among the expenses was $346,735 for dewatering, or the treatment and disposal of roughly 15 million gallons of contaminated water over a 100-day period.

Rather than using the city’s wastewater treatment plant to treat and dispose of the water – as has historically been done at brownfield sites, including the nearby Hotel Indigo and TBA Credit Union – Federated will conduct a “due care” investigation this summer to determine whether treating the water on-site and directly discharging it into the Boardman River would work instead.

“It relates to the nature of the contamination on the site,” explains Mac McClelland of Otwell Mawby PC, an engineering consulting firm assisting on the project. “We got the suggestion from the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) that because the materials in the groundwater are more organic, it’s a more straightforward process…we could treat the water right there on-site.”

Direct discharge would likely save developers time and money; the penny-per-gallon price to go through the Wastewater Treatment Plant could cost Federated $150,000. McClelland also told BRA board members all discharged water would be treated and tested before it entered the Boardman according to “rigorous” DEQ standards, a process he said would be “continually monitored.”

But board members – who requested a clause be added to Federated’s development agreement requiring that the final dewatering plan come back to them for review – expressed concern about the potential for a contamination breakthrough and stressed the need for public input on the process.

“I think this direct discharge into the river, if it’s all right and everything tests good, I think it’s fine,” said BRA Chair Mark Eckhoff. “But I think it’s problematic from the public standpoint to see a hose coming out of (a building) and squirting water (into the river). They’re going to think they went back to 1938. I think as a board we really need to be on top of it.”

Board member Scott Joseph said he wanted to ensure there was 24-hour monitoring of the treatment system in the event of a failure in the middle of the night. He asked attorney Scott Howard if there was a “quick shut-off method” in case discharged water tested above acceptable contamination levels.

“That’s a little TBD depending on what’s coming out of the pipe,” Howard responded. “If (the DEQ) is convinced it’s clean water coming out of the pipe, it’s not going to be as rigorous of testing. If there are concerns about what might be coming out…they will be more rigorous about that.”

The topic of direct discharge will come up again at the BRA’s next meeting on June 24, when Grand Traverse County Deputy Director of Planning and Development Jean Derenzy says developers behind the planned new Grandview Market will present their environmental work plan. The DEQ has spoken to the developers about using direct discharge as part of the dewatering process for that property as well, she says.

A direct discharge permit for either site would require a public hearing, something Executive Director Christine Crissman of The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay says her organization plans to participate in. “This is the first we’re hearing of it…so we’ll definitely be looking closely at those two sites and making suggestions for protecting the water quality,” she says. Crissman notes that water treated at the wastewater treatment plant also makes its way into the watershed, so there’s “really no difference” if equitable treatment methods are used on a construction site – but ensuring those standards are indeed comparable is crucial.

“Brownfield sites are tricky…and we haven’t heard of this method being used here before for them,” Crissman says. “What would concern the Watershed Center is the method of treatment. We’d want to see that it’s at the same level as the treatment plant…and that they know exactly what’s on the site and can treat it to DEQ standards.”

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