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Leaders sober, hopeful after touring polluted sites in White Lake, Michigan
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Muskegon Chronicle, By Susan K. Treutler

There were many grim faces Friday as White Lake area leaders showed the state's Department of Environmental Quality director the legacy of pollution left by once-flourishing chemical companies.

The meeting was arranged to give Steven Chester -- a West Michigan native -- a firsthand look at the many cleanup efforts in this one small area of the state.

Community leaders, politicians and state bureaucrats got tours and updates at:

* Whitehall's Tannery Bay, contaminated by Whitehall Leather Co. and its parent company, Genesco Inc. of Tennessee, with hides, chemicals and other contaminants.

* The former Hooker Chemical Co. site in Montague Township, now owned by Occidental Chemical Co., where it could take 400 years before the groundwater is cleared of contaminants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

* The E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Amp; Co. land in Montague Township, which polluted groundwater and the lake while making chemicals subsequently banned by the government.

* The Union Carbide Co. property in Montague Township, formerly Linde Air, which polluted the site while making air-conditioning chemicals.

* The 5-A Oil property in Whitehall, just up from the Genesco site, a bulk fuel site. The city is about to get the deed on the property, and will then grant an easement to the DEQ to clean it up so it can be redeveloped.

They all got to see the effects of the severe groundwater, lake and soil contamination on stretches of vacant land where big plants once stood.

At the same time, it gave leaders a measure of hope to see the work occurring at the sites and meet the environmental specialists who are conducting it.

Chester, who oversees a $400 million annual budget, said the tour and presentations gave him a "new perspective" of the pollution that continues to plague the communities and keep White Lake on a federal Environmental Protection Agency list of "Areas of Concern." That list carries with it warnings to fishermen, swimmers, hunters and others.

It is the goal of White Lake officials to get the lake "de-listed." But that could take several years.

Environmentalists thanked Chester and the rest of the DEQ staff for what they already have done at the sites, and urged him to continue to make White Lake and its surrounding land a priority.

They also asked him to give Union Carbide a "kick-start" on cleanup of the freon-contaminated site on Wilkes Road.

Taking the tour were officials of White River Township, the cities of Whitehall and Montague, Muskegon County, the Lake Michigan Federation, the White Lake Sportfishing Association and others. They traveled around the area, ironically, in a donated bus emblazoned with Happy Mohawk Canoe Livery logo on its side -- looking all-the-while like a group out for a day of recreation.

Absent from the tour were officials of Montague Township, where many of the polluted sites are.

 

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