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Legislation in answer to Morrow Dam sediment spill gets hearing in State Senate committee Wednesday

LANSING, MI (WKZO AM/FM) – Legislation introduced by two Kalamazoo lawmakers that would give the state more authority to go after dam operators that cause environmental damage gets a hearing in Lansing Wednesday morning. The Michigan Senate Natural Resources Committee will take testimony on Senate Bill 813, which was introduced in December by Senator Sean McCann, two years after a massive amount of sediment was released into the Kalamazoo River by operators of the Morrow Dam. Among those set to testify are Cheryl Vosburg, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council and Ryan Baker, President of the Kalamazoo River Alliance, in addition to McCann. The committee meeting will take place in Room 1300 of the Binsfeld Office Building in Lansing, but anyone can watch the livestream of the meeting on SenateTV. The hearing begins at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. McCann and State Representative Julie Rogers say they introduced their legislation bills to strengthen the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) authority to protect Michigan’s water and natural resources from damage by dam operators. STS Hydropower are the operators of the Morrow Dam, located on the banks of the Kalamazoo River in Comstock Township. In October 2019, STS Hydropower lowered water levels around the dam in order to make repairs deemed necessary by federal regulators. As they did so, 400,000 cubic yards of sediment was released downstream into the river, where it remains and is causing ongoing damage to the river’s ecosystem of fish, wildlife, and vegetation. Senate Bill 813 and House Bill 5661 would amend the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to give EGLE the authority to issue written emergency orders when inland lakes and streams are threatened with harm to “public health, safety, welfare, property, or the natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources.” The bills would allow for state environmental regulators to order responsible parties to conduct the immediate cleanup of sediment in the Kalamazoo River and similar situations, without the need for long periods of negotiation. “The Kalamazoo River has been facing an ongoing, man-made ecological emergency for two years now, and Eagle Creek Renewable Energy and its subsidiary, STS Hydropower, should not be able to choose when or if they need to take responsibility for the mess they created,” Rep. Rogers said. “It is beyond unacceptable, and Sen. McCann and I will not sit idly by. The legislation that we are announcing today will give the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy the additional tools they need to require that responsible parties take corrective actions if they pollute our waterways.” McCann says for months, state environmental regulators from EGLE have attempted to reach a settlement agreement with STS Hydropower on the essential cleanup activities, but they lack the necessary statutory power to require activities such as dredging to remove sediment without the company’s active agreement to participate.

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