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E-M:/ Public Notices and Comment Opportunities on Proposed Sewage Effluent Discharges

Re: Contested Case Action on Right to Receive Public Notices and Comment Opportunities on Proposed Michigan Sewage Effluent Discharges.
Lou Roehrig's contested case hearing before a DEQ Administrative Law Judge later this month is one of those unsung cases with important potential consequences.  The case is an outgrowth of the series of highly contentious sewage planning actions in the Duck Lake -Springport area that I have discussed at several Statewide environmental meetings.
These plans were developed by County engineering staff and approved by DEQ regulatory staff without notifying the public or providing comment opportunities, and the results reflected the lack of public input. The first situation led to a DEQ permit to discharge sewage effluent into one of the few trout streams in this part of the State without benefit of tertiary treatment or phosphorus limits.  Then County officials obtained approval to discharge effluent from another treatment facility into an unreliable seasonal drain instead of the logical year-around stream.   A third planning exercise nearly succeeded in imposing an unnecessary regional sewage line that would have created classic rural sprawl.
These closed planning processes seemed to violate several legal requirements to notify and involve the public before making decisions.  However, DEQ regulatory officials and their legal adviser maintain that these requirements do not apply when the agency acts through a notification document called a Certificate of Coverage instead of a permit.  Dr. Roehrig contends that they do apply because the Certificate is being used as a permit regardless of what staff choose to call it.  He also contends that the issuance of a Certificate/permit to discharge effluent into a seasonal drain without evaluating an obvious and well-known drain flow problem violates Section 324.1705(2) of the NREPA and other anti-pollution requirements.
Dr. Roehrig's contested case action will only directly affect one Duck Lake situation. However, we hope that it will help focus attention on the need to provide effective public notice and comment opportunities before the DEQ issues a permit or Certificate of Coverage for a sewage effluent discharge anywhere in the State.  This will help prevent the types of planning difficulties that we experienced.  It will also allow all of you to know what is being discharged into your local waters.  
Bill Taylor
Duck Lake, Calhoun County

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