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A bill inspired by the Kalamazoo River silt crisis may soon become law

A view of Morrow Lake with a log and duckweed in the foreground and the glassy modern dam in the background.
Sehvilla Mann
/
WMUK
The Morrow Dam as seen across Morrow Lake in November 2021.

The bill was passed by the Michigan Senate Wednesday and is now headed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

A bill that aims to require companies responsible for damage to inland lakes and streams to clean up their messes appears close to becoming law.

State Senator Sean McCann of Kalamazoo introduced the bill. McCann said he did so in response to the release in 2019 and 2020of large amounts of sediment into the Kalamazoo River by a subsidiary of dam operator STS Hydropower, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, covering boat launches and aquatic habitats.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy estimates that more than 300,000 cubic yards of sediment flowed into the river.

“Had we had this on the books with the river sediment issue, maybe we could have gotten this situation more quickly addressed than it was," McCann said.

The bill would allow EGLE to issue emergency orders requiring companies to take action to prevent ecological damage to inland rivers and lakes.

“We certainly hope this is a piece of legislation that puts operators on notice that this is not how we want to handle our natural resources in the state of Michigan," McCann added.

The bill is not retroactive, so it would not force STS Hydropower to clean up its mess in the Kalamazoo River. The company abandoned efforts to remove the siltin 2021.

A trial in a case brought by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office against STS Hydropower is scheduled to begin in January, according to press secretary Danny Wimmer.

Currently, "the discovery phase between the parties remains ongoing," Wimmer told WMUK in an email.

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.