Black Bear constructs Mt. Bohemia septic system without DEQ permit
MARQUETTE -- Mt. Bohemia developer Black Bear, Inc., has begun constructing a septic system for the ski
hill without receiving a Groundwater Discharge Exemption permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
(DEQ), Waste Management Division. The permit has been delayed because of a concern by DEQ Surface
Water Quality Division that the phosphorous content of the wastewater must be limited and
monitored to protect the quality of Lac La Belle (lake).
This photo taken from Mt. Bohemia shows Lac La Belle (lake in foreground),
which is connected by a channel to Lake Superior in the distance. The Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality, Surface Water Quality Division, says
phosphorous in wastewater from the Mt. Bohemia Ski Hill must be limited to
protect the water quality of Lac La Belle. (File photo by Michele Anderson)
Randy Conroy, senior district geologist for DEQ Waste Management Division in Marquette, said he would attend
the Grant Township Board meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Copper Harbor Community
Building in order to provide the public with information concerning the permit and the conditions
that have been attached to it in response to concerns by the DEQ Surface Water Quality Division, the Office of the State Archaeologist and local residents.
Conroy said the fact that Black Bear (the applicant for the permit) is already constructing the septic system could potentially be
an enforcement issue but he didn't intend to make it one at this time. He added he expects the permit
could be ready by Friday, Nov. 16, depending on Surface Water Quality's decision on a
limit and U.P. Engineers and Architects' and Black Bear's response to the permit conditions.
"They (Black Bear) do not have their groundwater discharge authorization. That is under final negotiation,"
Conroy said on Tuesday, Nov. 13. "However, plans and specifications for the construction of the system
have been approved by DEQ."
In a Nov. 9 letter to U.P. Engineers and Architects and Black Bear, Conroy told them that the DEQ was aware
a portion of the septic system was being constructed.
"Please be advised that utilizing the system for the disposal of sanitary waste water without
final authorization from the DEQ may result in escalated enforcement actions against the applicant
in accordance with Part 31," Conroy said in the letter.
Conroy also advised the applicant and U.P. Engineers that he expected Surface Water
Quality Division would impose a loading limit of 35-60 lb. of phosphorous per year as a condition on
Conroy noted on Nov. 13 that he understood the developer was trying to take advantage of weather to
get the system built before the end of the construction season, but that Black Bear was doing this
at their own risk.
"It's a bad idea. We caution against it," Conroy said. "It's at their own risk, because if something
comes up that requires modification it could be a costly upgrade for them."
State Archaeologist requests protection of site
In an email to Conroy dated Oct. 8, 2001, Dean Anderson, historical archaeologist in the Office of the State
Archaeologist in Lansing, said that Office (which works in conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Officer) was
concerned that the location of the septic system in the SW 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Section 33, T58N, R29W, in Grant Township, was
in the area of a very important
archaeological site known as the Lac La Belle site (20KE20).
"This site has been determined eligible for the National Register of
Historic Places by the Michigan Historic Preservation Officer," Anderson
wrote. "We are concerned that ground-disturbing work for construction
of the drain field, the force main, or other elements of the project may disturb and damage the
Lac La Belle site."
Anderson added in the email that a comparison of maps indicated the septic project appeared to be
on the northeastern edge of the Lac La Belle site, or possibly just off the northeastern limit of the site. He noted since the
project appeared to be on the fringes of the archaeological site it might require only a
minor relocation to avoid the site.
"We want to emphasize that, in situations like this, it is not our purpose to stop a project, but to find a solution which
accommodates the project and protects the archaeological site," Anderson wrote.
Anderson said on October 30 that his office really has no legal authority to force the developer
to avoid the archaeological site, since it is on private land (owned by International Paper/Lake Superior Land Co. and leased
to Black Bear) and no federal funding or federal laws are involved. He noted that his office considers a site that is eligible
for the National Register as being on the National Register.
"It gets treated the same way," Anderson said. "It's an indication of the importance of the site ... but from a legal standpoint it doesn't
invoke any legal authority unless there is federal funding, licensing or permitting."
"We've just been talking to the parties involved about trying to avoid (building on the site) as much as possible," he said. "They are
trying to stay off the site as much as they can ... and they are making a good-faith effort to do this."
Patrick and Susan Martin, Michigan Tech professors and archaeologists, researched the 20KE20 site in the summer of 1988. The results of that
research are published in a 1993 issue (Vol. 39, Nos. 3-4) of The Michigan
Archaeologist. In that article the Martins describe the cache of artifacts found at the Lac La Belle site and its importance to archaeologists.
Patrick Martin said on Nov. 13 that, after talking with Anderson, he visited the site of the proposed septic system on Oct. 30 with Richard Wuori, project engineer for
"When I got there the contractor was already at work," Martin said. "It seemed the decision (as to the project location) was already made. It appeared they were just getting
Martin added that U.P. Engineers still had his documents and maps of the archaeological site he had given them
about two years ago when Black Bear originally planned to put a septic system at this location. Martin said the present design for the septic system has avoided a major part of
the 20KE20 site, but has impinged on one edge of the site.
"I do believe they made a good-faith effort to avoid it," he said. "It could be worse. They did avoid the area where we found significant artifacts. They did it
purposefully; they designed their pipelines to avoid the site."
Margie Ring, environmental engineer for the DEQ Waste Management Division in Marquette, visited the site last week and has approved the plans and specifications for the construction.
"We're cognizant of the issue with the archaeological site," she said.
Residents' comments addressed
Conroy recently sent a draft response document to Lac La Belle residents who sent him letters during the public comment period from Sept. 28 to Oct. 29, 2001. Conroy said in the draft document
that, while several comments addressed the need for the DEQ to hold a public hearing on the permit application, the DEQ determined residents' questions were informational in nature rather than identifying specific regulatory deficiencies
associated with the proposed septic system. Rather than hold a public hearing,
he will provide information at the Nov. 14 Grant Township meeting.
The draft exemption (application accepted with conditions), under Part 31, Water Resources
Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994, PA 451, as
amended, is for a septic and drainfield sewage treatment system. Black Bear proposes to
discharge a maximum of 8,500 gallons per day (3,102,500 gallons per year) of sanitary wastewater from their discharge area located near Lac La Belle.
The following are some of the residents' concerns (in addition to the archaeological one) and a summary of the draft responses:
- The wastewater may impact groundwater or surface water quality.
Response: "... In addition to bacterial degradation of pathogens in the wastewater, nutrients
will be biodegraded or adsorbed by the soils so groundwater and surface water quality will not be impacted. Vertical isolations from the discharge to the water table and lateral distances
from the discharge to surface water greatly exceed the four foot and 100 foot
minimums required in the Criteria."
A second response to a similar question adds: " ... due to the potential impact of Lac La Belle, the Surface Water Quality Division is imposing a site specific limit of the phosphorous
loading to the area ... Flow monitoring and possibly septic tank outlet wastewater quality monitoring will be required compliance programs for the
permitee. The applicant proposes to meet the limit by revising the annual wastewater flow discharged to the environment,
providing pre-treatment and phosphorous removal, demonstrating phosphorous removal capabilities of the soils present at the site, or a combination of these removal techniques."
- The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Soil Survey identified the soils in the drainfield area as the Waiska Series, which consists of gravelly and sandy material that have very rapid permeability. Previous on-site studies indicate that a lower permeability
fill material, two feet in thickness, would be required for adequate treatment.
Response: "The DEQ investigated the proposed tile field location and reviewed the site suitability information provided to determine if there were excessive fines in the soils ... Subsequent sieve analysis of soil horizons collected at the site
did not identify excessive fines that would limit the soil's ability to hydraulically accept the rate of proposed discharge ... The area to the north of the proposed drainfield ... was to be avoided due to a compacted soil layer, likely to be poorly drained, at the two foot horizon that may not be able to accept the rate of discharge."
- The developer should utilize an environmentally safe system such as Chroma-Glass or its equivalent.
Response: "The DEQ concurs that (these units) provide additional environmental protection; however, they would only be mandated on marginal sites. There is some question
as to whether these systems can practically and routinely achieve the nitrogen limits of 5 parts per million mandated by the Part 22, Groundwater Quality Rules, given the residence time and capacity limitations."
- What are the distances to wetlands in the area of the discharge?
Response: "... Public references to wetlands approximately 100
yards west of the proposed discharge have not been confirmed by DEQ staff.
These distances meet the default lateral isolation distance requirements
contained in the Criteria to protect surface water quality and do not appear
to warrant a Soil Erosion and Sedimentation permit."
Conroy adds that wetlands to the west and/or north are upslope and would
not be affected by erosion moving to the south. He notes the DEQ would be
interested in assessing information on the outline of nearby wetland and
One additional concern of Lac La Belle residents is the fact that the area of the project (in Section 33) is zoned Resort Residential (RR).
Conroy's response to the concern was that zoning is a matter of local enforcement. He noted the Part 31 authorization does not relieve the
permitee from obtaining all applicable federal, state and local permits.
Tom Collins, South Shore Association president, addressed this issue in a Nov. 2 letter to Jane Pelto, Keweenaw County zoning administrator.
He said he was concerned about the integrity of zoning procedures and standards being violated.
"Section 33 is zoned Resort Residential," Collins writes. "Land use under this definition is for residential homes and water recreation. Black Bear proposes to use a significant portion of section 33 to maintain a private commercial activity. A wastewater treatment system for ski hill purposes would eliminate residential use in section 33. Consequently
this action would violate the purpose and intent of RR as defined in our zoning book."
Collins has requested that a special use procedure be implemented to address this concern.
Editor's Note: See our Oct. 2 article on the Mt. Bohemia Septic System
for background on the permit application.
|Note: Black Bear's application for the Part 31 Exemption for a septic system,
the public notice and previous applications can be found on the
Keweenaw Liberty Library. Click on Black Bear, Inc.
"Michigan Criteria for Subsurface Sewage Disposal," click just above
Black Bear, Inc., under Health Code.
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