CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - The Gerald R. Ford International Airport's plan to pipe de-icer into the Thornapple River has riled up those who live on its banks.
Prior to a Department of Environmental Quality public hearing scheduled for Thursday evening on the issue, airport leaders gave their side of the story.
"For two years, one of the misconceptions is that the DEQ has given us a hall pass on this project," said Brian Ryks, the airport's director. "I would challenge anyone to read the 36-page permit that they have issued to us and come back and tell us that's a hall pass."
Airport leaders met with the media Thursday afternoon to lay out their $22 million plan. They also gave a tour of the airport to show how it will work.
The airport is under state orders to stop allowing propylene glycol to drain through Trout Creek into the Thornapple. The propylene glycol depletes oxygen, has left a nasty biofilm and has basically killed the creek. It also left a biofilm in a tributary to Plaster Creek.
The airport's solution is to install a pipe that's over a mile long to the Thornapple River with a natural treatment system along the way.
"A state-of-the-art system that will really eliminate the environmental risk," Ryks said.
Airport leaders said they wanted to eliminate what they call misinformation. According to them, glycol has drained into the Thornapple through Trout Creek for years and has never hurt the river.
"The issue at the Thornapple is we've been sending it to the Thornapple as long as the airport has been here and we have not heard any complaints from residents," said Thomas Ecklund with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
The system, airport leaders said, will actually be better for the Thornapple, because less glycol will reach it.
Some residents still don't believe that is the best plan. Thursday evening, more than 200 people crammed into the Cascade Public Library for the DEQ hearing on the airport's plan.
Many questioned why the airport had to send anything into the river and why it wouldn't use a centralized de-icing pad.
"It's a proven design that will work. We feel this type of a system is better and will do a more appropriate job than a centralized de-icing pad," Ryks said.
Some residents said it's a better plan than the original, which showed a pipeline to the river without treatment.
"I have to commend the airport that they've modified our plan greatly in the last year and a half thanks to input from all of us, the association, Cascade Township. That's good government. It's a much better plan than it was a year ago," one resident said.
For some residents, the Thursday meeting was not only a chance to go after the airport's plan, but also the DEQ.
"I'm willing to believe this is the best system they could devise. My problem has always been that the DEQ has a poor record of enforcement," one resident said.
Residents questioned how closely the DEQ would monitor the airport's runoff. The DEQ admitted it didn't move quickly on Trout Creek, but said it is working now to clean it up and to make sure the Thornapple isn't harmed.
"We work through a process in the DEQ and unfortunately, it's not always as quick as everybody would like it," Ryan Grant of the DEQ said. "But I think at this point today, I am confident this problem is going to be solved."
"We do take our jobs seriously. We're going to work very hard to ensure the permit is complied with. We're not always best in DEQ with PR," added Phil Argiroff.
The Cascade Township supervisor said Thursday the township would conduct its own study of soils and sediments around where the pipe will empty into the river, so it will know whether it makes it worse.
The public has until June 28 to comment on the plan before the DEQ decides whether to approve it.
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