GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new letter clarifies why Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is urging the state’s Department of Natural Resources to reject a National Guard proposal to expand Camp Grayling.

Randall Rothe, the supervisor of the Remediation and Redevelopment Division in EGLE’s Gaylord’s District Office, sent an 11-page letter to the Army National Guard on Dec. 22, 2022, voicing his displeasure with the base’s PFAS cleanup effort.

“EGLE has been waiting on significant remedial progress for five years while continuing to drive further Army National Guard investigation at the State’s expense. During these past five years ARNG has repeatedly stated they are working quickly to address all PFAS impact,” the letter stated before detailing key decisions that seemingly contradict those promises.

The letter concludes by saying that “EGLE Gaylord RRD does not support the expansion of Camp Grayling based upon the inability to take timely action to investigate, mitigate and remediate significant areas of contamination at Camp Grayling. It is EGLE Gaylord RRD’s recommendation to the Michigan DNR not to accept an expansion of Camp Grayling until significant progress and timely action is taken.”

The National Guard first discovered PFAS contamination at Camp Grayling in 2016, its source presumably the firefighting foam that contained the toxic chemical compounds. Investigators have been able to track PFAS pollution from the base through the groundwater of several nearby communities and Lake Margrethe.

Rothe highlighted two ARNG plans that he called “unacceptable” — deciding against extending public water access to Grayling Township and plans to pause the investigation at the site of original pollution until 2024.

“The current timeline is unacceptable given the unknown PFAS extent and possible wetland/ecological impacts,” Rothe wrote. “Only a small subset of drinking water samples in a one-mile radius have been sampled in the area surrounding (the equipment site). Sampling was conducted by the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs with detections found in drinking water samples. ARNG needs to sample all drinking water wells in a one-mile radius in the area surrounding (the site).”

The National Guard filed its expansion proposal with the DNR early last year, asking for approximately 162,000 acres of state-owned land around Camp Grayling.

A map of the proposal to allow Camp Grayling to expand onto 162,000 acres of land controlled by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. (Michigan DNR)

According to the proposal, the expansion would allow Camp Grayling to run a wider variety of exercises that the National Guard calls “low impact.” The DNR would retain ownership of the land and manage it. The ARNG proposed a 20-year lease agreement that gives the DNR the right to void the agreement if department officials believe the camp oversteps the use conditions of the property.

The ARNG also says most of the land will remain open to public access, including hunting, camping, fishing and off-road vehicle trails. The ARNG would not use any permanent fencing and would not conduct any training sessions within 1,500 feet of any river.

Also as part of the plan, the ARNG said it would communicate with the public when certain areas may need to be closed to the public and would make a point to not schedule any training sessions during regular firearms deer season in November.

When asked about Rothe’s letter, EGLE’s communications manager Hugh McDiarmid Jr. doubled down on the department’s stance while noting it is only a recommendation and that EGLE will not play a formal role in the final decision.

“EGLE has significant concerns about the Army National Guard’s response to PFAS contamination at the Camp Grayling facility, as expressed by EGLE’s Gaylord District office,” McDiarmid stated. “While the compliance letter references the district office’s opposition to the proposed Camp Grayling expansion, EGLE has no authority over the proposed expansion and will not make a formal agency recommendation on that matter. EGLE will continue to pursue PFAS cleanup that protects the environment and public health at the Grayling site.”

According to a report from Bridge Michigan, the DNR is still evaluating the Camp Grayling proposal and a decision isn’t expected until late this year.

The Michigan National Guard released a statement on Thursday in response to the letter.

“The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is partnered with EGLE and our federal Army National Guard partners to preserve and maintain Michigan’s natural resources. Our members live, eat and sleep in these communities as citizens of Michigan. We share a desire to protect the things that make Michigan a special place for our families and neighbors – and to rapidly address common challenges like PFAS. We are all working for a faster solution. We are committed to continuing our partnership with EGLE and to advocating with our federal Army National Guard partners on behalf of Michigan’s interests.”

Michigan National Guard