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A trip to Newton's Creek

February 4, 2010 - Steve Schulwitz
This week I did a story about a creek in Alpena that has been polluted and the actions being taken to lower the amount of toxins in it. It was a very sobering story for me, because as I was investigating the facts and photographing the warning signs that line the bank of the creek, memories of when I was a boy playing in it rushed back to me. The creek runs behind McRae Park on Alpena's north side and I lived only a few blocks away so I visited the creek from time-to-time. During the summer and fall months my friends and I used to wade through the soft flowing current in our bare feet and tormented the fish and frogs that called it home. Never in a million years did I consider that one day the water in the creek would be damaged to the point to where it could burn flesh or cause permanent injury to anyone who comes in contact with it. After discussing the condition of the creek, and being briefed on what is being done to return the water quality to acceptable levels, the scientists from the DNRE (DEQ) informed me that whatever measures are taken, chances are the damage done to the creek will be irreversible. What a shame, because much of this could have been avoided if the previous owners of the cement plant would have disposed of its kiln ash properly. Even though the plant had been sold, the former owners abandoned the piles and after years of rain and winter's thaw run-off, the creek's acidity levels rose to dangerous levels. Several years ago a cap was put on the piles to help keep the water from coming in contact with the contaminates. The creek was also dredged to remove as much as the dust as possible, but the DNRE said that the ground water still flows through the ash pile and continues to put the creek at risk. The DNRE claims that the creek will meet the standards set by the state and that no harm will come to Thunder bay, but you have to wonder how that can be? If the water was strong enough to cause burns or blindness, did it really dilute enough over a quarter-mile stretch to not have any effect on Alpena's most prise resource? The DNRE said that no one is responsible or liable for the ash piles and that they technically are owned by the state now. Lafarge inherited the problem and are not at fault, and National Gypsum has done more than what they are bound by law to do. It isn't enough however, because it may only be a month, a year or a decade and the creek will be in the same condition it was before the clean-up effort began.


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