Speer: It all started with someone’s concerns

Monday at municpal council, Alpena resident Duffy Gorski shared his concerns about storm sewer runoff from city streets into Thunder Bay.

Ironically, just a week prior, members of the Great Lakes Commission met in Milwaukee in observance of Great Lakes Week and among the items they discussed – reducing storm sewer runoff into the Great Lakes from municipalities.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, quoted in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, called storm sewers “the invisible infrastructure, because most people don’t think about the sewers at all until something goes wrong.” He said, however, city crews in his community are constantly updating the sewers in efforts to reduce pollution into Lake Michigan.

Gorski would like to see Alpena doing the same. It is his contention that much of the “muck” that appears at Starlite Beach each summer is caused, at least in part, from the storm sewer runoff into the bay.

And, he has photos and video to build his case. After spring and summer storms that “flush out” the sewer system, Gorski said there can be seen a sheen of film on the water and debris from the sewers.

Council, to its credit, agreed the matter was disconcerting and needed further review. Council members instructed City Engineer Rich Sullenger to investigate further and report back to them possible remedies to address the runoff.

Members agreed that as the waterfront becomes more and more important for future plans and tourism efforts, it is critical officials do everything possible to protect the resource and prevent pollution from reaching the water.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes published a report last year in which it found that “every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration leads to at least $2 in economic return through the creation of jobs, tourism and development.”

That same report said every year 18.7 billion gallons of waste end up in the Great Lakes.

Whether storm sewer runoff is totally responsible, partially responsible, or has nothing to do with the Starlite “muck” isn’t really important. The fact the runoff is getting into Thunder Bay carrying street debris, slime and dirt is a problem. Whether it be salt from winter, decaying leaves from autumn or grass clippings, cigarette butts and candy wrappers from spring and summer, the storm sewer system in Alpena could annually be creating a potent cocktail of disaster for the bay.

I can’t imagine any of us wanting that. Neither can council.

It’s nice to see a citizen’s concern taken seriously, and research begun on how this issue can best be addressed.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.