City to hire study for sludge problems

The City of Alpena has committed $13,300 to pay for a study that will help it learn more about the make-up and origin of the black, sludge like material that has been washing up on local beaches.

The Alpena Municipal Council voted to hire Environmental Consulting and Testing to get to the bottom about what the material is, what causes it and most importantly, what the city can do to eliminate it. City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the deposit of the sludge on several beaches has been happening for about a decade and ranges in severity. He said it is worse in the heart of summer and it recedes when the weather begins to cool. Sullenger said the city wants to take action to improve the beach quality, but can’t until it knows for certain what it is dealing with.

“This has been ongoing for a long time and we have tried some different things to see if we could correct it, but it has been a futile effort,” Sullenger said. “Over the last couple years it has come predominately worse. It makes the beach a not very appealing place and the council wants to know more.”

Sullenger said he doesn’t want to speculate what the substance is, or if it is something that can be addressed. He said ECT was recommended to the city from District Health #4 and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Sullenger said after an initial meeting with the consultants a proposal was submitted and on Monday the council approved the hiring.”

“They have some pretty impressive experience with beach remediation activities all over the United States,” Sullenger said. “They were here when we did a walk-though in the fall and they saw a little of what we were dealing with, but right now they will do some background work and then be back this summer when the issue is more severe.”

Sullenger said he hopes a affordable solution to the problem can be found. He said there is always a chance that the trouble is something that can’t be fixed permanently and then other actions will be considered.

“It is possible we find out there is nothing we can do about it, but that would be better to find that out than to continue how we are now, which is spinning our wheels,” Sullenger said. “I hope there is a way we can correct it, but if we can’t, then at least we know and we can provide answers to the public and come up with a different strategy.”

As Alpena continues to grow as a tourist destination it is becoming more important to make sure the beach is desirable for all of its users. Sullenger said having beaches that are attractive are an important part of future growth in the community.

“Having that beach as pristine as possible is critical,” Sullenger said. “Thompson’s Beach, which is very small, gets more use on a single day than Starlite Beach and it is because of that material. Why is it predominate at Starlite and not Thompson? Those are the types of things we want to know more about. It is critical we get the beach cleaned, so when visitors come to town they don’t think they are terrible.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at