On Wednesday of last week, Lowell resident Bruce Matthews noticed a chemical substance along the shore on the Flat River. Thanks to his photos, observations, and collecting a sample, the Lowell Police Department (LPD) and Lowell Department of Public Works (DPW) were able to work to clean up the pollution and determine who was responsible for dumping something into the river via a storm drain.
Matthews and his wife Linda were enjoying a picnic lunch on their pontoon boat on Wednesday, August 21. Upon returning from their upstream destination, they noticed an area approximately 15 feet in diameter of contamination. The substance wasn’t noticed a couple of hours earlier when they started their trip.
After investigating a little, Matthews was able to determine that the source of whatever was in the Flat River was flowing from a storm drain. According to him, the liquid was coming into the river at a rate of a gallon every few minutes. It was also being released into a part of the river where a slower current exists making it so the substance was not spreading quickly.
After docking their boat, Matthews went to Riverside Drive and Mercer and filled a quart Mason jar with some of the discharge coming from the pipe, which he took to DPW. The department investigated and called Young’s Environmental Cleanup, Inc. as part of an emergency spill response. The company cleaned up the substance in the Flat River as well as the pipe and storm drain leading to where the chemicals were dumped. Matthews notes that Cody Chambers, Ralph Brecken and new DPW Director, Dan Czarnecki were crucial in coming to action once they were aware of the situation.
Both LPD and DPW have worked at gathering information to investigate the source of the liquid being dumped into the Flat River. The substance was traced through the storm system to a catch basin. Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) was notified and provided direction for the cleanup. They are awaiting information from Young’s Environmental Cleanup to determine the specifics of what ended up in the river. This company will also be responsible for properly disposing of the substance.
The individual responsible for dumping something into a catch basin has been identified according to LPD but has not yet been interviewed. Catch basins are used to collect storm water. “At no time should any substance other than water be put into any catch basin.” says Czarnecki. “The City will take whatever actions necessary to recoup the cost of cleanup.” Once the investigation is complete, Lowell will forward the complaint to the Kent County prosecutor’s office who will review and potential charges. If charges are brought against the responsible party, he or she could face a six month misdemeanor or a two-year felony charge according to Chief of Police Steve Bukala who would like to see some criminal charges in the case.
“It’s Just the Right Thing to Do”
Matthews was in the right place at the right time and did the right thing. The situation could have been much worse had it not been for his keen eyes and action. “If we don’t step up to try to fix things then we have only ourselves to blame when our natural resources are diminished. As Dr. Seuss says in “The Lorax,” ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’” he comments.
As the former Executive Director at the North Country Trail Association, Matthews has the mindset of putting the environment first. However, he feels citizens have an obligation to take care of natural resources, especially those used by the public. He remarks, “In our history we’ve way too often dumped stuff into the water or the air and figured it would either just go away or become someone else’s problem.” However, waste dumped into water or discarded on land often does not go away. “We need to factor in safe, sustainable waste disposal as part of the cost of whatever we’re doing. It’s just the right thing to do.”
While some will look at Matthews as a hero for taking notice and stepping in but he sees himself as someone doing the right thing. He hopes that this situation will teach people to dispose of things properly and to take note and report improper disposal of waste if it’s seen. It will make the community and world a better place. Matthews notes, “We all live downstream.”
Photos provided by Bruce Matthews and used with permission.