Officials argue over cause of Sebewaing River spill - WNEM TV 5

Officials argue over cause of Sebewaing River spill

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Source: WNEM Source: WNEM
SEBEWAING, MI (WNEM) -

Locals are still struggling as an unknown substance moves down the Sebewaing River, killing fish and causing a horrid smell.

Whatever is in the water doesn’t appear to be toxic. Officials said it’s actually rotting, taking up oxygen and causing the fish to die off.

The problem could only get worse before it gets better.

The substance has been traced back to a drainage pipe from the Michigan Sugar Plant in Sebewaing and will continue to flow down the river into the Saginaw Bay.

Michigan Sugar still denies being the cause, but environmental officials said they’re sure.

Just a few blocks away from a busy diner in Sebewaing sits the Michigan Sugar Factory.

Resident Bill Kauffold said it’s a large factory with a lot of influence in town.

“It's a huge employer, creates a lot of jobs for people,” Kauffold said.

Some residents said even with the economic role the factory plays in the city, they are worried about the environmental risks that come with living so close to it.

The spill that took place earlier this week alarmed residents as it seeped into the Sebewaing River.

Wednesday, crews spent hours sucking out the waste water from sewer lines.

“It employs a lot of people around the area, and they don't have much concern about the water and I'm concerned with the stuff getting into the water,” Dennis Weisenbach said.

A representative for Michigan Sugar said they stand by this statement:

“Michigan Sugar is actively investigating the cause of the release into the Sebewaing River. At this point, the cause of the release is unknown. As recently as this morning, the DEQ had informed Michigan Sugar of their belief that Michigan Sugar was not the cause. We have dispatched experts to help determine the source and minimize any further environmental impact…”

However, representatives from the DEQ said Wednesday that’s not the case.

“The spill is from beat waste, from one of the beat waste piles at the Michigan Sugar plant. What happened, it got into a storm sewer system that inadvertently connecting to the city's storm water system,” said Thomas McDowell, a senior environmental engineer for DEQ.

McDowell said his team is meeting with Michigan Sugar and going over their plans for making sure something like this doesn't happen again.

He also said residents shouldn't be too concerned about the waste.

“The river is going to bounce back, it just does that,” McDowell said.

However, some residents said that’s not enough reassurance.

“I think it’s out of control. And the DEQ, which is supposed to be on top of it, wasn’t on top of it,” Weisenbach said.

Others stand by the factory and what it provides the city. They said it’ll sort itself out.

“I’m sure in the next day or so they’ll have it resolved and things will go back to normal,” Kauffold said. 

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