Held in Lansing, MLSA attended to learn more about how to plan ahead to better protect your lake, stream, and local environment.

Lon Nordeen, MLSA Secretary

The conference, organized by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) was held in Lansing on June 29-30, 2022. This event included more than 25 briefings, seminars, panel discussions and exhibits ranging from the US Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emergency planners, and disaster response teams to multiple Michigan state agencies, private technology firms, and local fire departments to make attendees aware of risks and ways to plan and respond to environmental emergencies.

The presentations included an overview of past Michigan and nearby state emergency situations such as oils spills into lakes, rivers and streams; dam breaks; industrial accidents; fires; agricultural spills; sewer blockages; and other situations. Simulation and emergency planning using computer modeling and other tools such as airborne drones and unmanned submarines were discussed as ways to assess and deal with oil, chemical spills, fires, and other situations.

Jay Eickholt, EGLE Emergency Management Coordinator kicked off this special conference and also provided an overview presentation on Regional and National Response Teams cooperation and planning with an expert from the US Coast Guard. During a discussion after this presentation, Jay Eickholt answered my questions about the most common inland lake safety issues; “The high frequency, low impact inland lake events we see are small gas and oil spills around launch access sites and docks. The important thing for boaters and lake residents to do is immediately call our EGLE Environmental Assistance Center at 1-800-662-9278, admit what happened, and clean up what you can”. He added: “You could buy absorbent pads at hardware stores or use old towels and other materials for shallow water and land spills, but most importantly, be safe!” He added: “For bigger pollution emergencies only, call 1-800-292-4706”. Jay concluded: “We need to work as a team to protect our Michigan environment.”

Day two of the event started with a presentation by EGLE Director, Liesl Clark where she focused on the importance of safety planning with a changing environment and also investing in Michigan infrastructure. Other interesting and timely briefs included; real case studies of agricultural spills onto land and water, a discussion and lessons learned from the May 2020 Edenville Dam disaster HAZMAT team demonstrations, PFAS investigations and response, and a tutorial on how to create emergency action, response, and communications plans to deal with emergency situations.

My favorite brief was a fascinating discussion by Dr. Kelly S. Tuttle, a toxicology expert at the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH). Her team was called by federal and state agencies after a well explosion that included a fire and chemical spill. The well owner admitted a proprietary chemical fracking mix was used and the agencies were not sure what they were dealing with. The accident resulted in a spill, explosion, and fire which destroyed the well, many vehicles, support infrastructure, and polluted a stream, causing a fish kill. The team and other crews were at the site for 9 months!

The biggest message I got as a lake resident and lake environmental manager was: Do you have an emergency plan in place for your lake, waterbody, and local environment that includes contacts with local, county, and state level government, fire, law enforcement, and other responders? With the increasing possibility of climate disasters, terrorism, conflict, and other challenges; please be ready to take action! Most townships, villages, cities, and counties have already done this emergency planning work. But you need to know who to call in an emergency and how to tap into the plans already prepared to know what to do to protect your home, neighbors and local business.

Additional resources related to emergency planning:
Washtenaw County’s Community Preparedness Workbook
The Michigan Riparian magazine articles:
Fall 2017, “High concentration of gas and oil pipelines running through Freedom Township an increased risk for residents
Fall 2020, “Lessons from the Michigan Dam Failures for Lake Homeowners and Concerned Citizens

What can Army Corps of Engineers do for you?
Around Michigan with the MLSA Board of Directors