Lansing Twp. sues BWL for water contamination, other issues

Lansing Township filed suit against Lansing Board of Water and Light, or BWL, earlier this month over payment for a storm drain needed to correct groundwater contamination issues. 

The contaminated groundwater has the potential to affect surrounding cities, Lansing Township Supervisor Kathleen Rodgers said. If BWL does not pay for the new drain, property taxes could also rise in the area.

The project is estimated to cost upwards of $13 million, and the conflict goes back some 40 years when BWL first began dumping waste from a coal-fired energy plant into the township landfill.

Rodgers said the waste created groundwater contamination, which BWL should be held responsible for by paying for the drain that will be able to handle increased storm water flow.

The threat of releasing contaminated water caused the township to redesign plans for the drain numerous times and made the project more costly.

"It would be like if (BWL) threw a baseball through a window, it hits the stove, starts the kitchen on fire, burns down the house and then they offer to pay to the fix the window," Rodgers said. "They (BWL) were instructed to correct the problem, but they kept everyone in the dark as to how much contamination there was and the remediate actions they were going to take and they began to slough off their responsibility."

In the past, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality observed higher than normal levels of selenium and sulfate in the groundwater. 

After observing the contamination, the department denied BWL's request to renew their dumping license in 1996, and the State of Michigan proposed a $1.3 million penalty for BWL's contamination actions. BWL later settled with the state for $104,000.

Rodgers said because that lawsuit was over a different issue, the township is not looking to settle for less.

She noted the township decided to sue BWL in hopes of expediting the drain building process and ensuring the welfare of their citizens.

Ingham County Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann said the township's lawsuit was "wrong" and paying most of the bill is Lansing Township's "fair share." He believes the township is short on cash and is trying to avoid paying for the project.

"I think the lawsuit is really to buy time to allow the township to catch up with cash flow," Lindemann said.

Lindemann said BWL did everything they were supposed to do and the township should collaborate to find a solution to the problem.

"I live in the township and I don't want the township to suffer," Lindemann said. "We need to help each other and discuss their issues instead of suing everybody. Lawsuits just cost more money it doesn't accomplish anything."

A BWL spokesman denied comment, saying it is against BWL's policy to comment on litigation. 

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