Severe weather causes waste dump, silences radio station
The East Lansing Wastewater Treatment Plant was forced to make an emergency bypass of sewage and rainwater into the Red Cedar River on Sunday, after severe weather over the weekend caused it to lose power for almost 24 hours. According to the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, Sunday’s tornado was an EF-1 tornado, the low end of a system that categorizes the strength of tornadoes, said Bob Suttle, National Weather Service specialist.
The dump occurred at a designated spot, south of Kalamazoo Street, where a previous dump occurred in 2003, said Todd Sneathen, East Lansing’s director of public works. Although the specific amount of sewage and excess rainwater that was dumped is still undetermined, Sneathen said he hopes it will have minimal effects on the river and the surrounding areas.
“Obviously we hate having to do something like this, but when it comes to situations like these it really becomes out of our control,” Sneathen said.
The plant has two separate feeds responsible for treating the incoming wastewater, which normally back each other up in situations where electricity is lost.
However, due to strong winds that blew a large tree across high-voltage power lines, an electrical short occurred in the system leaving both feeds unable to function, Sneathen said.
“If we had just lost one feed it would have been OK,” he said. “We have a backup system for that, but in this case we were pretty powerless.”
The Lansing Board of Water & Light was called to the plant at the time of the outage, but were unable to restore power before the bypass into the river was made.
Sean Donovan, a member of Eco, a MSU student sustainability organization, said there is no excuse for this type of behavior regardless of the circumstances.
“I don’t find this excusable at all,” Donovan said. “Better company planning needs to be done, so this will not happen again.”
Within the coming week, the local health department will be responsible for taking water samples, and studying the effects on the quality of the water and wildlife involved, Bob McCann, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said.
“They will be studying the water especially for E. coli., and after we know the results, we will inform the public on the issues involved,” he said.
The city of East Lansing plans to issue full reports of this incident to the East Lansing Commission on the Environment, and the DEQ within the week. Local residents are still feeling the effects of the weekend’s severe weather. More than 339,000 Consumers Energy and BWL customers lost power at some point during the weekend.
As of Tuesday afternoon, fewer than 36,700 customers — 11,700 in the Lansing area — remained without power.
Sunday’s high winds also caused the loss of a cooling tower at the BWL’s Eckert Power Station. The Eckert station has five cooling towers used to cool water from the Grand River before it is returned to the river. Strong winds ripped the tower from its moorings, and also caused damage to a second cooling tower, according to a BWL press release.
However, the loss of the cooling tower does not affect the Eckert station’s ability to generate electricity, said Mark Nixon, communications director for the BWL.
Another business that is still feeling the effects of power outages, is MSU’s student radio station, WDBM (88.9-FM), the Impact. The sound of static is all listeners have been hearing since last Saturday, when the power to the radio’s transmitter was cut by the severe weather, said Jeremy Whiting, the station manager.
“We have been receiving a lot of phone calls about the issue, but until it is fixed there is nothing we can do,” he said.
Streaming radio is still available on the station’s Web site, www.impact89fm.org, and all regularly scheduled programs can be heard on their Web site as well.
“We expect to be back on the air sometime tomorrow,” Whiting said. “As soon we get power back, everything will return to normal.”
Staff writer Allison Bush contributed to this report.