Most people are surprised to learn that The Homestead Resort disposes of its incompletely-treated sewage by spraying it within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore–
While less than ideal, this situation would be legal and tolerable if the system were designed and operated in a way that did not contaminate surrounding parklands, and those who use them. Please see below for more on how this odd situation came to be, what’s presently happening,and what needs to be done about it–
A Note to Homestead Folks
It’s hoped that this website is not seen as an attack on The Homestead, or on you who are connected to it. We have many friends who have lived, worked, or played there over the years, as have many of us. We believe that you wish to be a good neighbor of the National Lakeshore, and to be seen as one.
However, The Homestead’s history with the National Lakeshore has been troubled in various ways over the years, and that history must be acknowledged. The Homestead’s sewage spray system has been one of those difficulties. Outlined on this website are the basic facts of the situation as we understand them. We welcome your thoughts on anything that you see differently. The Homestead (and NPS and DEQ folks) are all more than welcome to chime in here. We will post anything you send. It would be great if this website could serve as a forum for talking this thing out, by all concerned. Perhaps through discussion, we all can learn something.
Where did this website come from, anyway?
This website is maintained by Tom Van Zoeren. I’m a retired Park Ranger who used to work on this issue for the National Park Service—and I guess I just couldn’t stop after I retired! I receive valued council and support from many in the community of lovers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—most especially, the trusty band of concerned folks known variously as Drifters United, The Sewage Squad, The Poo Patrol . . .
–HERE ARE THE BASICS–
A 2-Minute Video of the Sewage Spray Area (and a neighbor)
Responses to a “Forum” Column, December, 2011: This contains a statement by The Homestead detailing their side of the story; also, responses to that statement.
–AND HERE’S THE LATEST–
September, 2016: Despite attempts to modify the spray system to address the drift problem, the drift continues to blow into the National Lakeshore, requiring its continued posting with warning signs and loss of use of that area to the public. See here for a brief report on one, and here is a one-minute video showing the blowing spray. For gluttons for punishment, here is a brief report on another incident, with video.
October, 2015: Contrary to the hopes provoked by the “Really Good News” below, the DEQ has approved the new 5-year permit that so many had objected to. It will not solve the essential problem. The approval was pushed through despite the many objections, and without holding a public hearing as called for. Drifters United and Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council have jointly filed an objection to the process and the permit as written.
HERE are some pertinent points of information about the matter. The permit is available here. The DEQ received 47 letters during the comment period–virtually all opposed to it, because it will not fix the problem. The DEQ produced a “Responsiveness Summary” which was supposed to address the public concerns. Unfortunately, it didn’t do so very well. Here is a copy of it, along with our comments on it.
Here are some excerpts from some of the many great letters that people sent to the DEQ about the draft permit. Look at them, they’re great!
For those who are interested, here is the Park’s letter regarding the draft permit. (See below, about seven paragraphs down, for more letters from the Park on this matter.)
February, 2015: Sorry—Here’s a little bit of bad news: A review of the results from The Homestead’s required monitoring tests shows that for four months of the past spray season (July – October) the sewage spray contained elevated fecal coliform bacteria counts. In August they were over four times higher than is permitted. That’s the stuff you or I might breathe if we stray too close within our National Lakeshore.
But Here’s the Really Good News! The DEQ’s Escalated Enforcement Review Team has considered the Homestead sewage spray drift situation, and concluded that The Homestead should be instructed to identify and implement changes to address the problem of spray blowing into the National Lakeshore. This is The Homestead’s chance to resolve things on their own, their own way, before enforcement measures might be taken by the DEQ. See here for further information about that.
September, 2014: Chemical testing of residue on leaves surrounding the spray area has further substantiated the drift problem. (This corroborates chemical testing done by NPS last year, as well as visual observations, videotaping, etc..) See here for the letter that was sent to the DEQ and others–
July, 2014: Good News–Recent correspondence with the DEQ illustrates that there is much agreement among all parties, and they are working on finding resolution to the problem. Here are excerpts from a letter from DEQ official Brian Jankowski:
July, 2014: Illegal drifting of spray into the park has again been filmed and documented, showing that after five years with their new system, The Homestead is still unable to prevent this impact to public land, requiring the continuing need to post it with warning signs so it cannot be used by the public. Here is the report and short video that were submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality, who oversees the permit under which the system operates.
March, 2014: Ten local, state, and national groups call for resolution to this problem: Click here to read about it.
March, 2012: NPS TAKES ACTION–Sleeping Bear Superintendent Dusty Shultz sent letters to The Homestead and the DEQ stating that the sewage spray drift situation is unacceptable, and proposing significant changes. Here’s the letter to The Homestead, and here’s the letter to the DEQ.
Mr. Rick Rusz of the DEQ responded with this letter, which was disappointing in substance–but we do appreciate Mr. Rusz’s effor to carry on reasoned discussion. Dusty followed up with this excellent response! Thanks to Dusty for courageously taking a stand to protect our National Lakeshore! Here are TVZ’s additional comments to the DEQ, along with an added note here .
Here is TVZ’s response to those letters. As of yet, Mr. Rusz has not responded to that letter (dated 9/12/12).
–FINALLY, FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO REALLY DELVE IN–
5-Minute Pictorial History of The Thoreson Farm and The Homestead’s Sewage System: (Click on the first picture; then click the right arrows to see subsequent pictures and captions)
NPS “Job Hazard Analysis” for working around the spray area–Here’s what the NPS expert says about exposure to the spray…
A Scientific Article about the Hazards of Sewage Spray
Record-Eagle “Forum” Column about this Situation, December, 2011
Here’s the ROUND OF LETTERS that went between concerned citizens and the DEQ during 2013:
—Leelanau Independent Women for democratic Action (LIWdA) letter to the DEQ, 3/14/13
––DEQ response to LIWdA, 3/28/13
— TVZ letter to the DEQ, 3/13/13
—DEQ response to TVZ, 3/28/13
––TVZ response to DEQ, 4/15/13
–TVZ letter to Wm. Creal of DEQ, 6/28/13
–As of this time, Mr. Creal has not answered this last letter; however he had Engineer Janice Heuer send this update on 7/12.
—August, 2013: THE DRIFTING CONTINUES: Here’s a report and video showing that, despite what some wish to believe, our problem remains.
September, 2012: NIGHTTIME SPRAYING–After NPS conducted 15 inspections of the spray area without ever finding it running, it was finally learned that The Homestead had been “experimentally” (illegally) doing their spraying at night–unattended. Click here for the story on that—
What Can We Do About This?
The best way to resolve this situation would be to simply build a regular sewage treatment facility so the effluent could be harmlessly discharged. Then the 13 acres being used for spraying could become part of the National Lakeshore, as was intended when Congress created it. Short of that, the sprayers could be replaced with root-zone irrigation or another similarly benign system. Irrigation systems specially designed for sewage disposal are available (See http://www.geoflow.com/d_brochure.pdf , for an example). Until such a conversion is made, we will be struggling with this issue. This high ground, exposed to the gusty winds off Lake Michigan, is just the wrong place to spray sewage!
If you think that this situation needs to be addressed, and you’re one who is willing to write a letter to the newspaper (and we realize, that’s not for everyone), go to–
- Traverse City Record-Eagle: http://record-eagle.com/letters/x546324365/Write-a-Letter-to-the-Editor
- Leelanau Enterprise: http://www.leelanaunews.com/drupal/index.php?q=node/19664
Otherwise, you can post your thoughts under “Comments”, below, and we’ll share them with the responsible parties. If you’d like to send a personal note directly to those parties, you can use the contact info below:
- Robert Kuras, President, The Homestead Resort:
-1 Wood Ridge Road, Glen Arbor, MI 49636
- Dusty Shultz, Superintendent, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore:
-9922 Front Street, Empire, MI 49630
- William Creal, Chief, Water Resources Div., Michigan DEQ:-
– PO Box 30458, Lansing, MI 48909
– 517- 284-5567
If you’d be willing to share a copy of your message with us, that would be helpful. You can email it to DreamingDuneBear@GMail.com.
–This site will abide by the “Netiquette” standards which prohibit excessively hostile or insulting interaction on Internet forums.
–As of 1/19/12, a name will be required for each commenter (as is normally required for letters to the editor, etc.).