Everything You Never Wanted to Know About The Homestead’s Sewage

  • Note–The following reflects our understanding of the facts of this situation. Anyone having differing information is welcome to advise us.
  • How it all began–At the time of the beginning of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the vacant acreage next to The Homestead was owned by the same family who essentially owned The Homestead. Like all other undeveloped land within the Park boundaries, this land was subject to purchase by the Park Service. However, the owners sold an easement to The Homestead (basically themselves) for $1, allowing for a seepage area on 13 acres of the property—so when the government bought the property (for $1.3 million) it came encumbered with that easement—thereby avoiding the effect the law as it applied to everyone else, and granting The Homestead continued use of the property.
  • What the easement said–The Homestead may have a “seepage area” for its sewage system within the easement area. At that time, this was, of course, understood to mean an underground system of drain pipes. According to the easement, the above-ground land was to be left as natural as possible.
  • What the easement didn’t say: It did not say that the Park is obligated to provide for all of The Homestead’s sewage needs at the lowest possible cost—just to provide space for a seepage area on those 13 acres.
  • The early years–For some years, the land was used as intended—Seepage system below ground; trails through the woods and meadows above ground. Because much of the area was not needed for seepage, that area remained covered with forest.
  • Alas, Problems–Over the years, The Homestead grew, and outgrew its sewage system. Sewage oozed from surrounding ground; there were numerous state permit violations; the groundwater became polluted; citizens complained; lawsuits were filed. Everyone was desperate to resolve the situation.
  • Hello, Sewage–In 1992 The Homestead announced a plan to clear-cut the remaining forest and utilize the entire area. Anxious to resolve the many problems, but also wanting to preserve the remaining forest, the Park Superintendent unfortunately agreed to a plan to allow for the partially-treated sewage to be sprayed above ground, so the trees could remain.
  • More Problems–The Park Service and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) documented many problems during following years: the system was not maintained; sewage was sprayed beyond the boundaries of the easement area; the ground water was again polluted.
  • Goodbye, Trees–In 2005 The Homestead announced that it had again exceeded its sewage system capacity, and now needed to cut the remaining forest, replace it with a mix of alien grasses and alfalfa, and spray their sewage over the whole area. Park Management now questioned the legality of above-ground spray irrigation under the easement for a “seepage area”, but was advised that because “the camel already has its nose in the tent” (meaning the previous superintendent had allowed for above-ground irrigation), it could no longer be prevented. Anxious to prevent drifting of sewage spray into the Park, the Park Service, various environmental organizations, and private citizens asked The Homestead to explore options such as root-zone seepage, drip irrigation, low-profile-low-pressure sprinklers, and better pretreatment. The Homestead rejected these options and prepared to install a high-pressure spray system.
  • “We don’t need no stinking buffers”–It is universally accepted in the industry that, when using high-pressure sprayers, aerosol drift is inevitable. For that reason, a buffer zone of at least 100’ from all property lines is required by state law. (Because this facility is in a designated coastal high-wind zone, a greater safety buffer is really needed.) The Park Service requested the Homestead to abide by this safety measure. The Homestead instead made the legal case that easement boundaries are not technically “property lines”. They declined to include the buffers.
  • Here it is–In 2006 the forest was clear-cut and a high-pressure spray system was installed, designed to spray sewage up to within a few feet of the easement boundaries. (In the process, the bull-dozers illegally denuded hundreds of feet of Park land, created wash-outs and silt deposits, etc.)
  • But– Although NPS decided that above-ground irrigation could not be prevented per se (a questionable conclusion), it is unanimous that any drifting spray, including mist, beyond the easement boundaries is clearly illegal. This has been stated numerous times by various state and federal officials.
  • Surprise! It turns out that spray does often illegally drift into the Park. The NPS has posted the nearby parkland as unsafe for entry. More area should be posted, as drifting spray has been observed well-beyond the signs. The public has had to give up all use and benefit from this property, which we, the American people, purchased. (Think “public nuisance”)
  • PLEASE…” Sleeping Bear Superintendent Dusty Shultz has made it clear that this situation is unacceptable. She has repeatedly asked The Homestead and the Michigan DEQ to resolve it so our National Lakeshore can be opened to the public.
  • Our Sewage–The Homestead’s pre-spray filtration/disinfection system is considered to be only a “partial” treatment process; the spray is considered to be potentially pathogenic, and is supposed to go directly to the ground for decontamination. It is  classified as not suitable for ingestion (such as inhalation). Studies have shown that pathogens can be carried for considerable distances (hundreds of feet) in aerosol spray. Humans and animals who breathe this aerosol drift (not to mention those who eat the berries and mushrooms in the area) are subject to infection. The Park Service public health officer determined that Rangers should wear respirators, goggles, and coveralls when approaching the area for observation. The responsible DEQ environmental engineer has stated that the spray “warrants restricted access.”                      Further, there have been a number of instances of failure of The Homestead’s disinfection system. One DEQ report stated, “Monitoring reports show that fecal coliform counts have been reported in excess of 6000 counts per hundred ml [600 times the allowable limit]…Bacteria in the spray on land to which the public has access is a public health hazard.” During July and August of 2010, when many visitors were enjoying the park (along with resident wildlife), fecal coliform bacteria was present in the spray at 6600 counts/100 ml.                                                                                                During a visit to Sleeping Bear, the NPS public health expert checked the system and found spray drifting up to 150’ into the Park. Others have observed and estimated greater distances, but just using that figure, some 20 acres of park land are being affected. This approximately coincides with the area in which the warning signs are visible, and into which, consequently, the public seldom ventures.
  • In Summary–
    • The easement began as a questionable way to allow for underground sewage disposal on 13 acres in the Park. The land above was to be left as natural as possible. It was still used for trails, etc..
    • Above-ground spraying was later permitted in order to save the remaining forest. (The trails were then abandoned.)
    • 12 years later, the remaining forest was razed and replaced with sewage-sprayed grasses and alfalfa. The Homestead effectively assumed all use of the property; the public now cannot enter the property we purchased.
    • By not providing the buffers needed for sewage spray, for the past 20 years The Homestead has also effectively taken over many additional acres of National Park land surrounding the easement area (partly in and around the Port Oneida Historic District).
  • So Here We Are–The Park Service continues to expend precious resources monitoring this problem, and continues to post parklands with warning signs.  This will be needed so long as there is sewage sprayed in the area. The best way that would resolve everything would be if The Homestead would take the initiative and build a regular sewage treatment facility, so the wastewater could be harmlessly discharged in the normal way. Short of that, they could convert to root-zone irrigation or another alternative.
    We understand that this is a difficult situation for The Homestead. The engineers they hired apparently told them that this system could work. However, the past seven years have corroborated what the previous 13 years showed—you can’t spray sewage in this wind-blown coastal site without contaminating surrounding lands. That’s why The Homestead will earn the appreciation of all who care about Sleeping Bear if they now right the wrong that was done.
  • So What Should We Do About It? Before installing this system, The Homestead was advised by the Park Service and numerous organizations & individuals that, although we may not be able to say what type of system they can build, we can and will ensure that the law and the public’s rights are upheld: none of their sewage, including drifting mist, is allowed in our Park. The NPS and the DEQ have thus far been unable or unwilling to effectively do this. They need to know if you think 20 years is long enough for a part of our National Park System to be taken over for a private resort’s sewage. The Homestead needs to be told that you expect them to take responsibility for their sewage. Other alternatives are available. The best would be to simply build a regular full-treatment system. Short of that, trickle irrigation could be used for disposing of the sewage without any drifting mist.  (See  http://www.geoflow.com/d_brochure.pdf  ) Join us in asking them to be a good neighbor to the National Lakeshore by converting to such a system now.
  • How Do We Do It? If you think that this situation needs to be seriously addressed, The Homestead, NPS, and the DEQ need to know. You can post a comment at the bottom of this page.

If you’d like to send your own personal message directly to them, here’s the contact info:

  • Dusty Shultz, Superintendent, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore:-
    – 9922 Front Street, Empire, MI 49630
    – 231/326-5134
  • Mr. Dan Wyant,
    Director, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
    -P.O. Box 30473, Lansing, MI 48909-7973
    -(517) 284-6700

If you’d be willing to share a copy of your message with us, that would be helpful. You can copy it toDreamingDuneBear@Gmail.com; or mail it to 9585 Bow Road, Maple City, MI 49664



  1. roger 6 December 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I use to regularly run that trail. Now I can’t?

    • Tom Van Zoeren 7 December 2011 at 8:33 am #

      Roger–The Bayview Trail had to be rerouted when The Homestead started spraying their sewage in that area. So you should be ok following the designated trail; however, surrounding lands closer to the spray area, which should be available for exploring, mushroom-seeking, hunting, etc., are hazardous and should be avoided (unless you wear a gas mask, etc., like the rangers!)

  2. Lori 11 December 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Has the Leelanau Conservancy or the Glen Lake association taken a stance or made any public statements regarding this issue?

    • Tom Van Zoeren 11 December 2011 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Lori

      No, we haven’t asked them to, though we do often send updates to the Conservancy. It’s not really that well-within the realm of The GL Assn; and I doubt that either group would be anxious to get embroiled in this. It’s a good way to get people upset with you. Of course, if you or anyone believes differently, you’re welcome to bring it up with those groups. In any case, thanks for the thought–

  3. Dianne Wakefield 14 December 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    I’m stunned. How can the Homestead defile “our park” for 18 years and counting and they are allowed to continue this practice and no one is held accountable? If any citizen did anything like this – for example, dumping anything toxic in the park, wouldn’t someone from the NPS or DEQ come after us with fines and law suites? I have no doubt. So, how is it that the Big Homestead has gotten away with this? Perhaps because “it’s a good way to get people upset with you”????

  4. Everyman 21 December 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    I suspect that the other groups have not gotten involved because most members worry that their septic systems are polluting, not as directly as the Homestead, but still polluting.

    As county residents, we all should insure that the water we borrow from the earth is returned as clean as it was when we borrowed it.

    Presently, our county commissioners, refuse to codify this requirement. Thus many GL members are contributing to the problem of water pollution.

    There are a lot of compounds being added to ground water that are much more harmful than fecal material – think birth control pill residue, statin residuals, un-metabolized insulin, etc.

  5. Judy Granger 18 December 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    I wonder if the SBDNL bicycle trail will go through this spewing area. I hope so!

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