State seeks halt to development at Meijer site, says Acme Township broke the law

Sep 18, 2017

The State of Michigan wants the federal government to postpone approval for development plans in Acme Township.

The dispute centers on 157 acres of land next to the Meijer store.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians bought the land from Acme Township last year, and plans to develop commercial and residential property into “The Village at Grand Traverse.”

The tribe will need approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs first, but the state says the township still hasn’t resolved a dispute over the property’s sewer system.

Brian Jankowski of the state Department of the Environmental Quality says the township never got a permit – known as “Part 41” – from the state to build the sewer.

“It’s important,” says Jankowski. “We review the design and see that it meets specific criteria that the law requires.”

In 2014, a plume of silt runoff from the Meijer site contaminated Acme Creek and Grand Traverse Bay.
Credit Steve Stinson

Jankowski says DEQ first discovered the lack of a permit in October 2014, while investigating a plume of silt runoff running from the site into Grand Traverse Bay. The plume was not directly related to the sewer – it was the result of too much topsoil being removed at once.

Jankowski says an inspection of the sewer revealed there was not enough “downstream capacity” to handle the extra wastewater coming form the site.

The agency has been working with the township to resolve the dispute for nearly three years.

“It’s an ongoing enforcement action,” says Jankowski. “We’ve made some progress recently, hopefully toward bringing that to a conclusion.”

Jankowski says the township will likely be fined.

Acme Township Supervisor Jay Zollinger admits the township had a legal responsibility to apply for the Part 41 permit. He calls it a “paperwork” problem.

“Somehow the paperwork between the engineer and the state never got to the township,” says Zollinger.

Zollinger says the sewer is functioning properly, and the township is working on a project to increase capacity of the sewer lines leading into Traverse City.

Early plans for "The Village at Grand Traverse" in 2012.
Credit Acme Township

In the meantime, a letter from Governor Rick Snyder’s office to the BIA asks them to postpone their decision on whether the land can go into trust (read the letter below).

The letter, dated June 28, says Acme Township violated state law by building the sewer without a permit. It says that “exceeding wastewater transport capacity can threaten the public health” and DEQ may pursue “enforcement action” against the township. It asks the BIA to postpone any decision until the matter is resolved.

Neither the governor’s office nor the tribe responded to a request for comment for this story.

Zollinger says the township has no official comment on the letter, but he thinks the state had “no reason to send that letter.”

“[The sewer] has been working fine. We’ve never had a problem with it,” says Zollinger. “In my opinion, this is really not a story.” 

The State of Michigan's letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (page 1 of 2).
The State of Michigan's letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (page 2 of 2).