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Wells of frustration


It seems that the long struggle over the construction of hazardous waste wells in Romulus has just about come to an end. And it seems that those who opposed the wells i.e. scores of Romulus residents, will be on the losing end of this fight. But is it any surprise, considering how Gov. John Engler helped obliterate the public’s voice when it comes to such projects?

In 1979 a law was created to ensure the public could register concerns about hazardous waste disposal with the Department of Natural Resources’ Site Review Board, says Dave Dempsey, policy adviser for the Michigan Environmental Council. Dempsey, author of the forthcoming book Ruin and Recovery, which documents the state’s environmental history over the last 100 years, says that the board, which was made up of scientists and regular folks, had the power to grant or deny permits for incinerators, waste wells or hazardous waste landfills.

But after Engler took office, he made the boards strictly advisory, says Dempsey. Now, the final say on these issues belongs to the Engler-appointed director of the Department of Environmental Quality. Not until Environmental Disposal Systems of Birmingham applied for a permit to build a 4,000-foot-deep well in Romulus has it become apparent how Engler managed to cut the Review Board and the public out of the loop. (This is the first permit application to go before the board since Engler weakened it.)

Though the public vehemently opposes the wells — for fear that the hazardous waste will contaminate groundwater — and the SRB voted to reject the permit, word is that DEQ Director Russ Harding intends to issue the permit.

“It’s the most dramatic example of the overall change, which has been to muzzle the public and sequester decision making behind Harding’s closed doors,” says Dempsey.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or

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