U.P. losing solid-waste inspectors to retirements

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Capital News Service
LANSING – By the beginning of December, the Upper Peninsula will have lost all three of its solid-waste inspectors, including the supervisor, to retirement, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE).
As a result of budget reductions, the DNRE has limited funds to replace them.
Instead, the solid-waste staff based in Cadillac and Gaylord will do U.P. inspections, according to Jim Sygo, deputy director of the DNRE.
The shift means less time for employees from Cadillac and Gaylord to do inspections and handle other duties in their home districts, which include 22 counties from Mason to Roscommon.
“It will have some adverse affect,” said Lonnie Lee, field operations section manager for the DNRE. “We’ll have to prioritize.”
“It’s likely they might do a smaller range of secondary inspections to hit the larger plants in the U.P.,” Sygo said, noting that northern Lower Peninsula inspectors will have flexibility so they can work in the U.P. “They’ll live out of their cars and a hotel for two weeks. It isn’t unreasonable, but it’s an added burden.”
Debbie Nurmi, environmental manger for Republic Services in Manistee, which is inspected by the Cadillac district, said the change won’t affect operations, but the inspector’s increased workload may affect the time it takes the landfill to obtain approvals.
“Today’s landfills are built and operated to comply with state regulations,” she said. “Whether they come once a year or once a month, landfills will still operate to remain in compliance with these regulations.”
There are 40 active solid waste facilities in the U.P., according to the DNRE. Currently, two inspectors from other districts manage the U.P.’s hazardous waste treatment storage and disposal facilities and companies that generate hazardous waste.
Municipal landfills are inspected quarterly, but Lee said construction projects and problems such as groundwater contamination require more frequent inspections.
There are staff in the U.P. who can be trained and assigned to solid waste management part-time, but the department would still need to borrow an inspector from the Lower Peninsula, according to Lee.
Sygo said the DNRE is also working with the Environmental Protection Agency to consider whether the federal agency can assist in inspections, noting that the EPA sometimes does its own inspections to evaluate the state’s.
“It isn’t something we haven’t done before, but we’re looking to do it again,” he said.
Liane Shekter Smith, the chief of the DNRE’s Environmental Resource Management Division, said the loss of the U.P.’s key staff will affect the workload across the state.
“We’re not going to be able to do everything we used to do. We’ll have to put our resources where our priorities are,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult to answer complaints in a timely manner, if at all.”
Shekter Smith said complaints include neighborhood complaints and anonymous dumping cases. The department is working to identify where to reduce services by evaluating types of inspections and determining which are most effective.
Paul Wandrie, manager of the Mackinac Island Solid Waste Facility, said that people with complaints can notify the city directly rather than calling the DNRE. He said that’s been done in the past with odor complaints.
Richard Aho, director of the Marquette County Solid Waste Authority, said he is aware that the U.P.’s regional supervisor is retiring but didn’t know that the region’s entire staff would be gone by the end of this year.
“Anybody they bring in won’t have experience with this area. We’ll just have to pick up where the other guy left off,” Aho said. “It’s a matter of the transition into the new inspector.”
Aho said having a DNRE regional office in his “own backyard” makes it convenient to stay in contact with inspectors and discuss projects. With an inspector coming from another area, he said he’ll adapt by communicating through e-mail.
And for emergencies, Sygo said, the DNRE’s staff based in Gwinn will respond as soon as possible.
Shekter Smith said, “These are uncertain times. We’re going to work the best we can to provide services.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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