By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Cleaning up Detroit and its river could be a key in revitalizing and re-creating Michigan as a state, state officials say.
People describe Detroit as the front-door city of the state, said Ron Olson, the chief of parks and recreation for the state Department of Natural Resources. “The better Detroit does, the better the state does.”
The industrial complexes that were built up along the Detroit River and other rivers throughout the state years ago were an abusive use of land, Olson said. Now, the challenge is to dismantle these complexes and restore the waterfronts to the way they once were.
The main focus for the future is to continue to figure out how to dismantle and remove the remnants of those complexes to turn that space into safe and usable park space, Olson said.
“We have had to deal with contaminated soils, unforeseen situations under the ground and removing the cement silos,” he said.
Stormwater drains pass through the William G. Milliken Park and dump into the river, Olson said. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy built a wetland complex in the park that filters stormwater before it goes into the river and keeps out pollutants.
The complex shows how wetlands act as a natural filtration system for the rain and runoff water before it goes to the Detroit River as clean water, without going through a water treatment plant.
The goal is not only to clean up the Detroit River’s waterfront, but also make to make it a destination that people want to visit, Olson said.
“The bottom line is that there are measurable economic benefits for tourism, people wanting to come to the state to enjoy themselves and residents who come down and enjoy the view,” Olson said. “They go to restaurants, sometimes they’ll come down and go to concerts and other kinds of activities, because the riverfront is a destination now that it has been created.”
The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has done a great job working with state agencies involved in cleanup efforts to make make Detroit Riverfront a gathering place, said Andrew Hartz, a district supervisor with the Water Resources Division for the Department of Environmental Quality
Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said one of the most important things with the revitalization of Detroit’s riverfront is making sure that soil does not enter the river at high levels. That can harm the river’s natural ecosystem.
Hartz said there are still places on the river that the Department of Environmental Quality is working to clean up. An old monorail site was recently the subject of a very large cleanup.
Among other contaminants, the cleanup removed a tar-like sludge that came from an old coal and gasification plant used by power companies to burn natural gas, Hartz said.
Cleanup efforts at other Michigan rivers can learn from the Detroit River cleanup,
“What you learn is that it takes a lot of collaboration; it takes the local government, it takes the state… and a lot of other entities, that all come together for the single purpose of trying to restore the waterfronts,” he said.
By JOSH THALL