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Great Lakes Article:

Groups oppose nuke plant site plan
By John Flesher
Traverse City Record-Eagle
Published November 30, 2006

TRAVERSE CITY — An environmentalist coalition is fighting a plan to convert a former nuclear plant site into a state recreation area, saying it's a liability risk because of residual contamination and the presence of highly radioactive wastes.

But a land conservancy wants the state to buy the wooded property along Lake Michigan, describing it as an ecological and historical treasure that otherwise will be lost to residential development.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources plans next week to seek a $3 million grant toward the purchase from overseers of a state trust fund used to acquire and improve land for parks and other recreation areas.

The Charlevoix County site was the location of the Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant, the nation's oldest nuclear generator when shut down in 1997 after operating 35 years.

The plant was razed. Its owner, Consumers Energy, said in August it had finished cleanup and site restoration, although 441 bundles of spent fuel rods loaded with uranium will remain there until a federal storage area is opened.

Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp., is offering about 450 acres to the state, excluding the high-security waste storage area and a 100-acre buffer zone, spokesman Tim Petrosky said. He wouldn't disclose the asking price, but supporters of the deal said it's around $20 million.

The Michigan Environmental Council, the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C., criticized the proposed purchase in a statement Wednesday.

"Among the most troublesome questions is the wisdom of the state's taxpayers potentially assuming legal liability for land with a history of radioactive releases and dangerous nuclear waste that will be there indefinitely,” they said.

Lana Pollack, president of the environmental council and a member of the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, said she had been lobbied by environmentalists in the Charlevoix area to support the purchase.

"I cannot in good conscience do that,” Pollack said in an interview. "The risks are too high, the unknowns too great.”

Petrosky would not comment on liability issues, saying they were a subject of negotiations with the state.

The property is habitat for deer, porcupines, bears, bald eagles and endangered plant species, said Tom Bailey, executive director of the Little Traverse Bay Conservancy. It's in a rapidly growing resort area where much of the Lake Michigan shoreline is privately owned.

If the state takes a pass, the land probably will be sold for development, Petrosky said.

"For every new subdivision that goes in, we'd like to see a new nature preserve somewhere,” Bailey said. The property "is in very good shape. The natural aspects are very attractive and the offshore environment is good for aquatic life.”

Also favoring the purchase is the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. The Big Rock Point area was once a seasonal gathering place for Indian tribes.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said it would designate the grounds a "greenfield” safe for any type of use.

But the environmental groups said risks "still abound at the site.”

The plant released radioactivity into the air, soil, groundwater and Lake Michigan because of "leaks, spills, overflows, floods and sloppy handling over the decades,” their statement said. A 1984 leak sent 20,000 gallons of tritium, or radioactive hydrogen, into the groundwater, it said.

Petrosky said Big Rock Point emitted less than 1 percent of the radiation allowed under its federal permit during its 35 years of operation. "These releases were short-lived radioactivity that naturally dissipated,” he said.

The plant's decommissioning included extensive testing for residual contamination that showed the area was safe, he said. Recent groundwater tests turned up no detectable levels of tritium, he said.

"Overwhelming scientific data proves that there would be no risk to anyone using the Big Rock Point property,” Petrosky said.

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