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
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
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
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,