volunteer targets Lake St. Clair
Gene Schabath The Detroit News 11/24/2002
TOWNSHIP -- Like a bad dream, the vision keeps recurring
to Doug Martz about a summer day in 1994.
The scene is this: Martz is working on
a seawall construction job along the Clinton River for a
friend, John Schneider, when a torrential downpour floods
When the rain subsides, Martz says what
he saw next was an environmental nightmare that left him
choking. Tears welled up in his eyes.
"The river turned black and then there
was 8 feet of sewage ... washed up alongside Schneider's
36-foot cabin cruiser," Martz recalled. "It was the most
awful smell. It was horrible. My eyes started to water.
It drove me into the house."
This was Martz's introduction to water
pollution. He would later learn in the days and weeks to
come that the sewage and other pollutants came from wastewater
treatment plants and sewer overflows overburdened by the
"They said Mount Clemens discharged 3
million gallons of sewage from their sewage treatment plant
into the Clinton River. Heck, I didn't know Mount Clemens
had a sewage treatment plant," Martz said.
The 1994 sewage fiasco -- which led to
the closing of Macomb County beaches for most of the summer
-- was an epiphany of sorts for Martz. It was his springboard
into environmental activism, an often thankless job that
he readily accepts and enthusiastically undertakes.
Today the Harrison Township environmentalist
is chairman of the Macomb Water Quality Board, an environmental
watchdog group that was formed in the backwash of the 1994
pollution episode and now is undertaking an even more enormous
task: Getting Lake St. Clair named the sixth Great Lake.
Thomas Kalkofen, director of the Macomb
County Health Department, is amazed by Martz's dedication
and willingness to put in long hours on his volunteer avocation.
"He's a dedicated, committed person to
his cause," said Kalkofen, whose agency works with Martz
on environmental issues.
"He is like the tallest lightning rod
on the barn -- he attracts issues -- and he's a bear once
he gets into one. He is a rare individual who can deal with
people at all levels (and) is a very bright man (who) understands
issues and what needs to be done to resolve them."
For Martz, outing polluters and exposing
environmental pollution have gone well beyond Macomb County.
He's clearly on a crusade. It's a high-profile cause
celebre that has taken him to Canada, Ohio, Florida,
and New York state.
When Martz talks about the environment,
people listen. His passionate statements on environmental
abuse won him an audience with celebrities such as singer
Billy Joel and John F. Kennedy's nephew Robert Kennedy Jr.
In 1998, they compared notes during a
private ride on Joel's luxury cruiser along the Hudson River.
Kennedy, impressed, courted Martz to open
a Metro Detroit chapter of his River Keepers organization.
This meeting led to Kennedy's creation
of the St. Clair Channel Keepers, with Martz and Walpole
Native American Brad Sands as co-chairmen.
Since then, Martz has become one of the
most recognized environmental experts in Metro Detroit.
He and others who share his vision have
inspired millions of dollars in anti-pollution projects
in Macomb and St. Clair counties.
The most notable include a $30 million
sewage treatment plant upgrade in Mount Clemens; a $70 million
sewer and retention basin improvement in St. Clair Shores,
Roseville and Eastpointe; the $140 million expansion of
the 12 Towns drain in Madison Heights; and the $160 million
sewer separation program in Port Huron. Clinton Township,
which sanctioned the illegal pumping of raw sewage into
the Clinton River for years to alleviate basement flooding,
is spending millions of dollars to fix pollution problems,
in part because of what Martz has uncovered.
He draws strength from events that offend
his sensibilities, like when he learned the 12 Towns retention
basin in Madison Heights was discharging 1 billion gallons
of sewage into the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair. That
was true in 1994, but not now.
Martz isn't paid for his efforts to clean
the environment, but accepts the challenge with vigor. He
has spoken to hundreds of organizations. He preached his
anti-pollution message recently from the pulpit at Lakeside
Christian Church in Harrison Township.
"I spoke about why Christians should care
about the environment," Martz said. "I read a verse, Genesis
1:26, that says on the sixth day God gave man dominion over
earth, to take care of it. We have to take care of it while
we are here."
Martz has been doing a lot of preaching
lately to service groups and at city council and township
board meetings as he tries to drum up support to have Lake
St. Clair designated as the sixth Great Lake.
If the heart-shaped lake were to be given
the special label by Congress, it would mean millions of
dollars in federal aid to help in the fight against water
pollution in southeast Michigan.
As he barnstorms around Metro Detroit
to push for Great Lake status, he hands out lapel buttons
and bumper stickers proclaiming Lake St. Clair's virtues.
Several communities, including the town of Lakeshore in
Canada, have passed resolutions urging Congress to elevate
the lake's status.
"I'm building up a coalition," Martz said.
In 1997, county board Chairman John Hertel
created the Lake St. Clair Blue Ribbon Commission. The board
is a 32-member committee of legislators, community leaders
and everyday folks. Also appointed was watchdog Martz, to
study the pollution.
The commission created the Water Quality
Board and established a comprehensive water monitoring system
for the lake and its tributaries. Martz became board chairman.
A few months ago, the county was awarded
a $2.5 million grant from the state for the monitoring system.
Martz believes that will go a long way in creating the comprehensive
detection system needed to ferret out polluters.
Martz makes his living as a licensed builder.
He acknowledges he has lost thousands of dollars in business
while he pursues his unpaid role as pollution crusader.
But he has no intention of slowing down.
"And I do it for my nephew, Lincoln Okaji,
who is 8 years old," Martz said. "I told him that when he
grows up he will be able to swim in Lake St. Clair."
Today, because of the pollution, he cannot.
You can reach Gene Schabath at (586) 468-3614 or gschabath@
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