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Great Lakes Article:

Pollution fighter relentless
Tireless volunteer targets Lake St. Clair

Gene Schabath
The Detroit News

11/24/2002


   HARRISON 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 the area.
   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 heavy rains.
   "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@ detnews.com.
 
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