In today's editorial section, the Grand Rapids Press took us to task for any giggling over last month's mysterious disappearance of 15 million gallons of partially treated sewage from a retention pond in Sand Lake. Some of the local and national media have been yucking it up, but "It's no laughing matter", thundered the Press. After all, the consequences of this wastewater seeping into the groundwater and nearby wells "could be costly to people's health and the environment".
Well, yes. More than likely, according to engineers from Kent County's Public Works Department, the pond's liner sprung a leak and the wastewater flowed into a sinkhole. This water contains human waste from Sand Lake village and is retained in the pond for treatment with bacteria before being released into the environment. So it's not anything you should drink or come into contact with, but then treatment was well underway and the material is biodegradable. Furthermore, the local wells are being monitored, and so far there's been no sign of contamination.
Nevertheless, the Press has taken a dour view of the accident and has no patience for anyone having a chuckle or two over the missing waste: We need to keep an eye on the government to make sure that defective retention pond isn't part of a bigger problem. Probably so, but the Press hasn't always had such a stern take on environmental contamination and suspicion of the government's response to it. When the Boardwalk developers a few years back excavated 27,000 cubic yards of severely contaminated soil from the old Berkey & Gay factory site and dumped it into the old water tanks of the defunct water filtration plant up the street (now Clearwater Plaza), the Press wasn't bothered by it all. The reporter on the story said there was no story because the government had given the developers a pass on the dumping. In fact, to the extent that the Press covered the story at all it denigrated those who filed the complaint against the Boardwalk developers -- that is, yours truly, the Local Area Watch.
So why is 15 million gallons (about 74,000 cubic yards) of partially treated wastewater accidentally released into a sinkhole a very serious matter that merits keeping a close eye on the government's response, but the government's lack of a response to 27,000 cubic yards of raw solid hazardous waste with toxic concentrations of lead, mercury, and arsenic deliberately dumped out in the open next to a residential neighborhood rates a blind eye from River City's watchdog of record?
The difference, folks, is that no power players are involved in the Sand Lake fiasco. However, the Boardwalk project gang includes some of the biggest bigwigs in G.R. who cut corners in a rush to make illicit financial deals on the eve of Old Kent Bank's acquisition by Fifth Third Bancorp. (That story and its web of corruption is well-detailed in the "Toxic Towers", "Logie's Landfill", "Hall of Shame", "Fifth Third", and "The Fixer" series of articles we have run and so we won't cover it here again.) Just note that a free press is a boon to society only when the watchdog bites. But then that requires teeth, something the "happy fun" news Grand Rapids Press lacks.