Sterling Heights mayor pulled into Freedom Hill fray

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has taken another jab at a local official in a mounting dispute over environmental issues at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre.

This time, Fouts called out Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor for approving what he called the “illegal dumping” of excavated dirt on a landfill at Freedom Hill, and said Taylor needs to be investigated.

Fouts outlined his concerns in a letter addressed to Taylor on Tuesday in which he referred to the mayor and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel as the “pollution cover-up tag team,” and said he was responding to Taylor’s comments to the media about Fouts.

“In my opinion you and the county executive are guilty of violating state regulations governing landfill sites, and both of you are derelict in your duties as elected officials,” Fouts wrote.

Taylor declined to comment Tuesday, but the city released a statement saying it granted a soil erosion permit in February for the county to build the berm over the summer.

The statement also says the South Macomb Disposal Authority — which has jurisdiction over the landfill — and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality were notified in July that construction of the berm had damaged trees and methane vents.

“The health, safety and wellness of residents is paramount to the city of Sterling Heights,” the statement says. “As such, the city of Sterling Heights remains confident that Macomb County and SMDA are taking the necessary steps to address and complete the repair work and any other remedial action required.”

Fouts alleged Sterling Heights and Hackel conspired to cover up the illegal dumping, which was allowed as a special favor to a contractor.

County officials say they built a berm over the landfill at Freedom Hill in the past year and a half to level the parking lot, create a sound barrier and block headlights from disrupting nearby neighborhoods.

Deputy Executive Mark Deldin said the county learned from a recent evaluation that there were spiked methane gas readings, leaking leachate and missing or broken trees caused by constructing the berm.

Fouts and the county have been at odds since last week when Fouts blasted the county in several Facebook posts for creating environmental hazards and at one point compared the situation to Flint’s water crisis.

Deldin and Hackel have insisted the public is not at risk.

Fouts’ letter outlined a number of problems caused by the berm, including the fact that it didn’t receive MDEQ approval; it created 300,000 pounds of pressure on the landfill, pushing leachate to within 40 feet of Red Run Drain; and that it destroyed more than 40 methane gas monitoring vents and 100-150 trees planted to absorb leachate.

Fouts said professional engineers have estimated it would cost $400,000-$500,000 to remediate the berm. He noted in his letter to Taylor that Warren is obligated to pay 47 percent of the cost to maintain and remediate South Macomb Disposal Authority landfills.

Deldin said the contractor that placed the soil on the landfill indemnified the county for any corrective action required so it will not cost them anything.

Fouts referenced a Nov. 18 meeting between Hackel and SMDA engineer Roy Rose and a letter Rose wrote addressing the environmental issues and what corrective actions needed to be taken.

“Before you criticized me, you had a responsibility to learn the facts about this pollution,” Fouts wrote in the letter to Taylor.

In the letter, Rose suggested plugging leachate leaks with clean clay fill, restoring methane gas vents and drilling new tree wells among other solutions.

Deldin said the county is starting to make corrections, including fixing the leachate issue.