Fouts: Hackel ‘covering up’ Freedom Hill dumping

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Warren Mayor James Fouts renewed allegations Sunday that Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is "covering up" illegal dumping at a former Sterling Heights landfill.

Fouts wants a state probe into the matter, but reached Sunday, Hackel countered the accusations have little, if any, substance. Another official, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, criticized Fouts for "blowing things out of proportion."

"Is there an environmental hazard there? No," said Hackel. "Are there environmental concerns? Yes. And they have been known, talked over by an authority made up of several cities and are being addressed.

"This isn't something discovered or uncovered by the Warren mayor," he said. "He is frightening people and I can't understand for what reason."

Fouts renewed concerns during the WDIV-Local 4 news program "Flashpoint." Fouts alleged Hackel threatened him in early morning phone messages earlier this month after Fouts used social media on Nov. 16 about the dumping at the former Freedom Hill landfill.

Warren mayor, Macomb spar over work at former landfill

Freedom Hill is now a county-owned and operated park and outdoor entertainment venue visited by thousands of people. It was the site of a Donald Trump rally attended by the Republican candidate this summer.

Fouts has compared the landfill problems as a "cover up" akin to the Flint water crisis.

"He (Hackel) threatened me that I would be sorry if I didn't get back to him," Fouts told WDIV anchor Devin Scillian. "He (Hackel) said I was starting a panic. If there was a panic, Mark Hackel started it."

Hackel denies every threatening Fouts but admits he left him a message because "after he put out his alarm on Facebook we were getting calls from citizens and the media wanting to know what we were doing about it."

At one point in Sunday's segment Fouts stared into the TV camera and said: "Attorney General Bill Schuette, I want a government investigation into illegal dumping at Freedom Hill."

Fouts said Hackel has been "deflecting" the situation and "making me the scapegoat... Shoot the messenger."

Hackel has said the "illegal dumping" accusation stems from an effort by the public works department and a private contractor to resolve "undulation" soil surface issues in a Freedom Hill parking area. He said a contractor provided clean fill dirt free of charge from a nearby project. Hackel insists appropriate permits were obtained from the city of Sterling Heights to do the work, which including creating a berm to address adjacent residents complaints of light and sound during events.

"During that work, the height of a berm was increased and some methane vent pipes were damaged," Hackel said. "But no one said they weren't going to be replaced. All the permits needed were obtained but if there was an error, it probably would have been good to get approval from the MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) as well."

Hackel said the Freedom Hill situation has been discussed by the South Macomb Disposal Authority, a multi-city agency which includes Warren and Sterling Heights.

Fouts theorized methane is moving underground towards a baseball field and potentially may reach a nearby church. But his concerns don't end there.

Fouts said leachate contaminate from the site is spilling out and could potentially reach the Red Run Drain and the Clinton River which eventually feeds into Lake St. Clair.

"This is a three-year deal and will take eight months or more to clean up," Fouts said..

Taylor stressed Sunday the city's 132,000 residents do not have to fear drinking their water or of any public safety problem from the site. he said leachates and methane gas are always possible problems associated with landfills and that is why they are heavily regulated.

"What cover up?" asked Taylor. "There is a remediation plan that is constantly monitored by the DEQ. Our engineers were in touch with county public works (on this). The SMDA has been on top of it and there are no public health concerns.

"I'm disappointed at Mayor Fouts's actions and allegations which have alarmed and upset people," said Taylor. "I'm also surprised that if he had a concern about something in my city he didn't pick up a phone and talk to me about it."

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