Fouts ramps up attacks on Hackel over landfill dumping

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

A dispute over environmental concerns at Freedom Hill has amplified with Warren Mayor Jim Fouts increasingly targeting Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, accusing him of covering up “illegal dumping.”

On Thursday, Fouts again criticized the county for allowing a contractor to dump for free fill dirt at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights to create a berm barrier to block sound and lights from nearby neighborhoods and to level the parking lot.

Fouts said in a public statement the contractor should have been billed $90,000 for the project, which also damaged methane vent pipes, uprooted trees and caused leachate to leak.

Deputy County Executive Mark Deldin said Thursday that Hackel’s office would no longer be responding to Fouts’ statements.

The South Macomb Disposal Authority “has jurisdiction for that landfill so they are the only ones that we are dealing with,” Deldin said. “We are done responding to (Fouts’) inaccurate remarks and accusations.”

The dispute — which started when Fouts made Facebook posts accusing the county of negligence for pouring excavated dirt from road projects over an old landfill — has led to the nasty back-and-forth between Fouts and Hackel.

Fouts pulled Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor into the fray, criticizing him for issuing a soil erosion permit to the county.

Deldin said the dumping project was a mutual favor between the county and the contractor. Generally, the county would have had to pay for dirt to build the berm, and the contractor would have to pay to dump its excavated dirt, Deldin said.

“We improved the parking situation but we created a concern about too much weight being on the landfill and that’s what we are remediating,” he said.

The contractor indemnified the county for any corrective action so it will not cost Macomb County anything, he said.

Fouts has called for the state attorney general to investigate the county’s actions.

SMDA officials disputed Fouts’ claim that there was any environmental hazard.

It released a statement this week indicating the issues at Freedom Hill had already been discovered by engineers before Fouts brought it to the public’s attention.

The authority said the problems were noted during a routine inspection Nov. 2 and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was alerted two days later.

“There is no environmental disaster and no danger to the public,” authority chairman and St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby said in the statement.

The authority’s statement backs Hackel, who says the site is not dangerous and that Fouts is trying to “incite the public” in his Facebook posts. Fouts wrote initially that the Freedom Hill problems were comparable to the Flint water crisis, but has backtracked on that claim.

In a letter to Hackel dated Wednesday, Fouts said he was “disappointed” Hackel didn’t show up for a scheduled television debate on the controversy.

Fouts said he had planned to present facts that supported his case, including that Hackel authorized “illegal dumping” without a permit for clean-up or notifying the DEQ.

He later accuses Hackel of “cover-ups, possible pollution of waterways and contractor favoritism.”

Deldin admits the county dropped the ball when it didn’t receive permits from the disposal authority and DEQ. “It was a learning experience,” Deldin said. “Nothing was avoided or subverted intentionally.”

The county plans to remediate the issues by regrading the berm; repairing damaged vents, which are used to ensure that methane gas evaporates; replacing broken trees; and plugging holes with clean clay fill where leachate is seeping through.