Grand Traverse County Neighborhood Focused on PFAS Plan

"I can’t imagine what it’s like for people to live here." - Incoming County Commissioner Darryl Nelson

Residents in one Grand Traverse County neighborhood continue to wait for answers, as leaders work on plans to address PFAS contamination in the drinking water.

Wednesday, County Commissioners met to discuss a backup plan for funding the effort to connect those homes to the municipal water system – but the motion failed.

Pine Grove PfasHillerie Rettelle lives in the Pine Grove subdivision in East Bay Township. She says her home is the 2nd worst in the neighborhood for PFAS contamination. “They measure PFAS by parts per trillion. My neighbor who has three young children measured at the highest at 1900 ppt. I measured at 877 ppt. Drinking water standard is 8 ppt.” She just wants to be able to turn on the faucet without fear. “It’s very unnerving. We don’t know what our future holds, how it’s going to affect us.”

East Bay Township is taking the lead on applying for grant funding from the state to pay the cost of hooking the homes up to the city water system. But County Commissioners discussed a motion to offer the home owners a low interest loan as a backup plan to get the work started more quickly.  Commission Chair Rob Hentschel says, “Our discussion was, ‘what can we do to help? What can we do to help speed along getting these residents hooked up to municipal water, safe water supply?’”

He credits incoming Commissioner Darryl Nelson with the idea, to use the county’s “affordable housing trust fund” to pay for the loans. That trust fund has sat largely dormant since it was created with sale of tax properties in the county. Hentschel says a plan like this would fast track the connection to city water, protect the owners, and also protect the taxable value of the properties.”

But that motion failed by one vote. “The vote was just one vote shy of passing, to commit some county funding in the form of that forgivable loan. We’re pretty sure the grant funding is going to come through. However we just wanted to give some peace of mind and cover any gaps that might not be covered in the funding.”Pine Grove Pfas 2

East Bay Township, however, does plan to move forward with putting the project out to bid, while simultaneously applying for the state grants, according to Township Supervisor Beth Friend. She says homeowners can start the work now at their own expense, but if they want to be included in the grant funding they need to wait until the township and the state complete their processes.

Hentschel says, “It could take, potentially, several weeks or months for that funding to come through. We are counting on some state grant dollars to come in to help fund this switch over. My hope was that we could give folks some peace of mind going into the holidays.”

Incoming Commissioner Nelson says as far as the homeowners are concerned, “I think anybody that thinks about it would empathize with them. It’s a very difficult thing knowing you’ve had contamination in your wells now that you know, you would want something done as quickly as possible. It’s not their fault. And we all share in the responsibility to do something for it as a community and as the government.” He adds, “If you’ve ever been without water for 24 to 48 hours it’s pretty difficult. So I can’t imagine what it’s like for people to live here.”

Pine Grove Pfas 3Rettelle says one frustration is that no one even thought to ask about PFAS years ago. When you buy a home there is no standard, saying that you need to test the water for PFAS. You can test the water but unless you ask for PFAS (testing) which is an additional charge, most homeowners won’t know to ask.” She adds, “We are still people. We’re not numbers. We’re playing the waiting game again. On whether we’re going to get running water again before winter hits.”

All things considered this won’t be a “fast project,” at least not fast enough for the residents here. But East Bay Township plans to put the project out for bid in December with bids awarded by December 21, and construction work could start in mid-January.

Rettelle knows it’s a process, but “that doesn’t help (those of us) that need to function every day with running water, and we can’t.” She says it’s already been a stressful time, and this makes it that much harder. “It’s scary. COVID is bad enough. But then you add that on top of it and it’s even worse. Because you have no clue.”