Dow Cleanup Program
Dow Chemical offers cash in bid to limit development along Tittabawassee River
MIDLAND, MI — The Dow Chemical Co. wants about 450 property owners, whose residential land falls within the eight-year floodplain of the Tittabawassee River, to accept cash payments in exchange for not further developing their property.
The Tittabawassee River Conservation Program is a voluntary program the Midland-based chemical giant is rolling out this spring, in addition to its ongoing effort with the EPA to clean up dioxin-contaminated soil in frequently-flooded areas along the river in Midland and Saginaw counties.
The eight-year floodplain consists of approximately 4,500 acres, said Dow spokesman Nate Kerns. The new program applies only to residential properties or portions of residential properties within that floodplain.
"It's designed to help facilitate cleanup activities, if needed, and it's designed to preserve natural features of the river and floodplain for the future," Kerns said.
Residential properties that fall within the eight-year floodplain that are being evaluated for EPA cleanup are eligible for the program, Kerns said. This week, Dow officials sent letters to about 450 eligible property owners notifying them of the program.
Eligible property owners who opt to participate in the program will be compensated. In turn, they will sign a conservation covenant, which is a lot like a conservation easement, Kerns said. In so doing, they would agree to three things.
"They would agree to give Dow access to their properties for sampling, cleanup, if needed, and periodic monitoring. The second thing is, to help preserve natural features of the river floodplain, they would agree to continue to use their property as they do today."
That means natural, wooded and unmaintained areas within that eight-year floodplain would remain that way, and property owners couldn't develop the land.
Kerns said about 76 percent of the eight-year floodplain currently is natural.
Property that currently is maintained, such as a mowed lawn, can remain that way or be allowed to revert to a natural state.
Third, they would agree not to raise livestock or poultry within the eight-year floodplain.
Those who opt in will receive a base one-time payment of $10,000, plus $1,000 per acre that falls within the eight-year floodplain.
Kerns declined to say what Dow's maximum payout would be were all eligible property owners to opt in. However, the base payment of $10,000 per property owner alone would equal $4.5 million.
The offer is only being extended to current property owners.
"However, the conservation covenant applies in perpetuity to all future property owners," Kerns said. "It would be on the deed."
To address any concerns property owners might have that participating in the program could adversely affect property values, there's also a "value assurance program," Kerns said.
Under that program, Dow will make up the difference if a homeowner with a conservation covenant sells their home and receives less than fair-market value, based on its appraisal.
"It really just ensures that if and when the property owners decide to sell, they receive fair market value for their home," Kerns said.
Tittabawassee Township Supervisor Rick Hayes said he's not among the affected property owners, but he has spoken to a few of them about the program.
"I think it's a positive step," he said. "I've only talked to three residents, but the three that I talked to were happy."
Hayes said most of that land can't be developed anyway.
"You can't build in the floodplain," he said. "It's a way to give residents something, and it sounds like a pretty generous program."
Several years ago, officials with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality designated the floodplain "part of the Dow facility," which upset property owners, Hayes said.
"That was kind of a stain on peoples' property," he said. "Now you're being compensated for that designation."
Kerns said this program is, in part, a response to feedback from area residents.
"EPA held some listening sessions about a year ago with floodplain residents, and they identified preserving the floodplain as one of their top priorities," he said. "This helps achieve one of their top priorities and also helps us with the access piece so we're able to more efficiently conduct clean up work if needed."
Ongoing clean up
Kerns said the new program will benefit residents, Dow and conservation.
"Each year, we're going through a different segment, from upstream to downstream, and this program helps provide access," Kerns said of the ongoing clean up activities.
"We wouldn't have to go back each year and ask for access as we move down the river. We would have those agreements in place already."
From the late 1890s to the 1970s, Dow released various amounts of dioxins into the environment through air and water emissions.
Segment 1, which was being cleaned up in 2013, was a 3-mile stretch near Dow's Michigan Operations in Midland.
In that area, crews installed caps over contaminated sediment and removed sediment and heavy, non-water soluble liquids called dense non-aqueous phase liquid, MLive/The Saginaw News reported at the time. The contaminants in Segment 1 did not include dioxin, but arsenic, tar-like substances, chlorobenzenes and chlorophenols.
This year, the clean up effort continues in Segment 2, an approximately four-mile stretch of the river, Kerns said. River clean up is being done in conjunction with floodplain clean up.
Clean up of all seven segments of the floodplain is expected to be complete by 2020 or 2021, Kerns said.
As of Thursday, May 28, no property owners had signed up for the conservation program, but Dow officials had received about four calls pertaining to the program, Kerns said.
He said he doesn't expect property owners to sign the agreement the first time they meet with Dow officials to talk about the program.
"We just want to make sure we have the resources available to them so they can learn about the program and talk about it with their family and make the choice that's right for them," he said.
The conservation program will be open at least as long as the clean up efforts are ongoing, Kerns said. He implored eligible property owners to call Dow to learn more. Information is contained in the letters mailed by the company.
Learn more about the Tittabawassee River Conservation Program at www.triverconservation.com or by calling 989-638-6100.
Heather Jordan is a reporter for MLive/The Saginaw News/The Bay City Times. She can be reached at 989-450-2652 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more news, follow her on Twitter and Facebook.