Water permit violation notice issued to ER firm 

State environmental regulators have ramped up their investigation of an Elk Rapids fruit processing plant’s waste discharges onto its land that drains to Elk Lake. In late 2021, the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy issued a violation notice citing more than 50 occasions where Burnette Foods Inc. exceeded maximum volumes of fruit processing wastes. ESLA first brought the issue to the state’s attention in 2019 and has been carefully monitoring it since then. Click here to read more, including the state’s allegations and Burnette’s response.

In May 2019 while collecting water samples in Elk Lake’s Spencer Bay, ESLA intern Samantha Ogle noticed a reddish discoloration. She followed the visual trail back to the mouth of Spencer Creek and drew a water sample that subsequently showed high E. coli levels. She returned many more times through the summer and, with the property owner’s permission, followed the creek upstream to a culvert where she observed a sheen and yellowish-foam atop blackish-water.

She drew more water samples (including the attached 2019 photo) in the creek that raised her concern level. ESLA shared the sampling results and photographs with state environmental regulators.

The state’s subsequent investigation led to notices to Burnette Foods, Inc. in late 2019 and 2020, that runoff from “spray irrigation fields” it uses to discharge fruit processing wastes from its plant in Elk Rapids needed to be remedied. The fields are adjacent to a wetland flowing into Spencer Creek and eventually Elk Lake.

Further investigation, ESLA recently learned, led the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to issue on Nov. 15, 2021 a “Violation Notice” that stated “these matters have been referred for escalated enforcement.” The letter cited more than 50 instances of violations of Burnette’s wastewater discharge permit, including wastewater sprayed on fields too saturated to absorb the effluent. Nearly half the cited violations occurred in July 2021.

Read the Violation Notice here:
Violation Notice

In its response dated Jan. 10, 2022, Burnette denied many of the citations, challenged the state’s testing protocols in some cases, and attributed extremely heavy rains to problems last July. The company also said it is negotiating with the Village of Elk Rapids to send more of its processing waste to the village sewage treatment plant.

Read Burnette Foods response here:
Violation Notice Response

Representing nearly 600 dues-paying members and the interests of twice as many waterfront property owners on our waters, ESLA strongly encourages speedy solutions. Ogle, now ESLA’s lake biologist, and board member Andrew Hogarth, a retired state Department of Environmental Quality official, lead ESLA’s effort. If you’d like to share your reaction or any suggestions regarding this issue, send an email to ElkSkegemoglakes@gmail.com. We’ll keep you updated as major developments occur this year.

Bob Campbell, ESLA president