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Grayling residents hope to extend water main, curb PFAS contamination

Sun glows over Lake Margrethe Property Owners Association President Chuck Spencer's home. Spencer wrote a letter to the Pentagon and the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs calling for urgency to address PFAS contamination.
Chuck Spencer
Sun glows over Lake Margrethe Property Owners Association President Chuck Spencer's home. Spencer wrote a letter to the Pentagon and the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs calling for urgency to address PFAS contamination.

Nearly eight years after plumes of “forever chemicals” were discovered in the groundwater wells of some Grayling residents, officials are closing in on funding for a project to switch the water source for affected homes.

Property owners, meanwhile, are hoping the U.S. Department of Defense, the entity responsible for PFAS contamination in the area, will chip in dollars for future extensions of the Grayling municipal water line.

The Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy could award the township a$25.6 million grant to fund the first leg of the project — but only after at least half of all residents in the targeted areas agree to ditch their wells for municipal water.

Informational meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on April 5, 6 and 7 at the Grayling Township Hall at 2090 Viking Way. The meetings are mainly meant for residents of Sherwood Forest and Clough Estates, which are the first two neighborhoods being eyed for municipal water.

In a letter to residents, Grayling Township Supervisor Lacey Stephan III called the water main extension, “the most cost effective and quickest route to safe drinking water.”

“At this point, my team and I have done everything we can possibly do to get clean water to our community," Stephan said. "It’s up to you now.”


In the fall of 2016, Camp Grayling — a National Guard training facility — became one of the first PFAS contaminated sites identified in Michigan.

PFAS is an acronym for "per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance." It's a chemical compound that can make its way through groundwater without breaking down in the environment. Research points to its linkage to an array of health problems, including an increased risk of some cancers and fertility issues, if consumed.

The National Guard used an aqueous film-forming foam for training exercises and local firefighting in the 1970s and 1980s. The foam contained the PFAS compound, but the danger was unknown to officials at the time.

The foam isn’t used anymore, but decades later the chemicals are showing up in well water on properties near Camp Grayling and the Army Airfield, at levels above the state’s standards.

In 2019, National Guard officials established what the military calls a Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) to take on the PFAS problem. The group meets monthly to discuss short and long term remediation efforts.

Many of the contaminated properties are located on Lake Margrethe, which share the shores with Camp Grayling. Residents near the southern shore - closest to the camp - were given water filters in the aftermath of the contamination discovery.

But those property owners want to see more swift action to address the problem.

Property owners call for action

On February 15, Lake Margrethe Property Owners Association President Chuck Spencer wrote a letter to the Pentagon and the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs calling for urgency to address PFAS contamination.

His group also demanded financial commitment from the National Guard to support the water line extension - something state officials say they are working toward but so far have not not been able to commit federal dollars to.

“It's the Department of Defense that's responsible for cleaning up any PFAS contamination that was generated and caused by the National Guard,” Spencer said.

Jonathan Edgerly is the Environmental Manager for the Michigan Army National Guard. He said his organization is in full support of extending the municipal water main to other contaminated areas.

“We are invested in the community, our soldiers live and work in Camp Grayling, we've been there for 100 years,” he said.

But the Michigan National Guard is not the leader of the PFAS investigation. That falls on federal authorities.

“I unfortunately don't have the visibility or the responsibility to allocate those funds for these projects. That's all done on the federal side,” Edgerly said. “I know that our counterparts and National Guard Bureau from the project team are fighting hard for those funds to execute these interim actions.”

Another discussion is around testing and federal vs. state standards for PFAS.

While the Department of Defense continues to test area wells to conclude widespread contamination, the state has collected significantly more samples around Camp Grayling than the National Guard.

But the Department of Defense cannot accept results from outside sources. Spencer wrote in his letter that accepting state test results would save time and money.

“The scope of the contamination continues to grow and yet, as of today, we’ve seen no action to remediate the problem,” Spencer wrote in his letter. “We are asking you to raise the level of urgency around the PFAS disaster at Lake Margrethe and expedite plans to protect the health of our neighbors, our wildlife and the environment we call home.”

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed some standards on select PFAS chemicals last spring. They will be lower and more strict than the current state standards. Lake Margarethe property owners want the DoD to plan their cleanup around the new federal standards.

The letter also addresses other remediation projects like adding filtration systems to stormwater drains flowing into Lake Margarethe from Camp Grayling and a new source area by an old incinerator in the cantonment area.

But officials like Lacey Stephan III agree the water main extension project is the only, “guaranteed contamination-free solution.”

Read Spencer's full letter.

Funding and timelines

The $25.6 million grant from EGLE would go to fund extending the water line to Sherwood Forest and Clough Estates. Rather than private wells, the municipal water comes from the area around Kirtland Community College, which cannot be contaminated by the camp due to its northern position in the watershed.

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD: Map of first two areas proposed for an extension of the Grayling municipal water main. (Provided by the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy)

While properties on Lake Margrethe are in line to receive municipal water, Spencer said it could still be years away,

“Unless that water line goes through areas one and two, it will not come to the lake,” Spencer said. “So it's equally important for us to have 50% of folks sign up for this water line. Otherwise there’s no funding and we will not be getting clean water.”

Stephan wrote in his letter to the community that while municipal water comes with having a monthly water bill, which he says costs $30-$50 dollars, it’s “a small price to pay for healthy, PFAS-free water.”

He said the EGLE grant program is one of the only ways to get the construction funded in its entirety.

“My answers to them are going to be facts to the scenario that’s going on,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s nine o’clock at night, if they have questions I want them to call me. Because it’s important this gets done.”

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.