Camp Grayling and the Importance of Meaningful Government Oversight
In mid-Michigan, situated amidst the pristine Au Sable and Manistee rivers, lies Camp Grayling, a Michigan National Guard training facility that is the largest of its kind. Leased to the Michigan National Guard by the state, Camp Grayling is used for all-season and indirect and aerial weapons training. Additionally, Camp Grayling has a restricted airspace for military aircraft.
A draft map of the proposed Camp Grayling Expansion
Last year, the Michigan National Guard proposed a 253 square mile expansion of the Camp Grayling lease – an expansion that would add 162,000 acres to the existing 148,000-acre facility, as well as an expanded restricted airspace. While the National Guard says the expansion is necessary to accommodate modern cyber, electronic and space warfare, news of the proposal sparked outcry from surrounding communities and community leaders, environmental activists, and outdoors enthusiasts.
As Michigan LCV’s State Government Affairs team has highlighted in three editions of our Capital Catch-Up newsletter, the camp’s proximity to the iconic Au Sable and Manistee watersheds is cause for concern. Both rivers are integral to the way of life for many Michiganders, providing recreation opportunities such as fishing, hunting, hiking, birding, kayaking and more. Those that rely on these rivers are concerned that the expanded acreage – as well as the expanded airspace – would inhibit recreational opportunities and cause massive negative impacts to the environment, water and wildlife.
Kayaking the mighty Au Sable River!
If protecting the Au Sable and Manistee watersheds was not reason enough to reject the proposed expansion, Camp Grayling has been a test case for the federal government and the military’s response to PFAS contamination. After widespread PFAS contamination was found in the area more than five years ago, the National Guard pledged to investigate, address and remediate the toxic “forever chemicals” known to cause cancer and birth defects. Certain state environmental officials, however, say the Guard has not done enough.
Per a Bridge Michigan article from earlier this week, Randall Rothe, district supervisor of the Remediation and Redevelopment Division for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), recommended the proposed expansion not move forward until the National Guard can provide an update on PFAS contamination. It’s important to note that while EGLE has “significant concerns” about the Guards’ PFAS response, EGLE has clarified that it will not be issuing a formal agency recommendation on the expansion due to lack of authority.
The serenity and natural soundscape of Michigan’s public lands are a critical and cherished component of their conservation.
Given the lack of action to address PFAS contamination at Camp Grayling, the situation is eerily similar to that of the former Wurtsmith Air Force base located in Oscoda, MI. Stemming from the heavy use of firefighting foam and other fire retardants, the Oscoda community has been devastated by PFAS contaminating nearby lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies. As the Air Force and Department of Defense have dragged their feet in accepting responsibility and addressing the contamination through remediation, community members have experienced adverse health impacts for years without meaningful action.
While no decision on the proposed expansion of Camp Grayling has been made, the potential environmental impacts – particularly in regards to PFAS contamination – underscore the importance of strong governmental oversight. Unfortunately, the National Guard and the Department of Defense have demonstrated an unwillingness to accept responsibility for toxic contamination of the environment and our natural resources that Michigan communities depend on.
Without strong leadership by our elected officials and agencies, the status quo will continue to put people’s health and quality of life at risk.