For more than a week, waste has washed up on Lake Michigan beaches from Oceana County north to Frankfort, including medical waste such as syringes found amid the junk in some of the southern counties.
It was a repeat, though to a lesser extent, to waves of garbage that rolled onto a 200-mile stretch of Lake Michigan beaches — from as far south as Saugatuck to as far north as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — in 2008.
It's a frustrating and potentially dangerous situation for Michigan residents who have to pick up the mess, including bottles, straws, cups, cigarette butts and syringes. Communities here bear the cost and residents take the risk, yet the source of the garbage has apparently never been found, despite lots of evidence pointing the way.
In 2008 some of what washed up here included labels and addresses from the Milwaukee area. This year, there is speculation that the junk was the result of a major combined sewer overflow in the Milwaukee area in late July.
So what does it take to stop this? As it did in 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard has said it is continuing to investigate the source of the material, but hasn't yet identified its origin. That year, the Coast Guard even said it was putting intelligence agents on the case, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's medical waste program also was in on the investigation.
A Milwaukee Department of Public Works spokeswoman in 2008 said it was a mystery to them, too, and their probe had hit a dead end. The city sanitation department doesn't haul residential waste to landfills near the lakefront and doesn't license barges to carry garbage on the Great Lakes. The junk that rolled onto a Manistee city beach in 2008 — where they hauled off 12 cubic yards of stuff one morning — included a "No Dumping Allowed" sign from the Milwaukee County Park Commission. Not enough of a clue, apparently.
Ironically, the trashing of the lake comes at a time when many pollution sources — perhaps most — around the lake have been identified and shut down. Not all of them, of course, but most.
Water quality in Grand Traverse Bay, for instance, has improved greatly in recent years, though e-coli problems with runoff after heavy rains continue to be a concern. Most of the places where sewage or floor drains ran right into the bay are a thing of the past.
High water in Wisconsin may have contributed to some of the flotsam from across the lake but that's no excuse; we can't end up with trashed beaches every time heavy rains hit Milwaukee or anyplace else on the lake. They have to do better.