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Consumers Energy long ago joined the fight against phragmites, an invasive species that threatens the health of Michigan’s coastal wetlands.
Now, we’re using new tactics to take on the tall, harmful grass – while reducing our environmental footprint.
Phragmites is abundant at our Karn-Weadock Generating Complex, which is surrounded by marshy wetlands at the mouth of the Saginaw Bay near Bay City. The non-native grass, which grows in dense stands as tall as 15 feet, degrades wetlands and coastal areas by crowding out native plants and animals, blocking shoreline views and reducing access for swimming, fishing and hunting.
Left unchecked, phragmites also can create safety issues by limiting visibility around corners and blocking key inspection points. “It’s a challenging plant to manage,” said Caleb Batts, production supervisor and landfill supervisor at Karn-Weadock.
Phragmites was hampering our efforts to clean and close landfills containing coal combustion residuals (CCR), or coal ash, at the site where we’ve retired the Weadock Plant and plan to close additional Karn units in 2023.
To responsibly close the landfills, overrun by phragmites, we began digging the grass out by the roots, and hauling thousands of tons off site. That strategy got the job done – but also created more waste for other landfills.
In 2018, Batts and Pete Wyckoff, waste management and pollution prevention supervisor, tried a new approach: We stopped digging and started spraying the phragmites with an approved herbicide. We then chopped it down and let it decompose, never to grow back.
So far, we’ve avoided sending about 800 tons of phragmites to the landfill, contributing to our company-wide goal of reducing the amount of waste we send to landfills by 35 percent.
We plan to continue using the new strategy to clear the Weadock landfill, which covers nearly 300 acres on the site. The work will take several more years to complete. We’ve realized modest financial savings by controlling the phragmites with herbicide, but protecting the planet is our primary motivation.
“We’re helping the environment by removing an invasive species and reducing waste to landfill,” Wyckoff said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
To learn more about how we’re protecting Michigan’s environment and the role you can play, visit MICleanEnergy.com.