November 2, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 258

Former tribal council member says pollution should be key election issue

ODANAH, Wis. - A former tribal council member said Friday he can't understand why the Bad River Indian Reservation's council isn't making inadequate treatment of its sewage more of a priority.

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe
FORMER BAD River tribal member Tom Deragon Jr. said the billboard he had constructed along U.S. 2 in Odanah, Wis., has been getting mixed reviews from fellow tribal members.

With a tribal election set for Tuesday, Tom Deragon Jr., who said he sat on the tribal council for a year, has put up a sign along U.S. 2, near the Bad River Casino, seeking to "raise community awareness" about the tribe's polluting of the Bad River and Lake Superior.

"Nothing's getting done," he said. "I don't understand why the Environmental Protection Agency isn't coming down harder on this," Deragon said.

He said he has been getting threats about the billboard, but he also has received some praise for it from fellow tribal members. He said he has been accused of being a pawn for the Gogebic-Taconite mining company with the billboard, but added he's afraid the mine might pollute the river and ultimately Lake Superior, too.

Deragon said he's not running for office this year, but the tribe's pollution violations should be a big issue.

It's a typical, heated tribal election, with dozens of signs along the highway for the candidates.

Deragon said many other tribal members support his views and his father and brother-in-law helped him put up the sign, which criticizes current tribal chairman Michael Wiggins Jr. for not making a better effort to get the wastewater system into compliance.

Deragon said he supports Peter Lemieux for chairman, saying he's more of a "traditional" thinker.

"Our kids weren't able to swim this summer because of high E. coli readings," he said, noting Waverly and Madigan beaches on Lake Superior were shut down. He said it was the first time he could recall that happening.

Earlier this year, the EPA ordered the Bad River Band of Chippewa to make upgrades to its wastewater treatment facilities by Jan. 31.

The tribe has received numerous violation citations from the EPA for several years, including failing to meet reporting requirements and failure to comply with effluent requirements for phosporus, E. coli, suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand.

The billboard refers to those violations and calls the tribe the state's top polluter.

Wiggins has attributed the problems to human error and poor reporting.

Wiggins said earlier the tribe has spent $1.6 million from 2009 to today on upgrades for the reservation's wastewater facilities, but Deragon doubts those figures.

Deragon charges for a long time there was no reporting at all to the EPA, as is required under the tribe's wastewater license.

The EPA accepted comments on its plans to reissue permits to the Bad River Band to operate the three community wastewater treatment facilities within the reservation through Sept. 3 and held a public hearing in August at the Bad River Casino.

The EPA indicated there are Diaperville and Birch Hill lagoon systems, with no planned expansion of those facilities, and some ongoing construction at the treatment plant.

The tribe's wastewater treatment facility was built around 1975 and was expanded in 1999.