Read the full article by Sheri Mcwhirter (Record Eagle)

“TRAVERSE CITY — Travel vouchers to make up for costs associated with public water connections for impacted residents were floated as part of discussions around a PFAS water contamination investigation in East Bay Township.

Grand Traverse County Board Chairman Rob Hentschel suggested in an email to a Cherry Capital Airport official that perhaps travel vouchers could be given to nearby residents impacted by PFAS contamination in their water wells, according to information released to the Record-Eagle under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

Hentschel raised the concept before local leaders secured grant funds to pay for the 18 needed public water connections to affected homes still using well water; the idea was that if grant funds couldn’t be acquired, perhaps travel vouchers could be a trade-off — an allowed use of restricted airport dollars.

Some of the affected residents and environmental experts criticized the suggestion as irresponsible in the face of revelations about contaminated drinking water and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local officials, though, said it was the result of a brainstorm and never meant for public rollout.

Clean water, travel vouchers

The email in question with subject line ‘$3900 PFAS Travel Voucher’ was sent Nov. 9 from Hentschel to airport director Keven Klein and read:

‘Random thought…sitting in the East Bay twp meeting… If we can’t pay for the neighboring wells to be capped and municipal water hookups… can we run a promotion with the airlines for travel vouchers in a similar amount to the hookup costs?

You’ll be glad to know, they didn’t throw the airport under the bus. Not one mention of the airport…


Some affected residents and environmental experts said such a travel voucher idea was objectionable.

‘That would have been an insult,’ said Joyce Lundberg, whose well water for her home along Indian Trail Boulevard was among those contaminated with PFAS chemicals. ‘What would we do with travel vouchers in the middle of a pandemic? We wanted clean water.’

Local environmental advocate Liz Kirkwood, executive director of nonprofit For Love Of Water, said she was at first left ‘a bit speechless’ when she learned about the suggestion of travel vouchers for those with contaminated wells.

‘It’s a rather callous response to a serious public health emergency,’ she said.

FLOW is a Traverse City-based organization that champions groundwater protections and will on March 10 host a webinar about threats to Michigan’s groundwater resources.

Additionally, an academic expert on the impacts of PFAS contamination on communities said the family of emerging contaminant chemicals brings untold potential for environmental injustice problems — especially given its long-term and widespread use for industrial, aviation and commercial purposes and how the pollutants are increasingly being found in drinking water.

‘There’s no way to take a drink of your refreshing well water and know whether its contaminated with PFAS,’ said Alissa Cordner, associate professor of sociology at Whitman College in Washington and co-director of the PFAS Project Lab with researchers at Northeastern University in Boston.

She said oftentimes communities subjected to PFAS contamination have historically experienced other types of pollution, and tend to not be affluent. Pine Grove reflects that trend with its blue-collar residents and history of a TCE plume, which prompted public water to be piped through the neighborhood decades ago, but not every home connected back then…”