How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who||Candice Miller for Macomb|
|What||"Fix these problems" ad||The call||Warning|
After a 14-year stint in Congress, Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) surprised some by doing what some call walking away from a 2018 run for governor and is instead running for Macomb County public works commissioner.
Her campaign produced a 30-second ad, “Fix these problems” released in September, along with press releases that take a swipe at longtime incumbent Anthony Marrocco. The spot focuses on Macomb’s history of bacteria-related beach closings and other water-quality problems. With images of newspaper headlines flashing on the screen, a narrator in the video implicitly blames Marrocco, though he is never named:
“We read the headlines after every rain: Beaches closed, raw sewage in our waters, basements flooded. And nothing gets done.”
News releases on Miller’s website are more direct, blaming Marrocco for not solving the county’s water and sewage problems in his 24 years in office. One release sent just before Labor Day blames Marrocco for high bacteria levels that led to beach closures this summer. Many voters may not understand what a public works commission does to keep sewers and drainage systems in shape, but they can relate to icky, closed swimming areas at popular beaches. The document reads, in part:
“Harrison Township, MI — As we head into Labor Day weekend, the traditional end to the summer season for Michiganders, the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark is again [closed] 'until further notice' due to high bacteria levels. St. Clair Shores Memorial Beach has been closed since August 16th due to high bacteria levels, as well.
“...Macomb residents should be outraged. These beach closures are due to problems that should have been addressed years ago. This was preventable. Yet, here we are, on the final holiday weekend of the summer. It’s bright and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. And, the beaches are closed. This must be Anthony Marrocco’s way of telling Macomb County residents ‘Happy Labor Day.’ Macomb County residents deserve to have a government that address problems and find solutions. They deserve a change and I intend to be that agent of change.”
Statement under review
(Video) “We read the headlines after every rain: Beaches closed, raw sewage in our waters, basements flooded. And nothing gets done.”
The public works commissioner oversees sewer systems, drain construction and maintenance, soil erosion and pollution controls, and anti-flooding measures. As Bridge reported in May, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage have entered Lake St. Clair annually through the system Marrocco oversees, and E.coli bacteria discharges are partly to blame for hundreds of days of beach closings in recent years.
Marrocco argues that Lake St. Clair is now as clean as it has ever been since he took office and that a more efficient sewer system has kept greater levels of pollution out of the lake and the Clinton River. But annual sewage overflows have remained fairly consistent over the years and the number of beach closings remains troublesome, with 57 days of swimming bans in 1995 and 89 days in 2015, Bridge reporting showed.
Do beach closings, sewage overflows and basement flooding happen after every rain? No, that’s an exaggeration. But the region’s water quality remains a persistent problem.
“As we head into Labor Day weekend, the traditional end to the summer season for Michiganders, the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark is again [closed] 'until further notice' due to high bacteria levels. St. Clair Shores Memorial Beach has been closed since August 16th due to high bacteria levels, as well.”
Actually, the very day this press release was published the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark re-opened after a four-day closure, a change Miller’s campaign has never noted on its website. In total, the beach at Metro was closed for eight days this summer due to high bacteria levels, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
St. Clair Shores Memorial Beach, was closed more than 60 days this year and remains closed.
“These beach closures are due to problems that should have been addressed years ago. This was preventable.”
Marrocco maintains that rainwater runoff flushes animal feces and bird droppings into the water, creating the E.coli problems at the beaches. He agrees that the infrastructure needs replacing, but he and his opponent disagree on who’s to blame.
Michael Radtke, a spokesman for Marrocco’s campaign, said costly infrastructure fixes would be a possibility if Miller, in her role in Congress, had secured funding for them.
“We need $3 billion to really fix the system completely and that money is not forthcoming from (water) ratepayers or Washington, D.C.,” Radtke said.
Critics blame sewer overflows for the closed beaches and point to reports by the Macomb County Health Department showing that both sewage and animal waste contribute to E.Coli in the water. Critics also contend that Marrocco has not pushed to replace old infrastructure, especially sewers in heavily populated areas, some of which cannot handle the double whammy of sewage and rainwater during storms.
In a couple of respects, Miller’s campaign accusations are erroneous. One of the two beaches mentioned in the Labor Day Weekend press release reopened that same day. It’s also worth noting that beach closings were down this past summer. And Miller’s charge that “nothing gets done” to protect Macomb’s water supply ignores improvement projects for which Marrocco can rightfully claim leadership. That overreach earns a warning.
But Marrocco has been in office for more than two decades, and there is ample evidence from local and state health records and Bridge’s previous reporting to show that fouled water, sewage overflows and bacteria-related beach closings have been a problem for years in Macomb County. While Miller's own environmental record appears less than stellar, her campaign is relying upon a wealth of evidence to support its attacks on water quality efforts in Macomb County.