Michigan Land Use Institute

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Smart Growth Movement News

November 14, 2005 |

The Great Lakes’ Greatest Problems…and Solutions


The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, whose reports may air on a public radio station near you, produced a special, 10-episode series in October listing the top 10 threats to the Great Lakes Basin. The threats include the usual suspects—invasive species, urban and farmland water runoff, unwise shoreline development, unsafe beaches, factory pollution, and unregulated water withdrawals. But they also include lesser-known problems like canal dredging, disappearing native species, and hidden pollution hot spots. To hear the entire series, visit the group’s Web site, http://www.glrc.org/topten.php3. Then read Water Works, our own Andy Guy’s in-depth report on the great economic opportunities sustainable Great Lakes water development offers Michigan. Visit www.mlui.org, click on the Water Works icon, and read, order, or download the handsome, hopeful 24-page publication.

Portland’s Smart Housing Prices


A homebuilders’ study debunks a
longstanding myth about Smart Growth and the high cost of urban housing.
Many of our foes (yes, there are such people) insist that the fate of Smart Growth capital Portland, Ore., demonstrates just how wrong we are. Their argument: Portland’s housing prices are way too high because of land use policies that promote urban development instead of growth in the exurbs, where there’s cheap land and good housing deals. We’ve always said that Portland’s alleged big gap between housing prices and personal incomes was caused by improperly matched real estate and payroll data, not Smart Growth. Now, a study by the National Association of Homebuilders, a group that fears Smart Growth, shows that Portland’s prices are actually lagging behind most of the rest of the hyper-inflationary West Coast. The study confirms that the affordable housing problem is national, has little to do with enlightened land use policies, and much to do with lagging wages and an overheated high-end housing market, a combo that pinches low- and middle-income families.
To read some Institute articles on affordable housing, check page nine of this issue. Then visit www.mlui.org and type those two magic words into our search engine.

Congestion vs. Consensus


In Grand Traverse County, old opponents are seeking new ways for the region to grow.
Over a year ago, when citizens stopped a bridge and highway proposed for the Boardman River valley south of Traverse City, local officials agreed to study other ways—besides building more highways—to reduce severe traffic congestion. A remarkably diverse group of 29 people started meeting this June and, armed with $3.3 million from the Federal Highway Administration, are launching a transportation and land use study that will cover six counties in the Grand Traverse region. The group is moving too slowly for some, but others say that learning the art of consensus building, which will guide their efforts, takes time. The study will proceed in three steps: Public input and “visioning,” project planning, and implementation. That last one is where most such good-hearted efforts run aground, but thanks to the feds’ money, at least some things on the “take action” list the group finally hammers out will occur immediately. The Institute’s Jim Lively, an old hand at building consensus, plays a lead role in the study. Watch www.mlui.org for updates as this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for smart regional thinking unfolds.

Windfall Profits?


Wind turbines: A better bargain.
Well, not exactly, but some environmentally minded folks who agreed to pay slightly more for their electricity so that they could buy it from wind turbines instead of conventional coal, gas, or nuclear power plants are getting a surprise bonus: Paying less for their juice than those buying it from the old-fashioned sources. The Los Angeles Times reports that, with surging coal and natural gas prices, electric companies in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas—leading wind energy states—are now or will soon be charging their conventional customers more than those depending on wind turbines.

Sadly, wind power progress in Michigan is slow, as Carolyn Kelly recently reported on our Web site, www.mlui.org. Type her name into the search box to find Carolyn’s article.

Meanwhile, the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan says that the state’s coal-fired power plants now annually emit 2,464 lbs. of mercury, making many fish caught in the state’s waters unsafe for children and pregnant women to eat. This continues despite a recent Abacus Associates poll finding that Michiganians, by a 7-to-1 margin, think electric companies should use available technologies to cut those emissions.

The Granholm administration says it wants to completely eliminate mercury emissions in the state. That would help wind power, because the cost of the mercury-reduction technology would raise the cost of coal power slightly, making wind power even more competitive. If, in the meantime, the Legislature passed several pending bills that would better facilitate wind turbine developments, we just might see more wind power here—a good thing in a state that is the nation’s 14th-heaviest mercury emitter, 14th-windiest state, and darn near dead last in wind turbine construction. Another PIRGIM report, released last February, maintains that fully developing Michigan’s clean energy potential would generate 3,300 new jobs annually through 2020 and, in that year alone, would save Michiganians $567 million on their electricity bills.

What Brown Can Do to You

MLUI/Stephanie Rudolph

Sierra Club volunteers tested water quality downstream from 66 Michigan CAFOs.
The rap sheet against livestock factories, also known as CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, continues to grow. When the Michigan Sierra Club took water samples in the streams or ditches closest to CAFOs throughout the state last spring, volunteers found 20 out of the 66 factories were illegally discharging toxic liquid waste and that many others had done so recently. The survey’s conclusions: Michigan CAFOs are poorly designed for preventing water pollution; a CAFO operators’ voluntary self-regulatory program is not working; and the state Department of Environmental Quality, enforcer of water pollution laws, is drastically underfunded, understaffed, and undertrained. The Sierrans warn that these and other problems the study revealed mean a continued downward spiral for water quality in drains, streams, rivers, and lakes across rural southern Lower Michigan, where most Michigan CAFOs are. The report and a factory-by-factory listing are at www.michigan.sierraclub.org/press/2005-04-18.html.

Transit: cheaper to keep ‘er?

MLUI/Carol Blundy

Soaring gasoline prices are driving a rise in transit use.
Concerned by the decline of funding for local bus systems, a group of state representatives led by Democrat Marie Donigan of Royal Oak and Republican Jerry Kooiman of Grand Rapids formed the Public Trans-portation Legislative Caucus. As Represen-tative Kooiman said, “Only when we understand the economic impact of transit in this state will we begin to provide the support needed to ensure we have effective and efficient transit systems throughout the state.”

Meanwhile, Livonia voters approved a proposal to withdraw from metro Detroit’s regional bus system, even as leaders elsewhere continue to pull ahead of Michigan with their support of public transit. Los Angeles’ new mayor exercised a rarely used right to chair his city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and then promised to push harder for good transit in his severely sprawled region by extending the city’s three new rapid-commute lines. And the Illinois Legislature came through for the Chicago Transit Authority, boosting its support enough to help it avoid massive service cuts at least through year’s end.

Who, Me? Yes, You!


In a move that should be commonplace for government agencies, but rarely is, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality published a citizen handbook that explains how to get involved in environmental issues. The 30-page booklet has info on the state government’s inner workings, a list of helpful resources, and suggestions on how to get more involved, including writing effective letters to the DEQ and joining citizens groups such as watershed councils. For a free copy, here’s a free phone number: 1-800-662-9278.

Greenbelt Grows, Council Holds Nose
The Ann Arbor area continues to develop the state’s first sprawl-slowing “greenbelt.” In August, Webster Township became the seventh township to get with the local program. Voters passed a property tax that funds the purchase of development rights for farmland that will then become part of the no-growth district, which city residents overwhelmingly approved two years ago. Two neighboring townships have also approved similar millages; four of the other five area townships have passed resolutions supporting the program.

But it still ain’t easy bein’ a greenbelt builder. Recently Ann Arbor City Council members held their noses and voted 10 to 1 to lift the city’s ban on livestock factories. The surprising move was necessary so that the city could qualify for a $182,000 federal matching grant for the town’s first actual greenbelt development rights purchase. Council members said they oppose livestock factories; several promised to find other ways to keep them far, far away.

Court Says ‘No’ to a Mt. Trashmore


Gibraltar citizens mobilized to protect the Detroit River.
Hmmm: Does building a 200-foot-tall pile of trash just 500 yards from the Detroit River, on a floodplain between two streams, sound like a good idea? Well, it didn’t sound very good to citizens in Gibraltar, either. After some extra-ordinary machinations involving former Wayne County chief Ed McNamara, the City of Gibraltar, a firm called Countywide Landfill (all of whom supported the idea) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (which opposed it), the state Appellate Court sided with the DEQ.
The Friends of the Detroit River played a leading role in stopping the riverside mountain o’trash; they and others then worked to elect some new city council members who think the whole thing stinks. There’s more about the Friends at http://www.detroitriver.org.

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