Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Groundswells


Smart Growth News

October 27, 2006 |

Hey, EPA: Stop Invaders

  Alien sea life threatens the Great Lakes.
Slowly but (hopefully) surely, the federal courts are closing in on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to regulate the stuff ocean-going freighters dump into the Great Lakes—billions of gallons of ballast water. The ballast often carries exotic, invasive sea life that drives the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem bonkers. It’s costing taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars trying to keep up with the eco-mess the shippers are making.

From the lamphrey eels that decimated Great Lakes fish populations in the 1950’s to the zebra mussels that today clog water intake pipes and disrupt food chains that feed other aquatic life, the problem will only get more serious–and costly–until the dumping stops.

In  September, the court found EPA’s behavior “plainly contrary to the Congressional intent” of the federal Clean Water Act and gave it two years to write new rules that force shippers to restrict the discharge of invasive species.The shipping industry’s shameless response? It’s pushing Congress to exempt ballast discharges from the law and prevent states like Michigan, which will soon regulate ballast water on its own, from doing anything about it.

The lawsuit was brought by Northwest Environmental Advocates, the Ocean Conservancy, and Baykepper after EPA took four years to turn down their 1999 petition on the matter.

“If EPA had spent the last seven years developing a permitting program instead of fighting this court battle,” said one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, “not only would our water be safer, but our economy would be better protected.”

Detroit and Grand Rapids: Now In Training!

  A new Michigan law brings regional transit one step closer.
It took a gubernatorial veto and fierce negotiation to get it right, but the Michigan Legislature finally agreed to let local governments levy long-term taxes to gain federal funding for new, regional transit systems. Gutsy reporting by our own Keith Schneider and Andy Guy exposed the partisan game-playing that jeopardized transit progress in Detroit and Grand Rapids and helped get everyone off the dime. Metro Grand Rapids is contemplating streetcars as part of its regional system, while metro Detroit is mulling proposals for a rapid transit line connecting it to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Ann Arbor. Our Web site will keep you up to date. Metro Detroiters who want to work with local transit activists should visit http://www.detroittransit.org/; Grand Rapidians can reach Andy at aguy@mlui.org or 616-308-6250.

Magic Buses

  More Michiganders are voting for public transportation.
It was high fives galore around our Beulah office the day after the August primary: Benzie County, the Institute’s solidly tax-averse home base, voted in a brand new bus system—a tough cookie to crumble in any county. We worked shoulder to shoulder with former Institute colleague Kelly Thayer, transit ringleader (and Institute member) Ingemar Johansson, Institute Board member Joe Jones’ ad agency (Jones, Gavan & Helmholdt LLC), the local Democratic Party (the local Republican Party declined to endorse it), the local Sierra Club, and a wonderfully disparate group of seniors, teens, wannabe commuters, business owners, local officials, and people with disabilities to bring home the Benzie Bus bacon—58 percent strong! Voters statewide, including metro Detroiters, also supported transit tax renewals. Watch our Web site for Institute State Policy Director Charlene Crowell's roundup of transit victories around Michigan.

It's Time

  Efforts to stop global warming are heating up in Michigan.
So, was this summer hot enough for you? Have you taken an unaware friend to see An Inconvenient Truth yet? The movement to defeat global warming is heating up in all kinds of ways in Michigan. Our favorite example is right down the highway from our Beulah office, where some of the fabulous folks who rallied to stop a proposed coal-fired power plant in Manistee kept their coalition together to produce their first Michigan Energy Fair in Onekama this summer. They drew an amazing 2,500 people. To energize yourself, type “Michigan Energy Fair” into our Web site search engine.

With the feds snoozing on warming, five Michigan cities—Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, and Southfield—have joined at least 302 others to go it alone. They are screwing in fluorescent light bulbs, buying hybrid buses, helping neighbors insulate homes, sprouting urban forests and green roofs, hooking up solar panels, and buying wind energy. There’s more at http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/mayor/climate/

General Motors may be getting it, too: Its new Lansing Delta Township assembly plant copped a prestigious gold certificate from the Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency Design) program. The place has giant cisterns to retain rainwater for its bathrooms, a heat-reflecting roof, extra-efficient lighting, and other big energy- and water-savers. GM, which also now predicts that it will have hydrogen-powered Chevys on the road by 2011, says the plant is a model for future facilities. For more about green building, type “LEED-ND” into our all-knowing search engine.

For some hands-on education, you can visit one of the Michigan Energy Demonstration Centers around the state. The one in Rochester, Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, was sending electricity back into the grid on those 95- and 100-degree days this summer.
It has great insulation, a green roof, solar panels, and a small wind
turbine. That may be a bit beyond many people’s retrofitting talents,
but Upland and the other centers can help you save energy. Find a
center near you at www.warmtraining.org/medc.

A cool closer: Labor unions, big companies, and enviros—who used to shake fists at each other—are instead shaking hands over energy independence, a clean environment, and good jobs. Two notable groups are the Energy Future Coalition and the Apollo Alliance. Check www.energyfuturecoalition.org/ and www.apolloalliance.org/.

Happy Dune Day

A sand-mining company has thrown in the towel on its long-running efforts to persuade the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to allow it to build a 600-ft. wastewater  discharge pipe through a 4,000-year-old, “critical” Lake Michigan sand dune near Muskegon. That was great news to the two citizens groups that fought the idea by sending thousands of petition signatures and letters to the MDEQ urging the agency to deny the company’s request, and filing an amicus curiae brief supporting the state agency when Nugent Sand took it to court. According to Ben Mills, the attorney who helped the two groups—Alliance for the Great Lakes and Muskegon Save Our Shoreline—with the briefs, “Not only did the decision protect this particular dune area, it also set valuable precedent for the continued protection of Michigan's dunes.”

Recycling for a Penny!

  Grocers are pushing for a new tax that support recycling of all sorts of refuse, not just bottles and cans.
Here’s a new one: A Michigan business group favors a brand new tax. But it’s a really tiny tax. The Michigan Recycling Partnership, largely grocers opposing expansion of Michigan’s returnable bottle deposit law, want us to pay an extra penny on every purchase over two bucks to help pump up Michigan’s anemic recycling rate. Their recent study found the state’s recycling rate at just 20 percent, 10 points lower than the national average and dead last among Great Lakes states. It also found Michigan spending just $200,000 a year on recycling—41st among the 48 continental states. The group figures their penny tax would raise $42 million dollars a year dedicated to building more local recycling programs. They argue that this would do far more to cut litter and waste than expanding deposits to include juice, water, and milk bottles; produce at least 6,810 new jobs; generate $155 million in new economic activity; and ease stress on landfills. House Bill 5163, which would impose the tax, got parked at the House Committee on Natural Resources, Great Lakes, Land Use and Environment last September and is still just sitting there. There's more at http://www.michiganrecyclingpartnership.com/.

Dandelion Roots, Anyone?

  Some people agree to be “locavores” for an entire year.
With great success, the Institute has urged folks to Taste the Local Difference for almost three years—connecting local growers with shoppers, grocers, restaurateurs, and school cafeteria managers. Now some folks are taking their local appetites to a new level. Calling themselves “locavores,” (rhymes with carnivores), they pledge to eat within their “foodshed”—a 100-mile radius—for a week, a month, or even a year. They pull onions, grow sprouts, gather eggs, tap maple trees, pluck chickens, befriend farmers, get in touch with the seasons, and eat way more vegetables than we do. Their work, like ours, hopes to spur demand for local food—albeit at an intensely personal level. Meet and exchange recipes with these ultra-new wave foodies at http://www.locavores.org/. And, have you visited http://www.localdifference.org/, our companion Web site, yet? It’s all about northwest Lower Michigan right now, but Patty Cantrell, our ag project director, is hatching plans to expand it statewide. Bon Appetite!

One For The Trees

  A new law hopes to protect both Brighton Township’s trees and its residents’ property rights.
It took two years, but citizens in Brighton Township, northwest of metro Detroit, have drafted a new ordinance that they hope will make the township’s curbs on clear-cutting lots for new homes or subdivisions more workable. The new law—which replaces one voted down last November—requires township approval of any developer or homeowner’s tree-cutting plan if it involves more than a quarter of the trees that are more than six inches in diameter. The review process devised by a 16-member citizens committee is free, in order to encourage compliance. Committee member and Sierra Clubber Sue Kelly, told The Detroit News, “We want to protect the trees because it’s right.” And builder Dan Rooks said he thought the new plan could work: “We want to encourage smart development.” Township trustees will vote on the proposal no earlier than their October 16 meeting.

Preserving Leelanau

Don Miller
  Citizens in Leelanau County are working to prevent overdevelopment  and preserve 10,000 acres of working farmland.
All that delicious local food requires plenty of healthy farmland. Trouble is, many farmers can now make more money selling out to developers than by growing commodity crops for rapacious global markets. That’s where farmland preservation comes in. Our newest colleague, Leelanau County Policy Specialist Julie Hay, is teaming up with the Leelanau Land Conservancy and county residents to campaign for a small preservation millage in that picturesque place. A “yes” vote on November 7 would raise close to one million dollars a year, attract substantial federal, state and private matching funds, and preserve as many as 10,000 acres of working farmland. Call Julie at 231-941-6584 to get involved. There’s more about Leelanau's campaign at http://www.saveleelanaufarmland.com/. And check our coverage of farmland preservation at http://www.mlui.org/. You know how to find it, right?

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org