Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 05/25/2005
It was called a public hearing, but opportunity for comment on State Rep. John Moolenaar's proposed "Homeowner Fairness Act" was granted only to supporters.
Bill No. 4617 has been introduced in both the House and Senate and would change the state law that labels contaminated properties "facilities." If passed, the new law would remove the label from properties that are assumed to be contaminated but haven't actually been tested.
With just an hour and a half set aside to listen to mid-Michiganders' views on the topic, the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday heard from only a chosen handful of the 22 people who came to Lansing to speak.
"I don't think I've been to a public forum that didn't alternate between support and non-support," said Lone Tree Council spokesman Terry Miller.
Had he or the 25 Tittabawassee River flood plain residents represented by Betty Damore of Saginaw been able to speak, they would have told the committee examining the bill that they oppose removal of the facility designation.
"We are much more concerned about the dioxin on our property and in our community than we are about being labeled a facility," the residents said in a written statement. "This is compounded by the failure of the state to deal with this issue in a timely manner. This issue has become more about politics than about science and public health protection."
Leonard Heinzman and Shirley Salas don't disagree that the issue is a political one, but they do disagree with their flood plain neighbors. They want the facility designation lifted and support the bill "1,000 percent."
In a vibrant and healthy community, Heinzman and Salas are angry that their property values are being affected by contamination they don't believe poses risk. "We know there are no health issues in our area simply by living there every day of the week," Heinzman said. "It's about time that someone said 'enough is enough' and that the true stakeholders, the personal property owners, have someone to care enough to carry our concerns forward."
Among other supporters of the bill were Midland's Bill Egerer, Saginaw and Midland health department directors Neill Varner and Mike Krecek, Midland Tomorrow CEO Jenee Velasquez, Tittabawassee Township Trustee Rick Hays, and Connie Valliere of the Home Builders Association of Midland.
Committee Chair Leon Drolet, R-Clinton Township, said those who weren't heard at the hearing might get another chance to speak, if the House takes the bill to a vote.
In the meantime, Moolenaar plans to educate lawmakers on the dioxin issue.
"How we approach this today provides a road map for how we are going to handle other cleanup and contamination throughout the state," Moolenaar said.
That's just what the DEQ is afraid of. In its comments to the committee, it argued that the bill could slow the pace and increase the cost of cleanup, and limit the possibility for state and local financial incentives for redevelopment of brownfield sites. "Qualification (as a facility) is a prerequisite for innocent landowners to receive relief," said Frank Ruswick, special assistant to DEQ Director Steven Chester.
More importantly, Ruswick added, the bill could allow contaminated property to be sold to an unknowing buyer.
Moolenaar said that is not the intent. "We're not saying somehow you should be able to keep something a secret," he said.
Some on the committee already have made up their minds on the issue. "To me this is like the state being omnipotent, and I hate that," said John Garfield, R-Oakland County.
Ruswick explained that when the DEQ first notified residents that riverside homes might be considered facilities, the goal was to also offer advice on limiting exposure to contaminated soil -- both for residents and potential buyers.
"It was not to scare people," he said. "It was not to deliberately damage property values."
Garfield was passionate about relieving residents of the label. "Would you rather face unemployment in an uninhabited city?" he asked Ruswick.
Miller said it was difficult to watch the DEQ get "beat up" by lawmakers for notifying property owners of potential risks and state law. "It was like they did something wrong," he said. "They are going after the state, when the state is acting in a responsible manner to protect people's health."
©Midland Daily News 2005
For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site www.trwnews.net for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.