Communication plan might change

Kathie Marchlewski, Midland Daily News 08/26/2005

After months of meetings on the topic of public communication, The Dow Chemical Co. and MDEQ have received a clear message, though it isn't what they expected and they're not sure it will work.

As a decade or longer of dioxin remediation moves forward in the Saginaw Valley, the two had planned to select a Tri-County panel of representatives to offer input on the process. But just about everybody they asked, even those with polar-opposite views on the dioxin situation, agreed that a formal committee is a bad idea -- that meetings should be conducted in a town hall-style format, with any and all invited to participate.

"I think the last thing this whole process needs is more bureaucracy," said Robert Cowling, who doesn't think it's possible for a small group to represent the many stakeholders in the matter and their many varied interests.

The Department of Environmental Quality and Dow had proposed a Community Advisory Committee comprised of 16 to 20 members who would serve two-year terms and meet on a set schedule, likely bimonthly. The meetings would be open to the public with time allotted for public comment, though the panel also would have a set agenda to follow.

Those who are opposed to a selected committee say the process of selecting members, no matter what it be, likely would leave some stakeholders out.

Pat Davis, who owns a home in Saginaw nearly a mile away from the Tittabawassee River, still lives within the lines of its 100-year flood plain. He said it's the property owners at risk and they must be included in upcoming decisions. He would like to see wide-open meetings.

While both Dow and DEQ acknowledge that the appointing of the group might become controversial, once in place, it would have benefits -- there would be guaranteed attendance and background knowledge that would enable meaningful dialogue and meaningful input on issues at hand.

"A town hall meeting is fine and good, but it can get out of hand pretty easily. There might not be any outcome," said Dow spokesman John Musser.

In upcoming weeks, Dow and the DEQ will meet to redesign their plan, taking the public comment into consideration. "Clearly the CAC is not what the residents wanted," DEQ spokesman Bob McCann said. "We're going to have to sit down and discuss where we're going to go from here."

The result likely will be a more inclusive format, he said.

Still, both Dow and DEQ want to ensure that meetings have a goal and that the goal can be accomplished.

Some who attended meetings this week in Midland and Saginaw feared that the handfuls of people who have been regularly involved in the issue, the special interest groups, will dominate meetings.

"If we're going to do (town hall meetings), we need to make an effort to get more people out," said DEQ Director Steven Chester. "People get fatigued over time. They find other things to do. Over time, you have that core group of people who are motivated to show up."

Midlander Dick Reitz wants to be certain that the public's input moving forward will be taken to heart by the DEQ -- that it will matter and will carry the power to influence change.

"If not, why should we waste time having the meetings?" he said.

İMidland Daily News 2005
 


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