MLive Media Group. July 13, 2018
PFAS crisis demands federal, state action
Michigan is at the center of an environmental disaster - and strong leadership is desperately needed. Now.
More than a dozen communities across the state are already affected by PFAS as the chemicals contaminate drinking water, creating a real public health threat.
As a series of MLive stories this week showed, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known collectively as PFAS have worked their way into Michigan’s lakes, rivers and groundwater.
Sadly, high-level state officials largely ignored a detailed report - drafted six years ago - from one of their own experts about the problem. This from Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration that so badly botched the Flint water crisis.
To be sure, the administration is now making progress with the creation of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), which has been held up as a national model in responding to the contamination problem.
But much more needs to be done at both the state and federal levels.
To protect the public, the EPA needs to quicken the process for setting much-needed maximum contamination levels for not just PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), but others as well. We need a broad-based health-protective regulatory structure for PFAS as a class of hazardous chemicals - not individual compounds, since there are thousands of them and there is no practical way to regulate them individually.
Without actual limits on the concentration of PFAS allowed in groundwater, drinking water and soil, and the hammer of a hazardous substance designation, the Department of Defense can’t be forced to clean up contamination or companies and other polluters held liable. These actions are years overdue.
The Department of Defense needs to move with a far greater sense of urgency to clean up contamination in communities, such as Oscoda, that it polluted. Use of PFAS in firefighting foam at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base has contaminated the groundwater and surface water in Oscoda and Lake Huron.
Making residents and communities exposed to toxic chemicals wait extended periods of time for remediation is troubling and unacceptable. The defense department’s foot-dragging has allowed the problem to fester, impacting more natural resources.
Well behind schedule, a granulated activated carbon filter system for PFAS should be ready by August to limit PFAS flowing into Van Etten Creek. The defense department needs to make a firm commitment to another treatment system and step up the pace in Oscoda to stop high volumes of contamination seeping every day into Lake Huron, where municipal drinking water systems nearby are pulling in PFAS chemicals.
Since 2016, the EPA health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA has been 70 parts-per-trillion. But this standard, deemed to be significantly too high - is unenforceable. The defense department will not supply long-term safe water to homes contaminated by PFAS unless wells test above 70-ppt.
There is growing evidence that low levels of PFAS exposure are more harmful than initially thought. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the health effects of PFAS said the provisional risk level is 11 parts per trillion for PFOA and 7 ppt for PFOS.
Residents worried about their health and property are rightly critical of the federal agencies’ slow and limited response to the chemicals.
Michigan can’t wait on the EPA to protect its citizens. Given the EPA’s slowness, stricter state health advisory levels should be considered.
With 30 sites in 15 communities across the state contaminated - a number that is expected to grow as more PFAS pollution is discovered - lawmakers should have plenty of motivation to protect their constituents from these chemicals that are linked to thyroid and liver disease and an increased risk for certain cancer, in addition to other illnesses.
The creation of MPART was a wise move. Now lawmakers must take swift steps to make sure the team has the support and resources to protect people’s water and educate them on the issue.
The fallout from Michigan’s failure to respond to the Flint water crisis immediately should be a glaring reminder for the governor, legislature and the next administration about the human and political costs of not leading in a crisis.
Times Herald (Port Huron). July 12, 2018
Make voting better: Make it easy
If you haven’t registered to vote in the Aug. 7 primaries, it is too late for you to participate. The deadline for registering to vote was July 8.
It probably is not a coincidence that a coalition of progressive groups submitted 430,000 petition signatures that same Monday to eliminate early voter registration deadlines and other impediments to voting. The petitions need about 316,000 signatures to make it onto the November ballot, but don’t be surprised if the flagrantly partisan state board of canvassers does its worst to block the initiative.
Promote the Vote’s ballot initiative would allow straight-ticket voting, allow any-reason absentee voting, same-day registration and automatic voter registration. The group’s backers include the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP’s state and Detroit branches.
“Democracy is most effective when the most possible people participate,” ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said when the petitions were submitted. “Voting should be easier, it should be accessible, and it should be something that everybody can do.”
Not everyone agrees. Republican-controlled statehouses across the country, including Michigan’s, have worked hard in recent years to make access to the voting booth more difficult. Opponents of easier voting have spread the mythology that making participation in our democracy less complicated also invites voter fraud. The same groups using the fraud myth to justify voter suppression are also the ones that have been unable to find any abuses in two years of searching.
Voter rights shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Politicians and voters of every persuasion should want every eligible citizen actively participating in the process. Republicans, though, tend to think that voter suppression benefits their candidates and harms their Democratic opponents. That may be true in other places, but data in Michigan suggests things such as prohibiting straight-ticket voting costs both parties votes.
The tactics only result in lower turnout, greater cynicism and more complaints the system doesn’t work. Like gerrymandering, it makes the game of politics more important than the work of governing. It is why we have candidates who don’t identify with the people whose votes they seek, elected officials who ignore the needs of constituents, and partisans who don’t play well with others.
Soon after they are elected, though, they will lament the latest pathetically low voter turnout. And, while snickering behind their hands, they will vow to do something about it.
With Promote the Vote’s initiative on the November ballot, voters will be able to do something about it themselves.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 10, 2018
War against invasive species a series of small skirmishes
By this point in history, we believe most Michigan residents are well aware of the existence of invasive species, the often tiny (although not always) critters and plant life that end up doing great damage to area and regional water habitats.
Most of what we hear, in terms of the battle to ward off the invasives, is related to the Great Lakes. The never-ending war going back decades against the sea lamprey comes to mind as one good example. The more recent fight against the Asian carp is another.
Both are native to other places but ended up in area and U.S. waterways, often adversely impacting species that are native.
But other battles against invasives are being fought including one recently at the Hoist Basin in Negaunee Township where the annual Aquatic Invasive Species Landing Blitz took place.
In a nutshell, the blitz is an educational effort hosted by the Upper Peninsula Power Company, the Lake to Lake Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Dead River Campers Inc.
A table of information was set up and experts were standing by to answer questions about the issue.
“We just want to educate people on invasive species, what they can do to prevent it, what they can do to ID it, who they can contact if they think they found something,” Elise Desjarlais, coordinator for the Lake to Lake Cooperative, said for a recent Mining Journal story on the matter.
We like this kind of worthwhile work because we believe that all of us can learn something from it. Winning the war against invasives isn’t a set-piece battle but a series of small skirmishes and this kind of event plays an important role.
Petoskey News-Review. July 12, 2018
The easy way isn’t always the best way in city planning
Generally municipal planning and zoning discussions are not the stuff of many bar room or dinner table conversations.
Indeed, talk of side yard setbacks, minimum square footage requirements, and similar sorts of minutia that planning and zoning officials find themselves mulling, can, at times, be a good insomnia antidote.
However, there are also times when these discussions can be central to important decisions that can make a significant impact for a property owner, a neighborhood or an entire community - often for many years to come.
Often these discussions come to the forefront when a developer proposes a new or expanded use for a property. If the property is zoned for the proposed use, all the owner has to do is comply with site plan rules required by the current zoning.
However, if the proposed use doesn’t comply with the property’s current zoning, the owner either has to seek a special use permit or must ask to have the property rezoned, depending on the circumstances.
Often this sets up a situation in which planning and zoning officials - along with the community at large - must weigh many competing factors. Often it’s a discussion that boils down to deciding if the benefits of the proposed use - such as job or housing creation and a likely increase in property tax revenue - outweigh the potential negative impacts - such as noise or increased traffic - to the neighborhood and the community.
Recently the Boyne City City Commission was faced with just such a situation. Two men who run a financial services company propose to renovate a former take-out food service building on M-75/State Street and use it for office space.
The building has sat unused for at least 15 years, perhaps closer to 20, and has fallen into some disrepair. The problem is the property is zoned “traditional residential” which does not allow for commercial uses.
Accordingly the men proposing the project are seeking a conditional rezoning for the property. Basically this would allow the parcel to be rezoned to allow their particular, very narrow business office use. If the property were to ever cease being used for what was included in the conditional rezoning agreement, its zoning would revert to traditional residential.
On many fronts this seems like a reasonable request. Although the property in question is surrounded on three sides by homes and the neighborhood in which it is located is generally residential, a church and two businesses are located roughly across the street - which also happens to be a state highway and one of the city’s main entrances.
As a small office space with an anticipated maximum parking load of six vehicles, the impact on the area would likely be minimal and the property would not only see a significant improvement to the structure, but also would see a significant jump in taxable value.
It should also be noted that city officials have fielded numerous inquiries about potential uses for the property in recent years, but all of them have been for commercial purposes not allowed under the current zoning.
Certainly one could make a good argument in favor of the requested conditional rezoning on several grounds. However, during a recent first reading of the proposal, several city commissioners expressed concerns about it.
It wasn’t that these commissioners thought the proposed use is necessarily a bad idea or a bad fit for that location, or that there wouldn’t be benefits to the property again being in use. Their concern centered around the bigger picture and following a proper process.
As commissioner Dean Solomon noted, the conditional rezoning would amount to “spot zoning,” which is widely discouraged in community planning circles. Several commission members noted that - although it’s a longer and more involved process, and it may not meet the needs of this business’ immediate needs - it would be better to take the time to evaluate the whole neighborhood and see if there is a change needed to the city’s master plan for that area and/or if there is zoning classification that could be applied to the neighborhood, or corridor that might be more in line with the needs and desires of the community.
As Solomon noted, perhaps there is a zoning designation that could be developed that would allow for some limited commercial uses, or perhaps some limited flexibility that would also help address housing needs that continue to plague much of the area.
We applaud this sort of longer-sighted, bigger-picture approach to these sorts of planning and zoning situations. Certainly it could be tempting to approve a proposal such as this one, given its expected relatively low impact and the benefits it would offer. However, often it’s better policy to take the time to address the issue the right way.
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