...was guest columnist in The Saginaw News yesterday.
Clearing river will take combined efforts
Friday, February 29, 2008
KENNETH B. HORN, GUEST COLUMNIST
If we learned nothing else in 2007, it's that we should work side by side in a nonpolitical way to get things done for our community. However, in recent weeks I've repeatedly been bemused by frequent letters to the editor from defenders of the Environmental Protection Agency sit-down strike, most recently on Feb. 15.
Letters of the defense speak of this federal agency quitting discussions after an ''unacceptable offer'' by a local company. It is remarkable that EPA supporters are so intimate with the confidential dioxin negotiations. The offer, whatever it was, remains unknown to all residents of Michigan with the obvious exception, of course, of these select few champions of the EPA's environmental monarchy.
For the record, and to the chagrin of some extremists, readers should recall that my office did not have the Department of Environmental Quality removed from the river project. The EPA muscled in after years of DEQ involvement and unilaterally chose to yank our state agency out of the loop. An uninformed EPA then leaked information about the case and is currently under investigation by the U.S. inspector general. Rather coincidentally, and nearly the same day, the EPA walked away from the clean-up talks and halted its vaunted river projects. If you are not aware of this yet, at a recent gathering the EPA demonstrated satisfaction in a couple of clean-ups along our river. Here's what they accomplished at just one site: More than 300 majestic 100-year-old oak trees were ripped from the ground, root and limb, and hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of our riverbanks were carted away and replaced with sterile soil, likely to be washed away as silt next spring.
I toured the site and could not believe the government sanctioned the destruction I witnessed. The EPA insipidly referred to this thoughtless obliteration simply as the ''removal of vegetation.''
Guess what they found? With this show of unbridled brute force, the EPA recovered less than a thimbleful of non-toxic furans. Doubt it? The EPA cannot tell the difference between the furans and dioxins in the river -- it said so. Worst of all, it scorns both the world-renowned University of Michigan and Michigan State University studies on the effects of human and wildlife eco-systems in our region.
I remember when several trees wrongly were chopped down by the Road Commission in Saginaw Township not too long ago. The neighbors were so outraged over the destruction of their trees that their voices quivered in anger. We should be equally incensed over the EPA's hard-handed tactics because if you live on the river, prepare yourself, your trees are next on the EPA chopping block. It's their bold plan. It's what they call ''progress.''
That is why I'm fighting the EPA and the DEQ.
I strongly support the health and safety of our residents. Without a moment of hesitation, I encourage honest efforts to clean up our rivers. In light of all that we know through the U-M and MSU studies, I support doing this in a way that does the least damage to our extraordinary surroundings.
There should be a reasonable plan that includes green spaces, new plantings, some river digging and lots of rip-rap to keep banks from eroding. The DEQ and the EPA need to work candidly with the community to develop a vision and share it with the public. Government needs to get back to the table and then work toward that vision. It seems only reasonable, if they're the experts.
So, while we wait on their expertise, please check out this quote:
"What happens next is anyone's guess. Hopefully EPA and DEQ will continue to work together to resolve this long-standing issue. It is imperative for the agencies to now come forward with a collective and coherent strategy and engage the public. What are your next steps Director Chester and Administrator Gade? Please do not assume we know." The Dioxin Update, Lone Tree Council.
Apparently, I am not the only one disappointed in the bureaucracy of this project. As a legislator, a big part of my job is to watch over departmental operations. This problem needs to come to some resolution. I consider myself a conservationist and will join with ecologists to solve this logjam. My only caveat is that we will not destroy this river valley environment in the name of saving it. The cure should not be worse than the illness.
I'd like to thank the advocates of the EPA for writing their letters to the editor, though you should know that your neighbors likely are disappointed in the condescending tone. It shouldn't be that only those ''in the pocket'' of the EPA are allowed to pursue accountability and transparency in government.
Just as we need to work in a bipartisan manner in Lansing, we need to work together locally. I will continue to represent the people of the 94th District and will stand up for our precious river forest. And I will fight against out-of-control, politically motivated bureaucracies that are funded by tax dollars, paid for by you and me.
As always, you are welcome to write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (866) horn-094 (1-866-467-6094). I'd be glad to chat with you about these issues.
Kenneth B. Horn represents Michigan's 94th state House district. He lives in Frankenmuth.