GOP Style Big Big Government

SUBHEAD: Republicans in Michigan using new law that allows state to oust locally elected officials and dissolve local government if they are in the way of "progress". Image above: Lake Michigan lakefront dunes at Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor Michigan. The site of a takeover by a private golf course. From ( [Editor's note: Republican governor's working with Republican controlled legislatures are de-unionizing and corporatizing America's struggling states. They are preying on places facing economic hard times and gutting them. Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin is a amateur when compared with Gov. Rick Snyder in Michigan. Check out what's happening in Benton Harbor and some of its background story. It could happen here. Think FERC.]
By Rachel Maddow on 19 April 2011 for MSNBC -
Video above: Segment on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show. Michigan "emergency" laws allow golf course development in Benton Harbor. From (
Governor to get Emergency Manager powers By Eartha Jane Melzer on 16 March 2011 for The Michigan Messenger - (

Public workers in Michigan lost job security yesterday as the state House signed off on a bill that allows the governor to appoint people to take over financially troubled local governments and schools and cancel labor contracts. Less than two months after Gov. Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to expand the state’s ability to intervene in communities facing budget problems, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have finalized a bill that gives unprecedented power to appointed Emergency Managers.

The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act creates a range of triggers for state involvement in local communities and allows the governor to appoint managers to fire local elected officials, break labor agreements, suspend collective bargaining rights for five years, order millage elections, take over pension funds and even dissolve local governments.

The law also contains a provision added by the Senate that gives towns a chance to avoid takeover by entering into a budgeting consent agreement with the state and becoming exempt from collective bargaining agreements.

“The Governor will sign,” spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Tuesday afternoon. “He believes this was an important step forward and will be a key tool to help indicate and address fiscal problems earlier and more clearly in Michigan’s cities and schools with the hopes of avoiding the appointment of an emergency manager to begin with.”

Critics say that the Emergency Manager legislation is part of a nationwide Republican effort to consolidate political power by undermining unions.

In an interview with FOX News last week Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged that the (apparently successful) effort to end collective bargaining and break unions in that state is aimed at hurting Democratic chances in the 2012 presidential election.

“If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions,” he said, “Obama is going to have a much … more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

“The distinction between Michigan and Wisconsin is that Governor Snyder is a lot smarter than Governor Walker,” said American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker. “He is going after things in other ways.”

“Yes, some school districts and cities are in financial difficulties that have to be addressed,” he said, “but you don’t do that by wiping out the powers of elected officials, or by wiping out collective bargaining …this will wreak havoc on cities and school districts.”

The new law is likely to hit Snyder’s desk as busloads of union members and other concerned people roll into the Capitol to protest both the Emergency Manager bill and the proposed state revenue sharing cuts that could drive many communities into receivership.

AFL-CIO affiliated unions, Working Michigan, Michael Moore and others are mobilizing for a noon protest at the Capitol under the banner “NO to GOP attacks on Michigan’s middle class.”

City council members and residents from Benton Harbor are expected to join the rally in Lansing today.

Benton Harbor is the poorest town in Michigan and since last year its finances have been under the control of Joe Harris, the emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Harris and the city council have clashed over cost cutting measures and under the new Emergency Manager bill Harris will have the power to disband the council.

Benton Harbor is already experiencing corporate-style restructuring.

Jean Klock Park, the city’s public lakefront, has been leased to a non-profit associated with the locally headquartered Whirlpool Corp. and turned into an elite private golf course.

Though much of the concern around the Emergency Manager bill has focused on the loss of benefits and jobs that will come when labor contracts can be shredded, another expected impact is increasing privatization of city assets.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles told that the city’s commissioners hope to join with other communities in a class action suit challenging the new Emergency Manager law... [use link at top to get the rest of this article]

Contaminated Land Swapped for Beachfront Park By Eartha Jane Melzer on 20 March 2009 for The Michigan Messenger - (
“This is about Whirlpool appropriating a 92-year-old Lake Michigan lakefront park and foisting its polluted white elephant on the public rolls in exchange”

Federal regulators approved a controversial land swap and golf development without full knowledge of the contamination on land involved, warn opponents of the privatization of Benton Harbor’s Jean Klock Park. They are asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the project’s permits while it considers the new information.

“This is about Whirlpool appropriating a 92-year-old Lake Michigan lakefront park and foisting its polluted white elephant on the public rolls in exchange,” said Benton Harbor resident Julie Weiss who is also a plaintiff in a pending federal suit to block the project.

In the name of economic development, Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc., a non-profit affiliated with the locally headquartered Whirlpool Corp., is in the process of building a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course on land that includes Jean Klock Park. Developers plan to put three holes of the course atop the park’s sand dunes so that golfers may experience majestic Lake Michigan views.

The plan has been criticized on social justice, economic and environmental grounds. Benton Harbor is one of the poorest cities in the country. U.S. census data shows around half of the residents live in poverty, and more than 90 percent are African-American, and the golf course would serve comparatively privileged outsiders while offering few long-term jobs to locals.

The 73-acre Jean Klock Park was donated to townspeople in 1917 and improved with state and federal grants. It features a fragile dune ecosystem, habitat for the threatened Rose-pink flower, and is among the few remaining large tracts of open public land on Lake Michigan. It is a treasured recreational spot and the major public park in a city that’s been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

To compensate for the project’s reduction of public parkland, developers have promised to create a new bike path and trail system on a string of parcels along the Paw Paw River and around Benton Harbor.

But these properties contain unsafe levels of industrial waste, according to documents recently released by the state in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by project opponents. Critics of the Harbor Shores project say that details of the contamination raise new questions about the propriety of the deal — the land was represented by developers as of equal value to the lakefront park, they say, and creating a construction zone on contaminated land could spread pollution and endanger wetlands.

An April 2, 2007, letter from a hydrologist with the company Earth Tech — stamped “received” by the Department of Environmental Quality on April 5 — states that pollution on the parcels exceeds levels considered safe by the state. The pollutants identified include lead and arsenic, volatile organic compounds and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.

Later that month, Lorraine Thomas of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Remediation and Redevelopment Division in Kalamazoo told the engineering company working on the project that Harbor Shores, the developer, was not liable to clean up contamination of the parcels.

“Based on proposed future use as a recreational area,” she wrote in an April 20 letter, “the relevant pathways of concern include direct soil contact criteria and ambient air particulate soil-inhalation criteria.” These types of exposures could be addressed, she wrote, by installing an exposure barrier or by excavating the contaminated soil.

This information about the contamination, if released earlier, would have galvanized the environmental community against this project, said attorney Terry Lodge, who is representing a group of residents in a federal suit seeking to block the project.

The Army Corp of Engineers is the agency responsible for regulating the effects of the golf project on wetlands.

In a letter to the Corps this month Lodge wrote:

Contrary to what was disclosed to the public for scrutiny during the pre-application phase in early 2008 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of Benton Harbor, we now know that all but one of the seven conversion mitigation parcels swapped for JKP land are contaminated. The very extensive efforts of my clients to piece together the history and current status of the mitigation parcels from disparate sources yielded considerable evidence of toxic contamination on 6 of them with volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals, much of which as of the date of this letter remains unremediated and uncontained in the land and groundwater of several of the parcels.

“The concealment is breathtaking,” he wrote, and he asked that permits for work on the project be revoked.

Lodge also noted that despite claims that the dunes would not be damaged by the golf project, developers have recently acknowledged plans to remove 18,000 cubic yards of sand and soil from Jean Klock Park.

Army Corps spokeswoman Lynn Duerod said that permits can be revoked or rescinded if the permit applicant fails to comply with the permit, if the information in the permit application proves to be false, or if significant new information surfaces that wasn’t considered when the permit was issued. The Corps has not yet issued a response to the request to stop Harbor Shores’ progress.

In a statement released in response to questions about contamination of the proposed park parcels, Harbor Shores spokeswoman Wendy Dant Chesser did not specifically address concerns about the presence of heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) but stated: “Harbor Shores has already agreed to perform significant environmental remediation to dramatically improve the condition of the parcels.”

She acknowledged that 18,000 cubic yards of sand and soil would be removed from the park.

Chesser emphasized government support for the project: “Thanks to the leadership of Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, Benton Charter Township, Berrien County, and other supporters, the use of Jean Klock Park has been approved by all local, state and federal agencies that have jurisdiction over the Park.”

The release also stated that the golf course is part of a 530-acre mixed-use development intended to benefit the people of Benton Harbor and that the project has been granted more than $3 million dollars for road-building by the state of Michigan.

Golf Course Wars in Benton Harbor
By Kari Lydersen on 27 May 2008 for Rooflines - (

Golf courses have been lightning rods and symbols for class struggle around the world, as in Morelos, Mexico, where a golf course sucking up the town of Tepoztlan as water led to deadly violent clashes in 1996.

Golf courses are oases of peace and vegetation, but high greens fees and a general air of exclusivity surrounding the sport often makes them seem like symbols of luxury for the haves, not the have-nots.

Now a golf course is at the center of a highly controversial massive development plan in Benton Harbor, a 90-percent African-American lakefront town in southwest Michigan with high rates of poverty and unemployment.

By anyone’s account, Benton Harbor is desperately in need of investment and change.

But the specific plans and symbolism around the golf course make many locals afraid this change means a Benton Harbor that doesn’t include them.

The town has plummeted into economic despair since major industries pulled up stakes in the 1980s. The only major employer left is Whirlpool Corp., which has its corporate headquarters there. Whirlpool is spearheading the 500-acre plan to turn Benton Harbor into an upscale destination for tourists, conferences and vacation home-buyers, with promises of creating jobs and economic revival for locals to boot.

The focal point of the whole plan is three lakefront holes on a course designed—like the Morelos one—by Jack Nicklaus. Its backers say without these lake view holes, the whole deal is off. The problem is, the land where those holes would be located is in Jean Klock Park, deeded to the city in 1917 by the Klocks with the promise the land would remain public parkland in perpetuity. The Chicago Reader aptly calls the park the project’s sand trap.

Environmentalists and preservationists say the golf course would damage the ecologically sensitive dunes and set a dangerous precedent in taking public land for private profit. They call it environmental racism, since the park is the local African American community’s only significant public space and beach access. (The golf holes would be on 22 acres of the 77-acre park.)... [use link at top to get the rest of this article]


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