By Holly Moon, Newaygo County Treasurer
Foreclosure is a tragedy. That’s why most county treasurers including myself go way beyond our legal duty to notify taxpayers about outstanding tax bills and offer solutions to prevent tax foreclosure. Treasurers throughout the state meet with tens of thousands of taxpayers each year to discuss payment alternatives, and refer families to outside agencies and nonprofits for tax and financial help. More than two dozen additional legal measures are taken over a twenty-five month period to help people avoid tax foreclosure.
These efforts are made because it is the responsible thing to do, and it keeps families and small business owners in their properties. By avoiding foreclosure and successfully collecting delinquent property taxes, county treasurers protect the majority of taxpayers who pay their taxes on time. In most counties that is 95 - 97 percent of property owners. Of the remaining three to five percent, many are slumlords and out-of-state investors in the larger counties, who speculate in the risky business of substandard real estate.
If foreclosure is necessary, it is the result of three years of tax delinquency. State law requires county treasurers to sell foreclosed properties at a public auction to make up for the tax revenue lost by the local government, county government, schools, special millage, public transit systems, road commissions, veterans millage, and other taxing units. The law also lets taxpayers walk away clean from the foreclosure, without debt to mortgage companies, lien holders, and other debtors of the property. Paying left-over auction revenue to previous owners of foreclosed property, as suggested by recent lawsuits filed against Michigan’s county treasurers statewide – many which have been dismissed by circuit courts, would reward bad behavior. It would force the Treasurer to act as an unpaid and unlicensed realtor for those who have not paid their taxes. Under current law, if county treasurers returned auction revenue to previous owners they would be in direct violation of civil and criminal state law.
In most counties, funds raised go to a regulated foreclosure stabilization fund to pay back taxes from previous years’ shortfalls, expenses of the forfeiture and foreclosure process, and to cover legal expenses. Tax foreclosure most often deals with abandoned, blighted, or challenged properties which lose money at tax auctions. When property sells for more than taxes due, the funds are used to ensure that on-time taxpayers do not pay the high costs of tax delinquent and tax foreclosed properties. Sales on high-value properties pay for public losses on low-value properties. Unfortunately, there are many bad actors who intentionally evade property taxes and use county government like a free real estate lender. County treasurers work hard to hold these bad actors accountable.
The purpose of Michigan’s foreclosure law is to prevent foreclosure or return tax-reverted properties to productive use so they do not damage neighborhoods or surrounding property values. County treasurers throughout Michigan understand the limitations of the law. We do not foreclose on properties for trivial amounts such as $5 or $10. Sound judgment and insight is required. Each foreclosure is looked at individually.
Foreclosure is indeed a tragedy. Abusing county treasurers doesn’t help. Socializing the losses on tax- foreclosed properties and letting previous property owners profit from the foreclosure is a bad idea. It would unfairly shift the burden of bad tax debts onto the backs of those who meet their responsibilities, hurt our local units, (cities, townships, school districts, libraries, and other taxing units), negatively impact financial institutions, damage the real estate industry, and create significant legal problems for all concerned.
A film about families dealing with mental health issues
By Carol Mills, Executive Director, Newaygo County Mental Health
The 2019 feature film, Coming Up for Air, a project of the Heartland Independent Film Forum, based in Muskegon, is a unique opportunity to reach those who can benefit today from readily available treatment. The film focuses on the impact of mental health on families as told through the story of a young college student who is also a competitive diver. The film is set for national theatrical release on September 20, 2019. Newaygo County Mental Health and NC RESA will sponsor a free preview of the movie on September 18, 2019 at the Dogwood Center. The movie is considered PG13, and appropriate for teens and young adults as well. Dinner will also be provided. The movie will start at 6:30 p.m. with dinner available starting at 5:30p.m. Local mental health providers will also be on-site to offer information about local mental health services.
Anna Russell, a lauded young artist, won an impressive fellowship to Italy at the end of her American college studies. She appeared to be on her way to becoming a darling of the international art scene. Reality crashed into her dream world when Anna realized she was pregnant. Her lover, a fellow student, left town without a forwarding address before she had a chance to tell him he was on the way to fatherhood. Convinced she had missed her moment, Anna decided to return home to America where her son Stan was born.
Nineteen years later Anna Russell is privately struggling to adjust after Stan, now a nationally ranked 10 meter diver and Italian studies major, is away at college. She is left behind deeply in debt. As she begins a path of rediscovery, Anna becomes worried by the behavior of her son who is further and further out of reach. Because he is of age, she has no right to information about him or access to him, and must try to decipher if he is having a rough time learning life lessons or if he is in real trouble. What parent hasn't thought, "How worried should I be?"
Coming Up For Air vividly portrays what it's like to be the parent of a mentally ill child. By not passing judgment or offering unsolicited advice, this feature drama encourages audiences to come to their own conclusions about what it takes to be a devoted, loving parent.
This unique film conveys the kind of teamwork it takes to successfully respond to mental health challenges. A perfect film for families about an imperfect family, Coming Up For Air is also an entertaining story that is both hopeful and inspiring.
This is a free event, but people are asked to preregister to determine food needs. Please go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/coming-up-for-air-full-movie-premiere-tickets-67070937981?aff=ebdssbdestsearch to register. Please email Newaygo County Mental Health with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
To watch a trailer clip, please follow this link: https://vimeo.com/348120621 or visit comingupforairmovie.com
By Kathy Morrison
After sitting at the blinking computer yesterday (literally - my laptop screen is going), for hours on end, researching the stink issues, and then roaming the house, sleeping part of the night in bed, part on the sofa, and part on the kitchen floor with an injured barn cat, I got thinking about the Digester (what's new?) and electricity consumption.
The Fremont Digester creates methane gas used for the production of electricity which most of us (okay, all of us, if you are reading this) use. There are many ways to create electricity, some more ecologically sound than others. In the cycle of the 3R's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, we often neglect the first and most important - REDUCE. As a kid, my siblings and I were hounded by my Dad, a product of the Great Depression, to, "You kids - turn the lights off!"
What we thought was material for eye rolling and "Oh, gosh, Dad", I now see as a valuable lesson - Reduce. Do I need to leave lights on in a room where no one is using them? Probably not - definitely not! As I moved into my teen, and adult years, my Dad had already left me in good nick when it comes to automatically shutting lights off and think more deeply about energy usage.
Does it matter? Yes, it does. Energy consumption is a choice. I do not plan to go off the grid, and for now, I use commercially generated electricity.
Can I follow the first R of the three Rs more diligently? Definitely. If we all followed my Dad's lead would it matter? Most definitely. The more times we reduce our electricity usage, the fewer times a problematic or polluting electric plant needs to be created and placed somewhere.
Whether it is coal, solar, wind, biogas Digester, nuclear or any other type of electric creation facility, they all come with their own unique problems for the environment and for those of us who live near to them. As I train and, at times re-train myself, to make shutting off the lights an automatic habit, I can thank my Dad for starting me early on what has become a passion for me - trying to do less damage to the Earth.
So now, at 4 a.m. and for this still tired insomniac, "Lights off, Kathy".
By Ken DeLaat
A couple of months ago in a previous column I mentioned that the Detroiters would likely not fare well this season or perhaps for several more. Well, LSC Lil and I went down to see the Tigers recently for an annual Tiger/Blue Jay game (daughter Lesly is a Toronto fan, go figure) and I have got to tell you that even though one can watch a team on television or follow on the radio there is something about seeing a game in person that gives you a sense for the quality of a team.
And the Tigs are bad.
Really really bad.
Don’t get me wrong it takes little knowledge of the game to recognize that if a player can reach even the lower levels of the minor leagues they are likely to be outstanding. I mean, how many kids did you know growing up who played pro ball? Even the players you thought of as the best in your area were probably not skilled enough to cut it at those levels.
Oh and either were the guys who tell you they could have played pro but either a) hurt their arm or b) chose a career.They seem to be as legion as those who say they attended Woodstock.
So agreed, the players on the CoPa field are some of the best in the world.
Trouble is, they’re playing against others who are also the best in the world who are a whole lot, and I mean a WHOLE lot better than they are.
They have a few players on this roster who might survive the next few dreadful years before the promised dominant pitching arrives and they can hopefully begin loading up on some badly needed bats. But mostly this team is a bit like the Indians in Major League with a cast of career minor leaguers, cast offs from other teams and young players forced into full-time duty before they are as prepared as they might be.
Except the Indians in that movie had some charm and charisma because after all it was a movie right?
This team lacks any appeal.
The Tigers were above the league average attendance for a dozen straight years since the miracle team guided by Jimmy Leyland landed in the ‘06 Series, a streak that ended last year the first of the ‘rebuilding’ (read dismantling) years. This season there is an eerie cavernous sound in the Park with the empty seats reminiscent of sitting in the Old Barn on Michigan and Trumbull in the mid 90’s when you could practically get a chair in the dugout if you wanted to and collecting foul balls was no great feat.
I get it. They felt they couldn’t compete so they decided to save money and hunker in for the long haul. A good business decision perhaps but not one shared by other teams with perhaps more liquid assets who might not have let a pitching staff of Price, Porcello, and oh yeah, Scherzer and Verlander go. Or see their gifted GM leave for Boston where he won a title with a few ex Tigers on the team. Or not give prolific batsman JD Martinez what he wanted to have him hit the 141 dingers since his departure while wearing the Olde English D.
Instead we have a long term commitment to arguable one of the best power/average guys ever in baseball who has devolved by a combination of age, injuries and a lineup that can’t support or protect his bat into a singles hitter who seldom plays the field and has another 5 years left on a bloated contract.
And a $110 million dollar arm who has produced 25 wins in almost 4 years (figures out to about $4 1/2 mil a win thus far) has a 1-7 record, an ERA over 7, who can’t stay off the injury list and will toil on the slab for another year of his contract despite turning the mound into a virtual launching pad when he is healthy enough to start.
Again, I get it. Mistakes can be made, players get hurt, age takes its toll and all that.
But if your goal is to win games and thus put those beloved butts in the seats you can’t make so many bad decisions for so long and then ask people to be patient.
Oh and the other night Castellanos who we cut loose for a pair pitchers from the lower minor leaguers (one with a 1-9 record and an ERA over 7 in class A for pity’s sake) singled doubled and homered as the first place Cubs beat the A’s a low budget team who are, by the way, fighting for a wild card.
But hey, now it’s August and we can focus on the lofty expectations some are holding for our beloved Lions. In fact they just finished their first preseason game and,... and…
And they got the 3 with 2 minutes left?
Sheesh. It’s an epidemic.
Is Newaygo County Heading for a New Weather Normal Thanks to Climate Change?
By Charles Chandler
CNN Report: July 2019 has replaced July 2016 as the hottest month on record.
Scorching heat waves, wildfires, and devastating floods across the globe are no longer weather anomalies but part of the new normal thanks to global warming, scientists say. “The old records belong to a world that no longer exists,” Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Washington Post. Numerous cities that had previously been immune to sweltering heat waves experienced the effects of climate change this summer, including a snowy region just north of the Arctic Circle in Finland that recorded a temperature of 90 degrees earlier this month. In Greece and Japan, record-breaking temperatures claimed dozens of lives. And in the U.S., at least 35 weather stations set new records for warm overnight temperatures in the past month. Scientists say the temperatures will only keep increasing, and extreme weather events will only become more catastrophic as the burning of fossil fuels injects more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Another headline report: Warming, fires, warming, fires: How tundra wildfires could create an unstoppable cycle
“High water temperatures are stalling runs and killing fish in several Alaska regions.
Managers say weeks of record hot and dry weather has pushed water temps to the mid-70s in Prince William Sound and have disrupted normal migration behavior and slowed down the salmon runs.”
On a personal note, in previous July’s this N3 contributor would have been in Alaska fishing for salmon in the Bristol Bay tributaries. It is unimaginable that the soggy, Alaskan tundra and peat bogs would be dry enough to burn. That those cold glacial-fed streams and rivers would warm to the degree that spawning salmon would be deterred from their biological destiny. Yet in the last few years, that has become a reality.
What do all these events have to do with Newaygo County? It appears to be pretty normal around here, no major fires like those in California or Alaska. Nothing like the flooding in the Mississippi River drainage or the hammering folks in the gulf coast or central states received this past spring. We are pretty lucky here in Newaygo County because nearby Lake Michigan ameliorates our weather. We haven’t seen the effects of global warming in our part of the Mitten.
Well, that depends on who you talk to. There will probably be a different response from those folks that are out in the weather year-round and have the responsibility to deal with the consequences of weather-related events in Newaygo County.
What I do know is that we humans deal with the weather as we do with pain. Once it is gone, we soon forget about it. As we bask in this perfect lakeside beer and brats’ weather most of us have forgotten about the floods on March 14th, a perfect storm of weather that led to some serious flooding in Newaygo County. The ground was frozen, there was snow cover and then we had a downpour. The frozen ground exacerbated the problem and rather than absorbing the water expedited the heavy runoff which exceeded the carrying capacity of the natural and manmade drainage systems. Gravity always wins and this sheeting water raced to and through the lowest points in the drainage, be it road ditches, county drains, basements and those homes around Martin Lake located northwest of Fremont.
According to Newaygo County Emergency Services (EMS) Director Abby Watkins: “The flooding happened in pockets throughout the county and was not isolated to a particular area. About 132 property owners reported the damage. There were about 33 road washouts and 11 culvert failures and nine roads closed. During the peak of the flooding about 100 roads had water over them.
“By March 19th Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the county, making it eligible for state resources.”
With some helping hands from various agencies and the community, some of the homeowners are putting their lives back together. Mind you some of these flood victims live on high ground and in places that have never flooded in the past.
Was this March flood the new weather normal for residents in Newaygo County?
If it is, then these long summer days would be the time to prepare for another such event.
And what would that information or preparation look like?
A call to our County Departments that deal with these situations would be a place to start. Looping back to that March event Ms. Abby Watkins Director of Emergency Services, Mr. Dale Twing our Drain Commissioner and Mr. Kelly Smith our Road Commission Manager agreed to give us their thoughts on their departments and the past spring flood. Also, provide a few recommendations from their perspective as to how we could prepare for a future event or maybe a New Weather Normal.
Director of Emergency Services Abby Watkins
The Newaygo Emergency Management and Homeland Security department (EMS) is the 911 for 911. When things get unique and complex and we need an enhanced level of coordination and support to prepare, respond to or recover from those emergencies and disasters that impact Newaygo County, our office coordinates those events.
Regarding the new normal questions, this past spring both I and my Deputy Director attended a national emergency preparedness education course on the changing climate. The focus of the curriculum was on the impacts of a changing climate and the frequencies of emergencies and associated responses.
What I have seen locally in the past 12 years, is an increase in heavy rainfall. There has been about a 40 % increase in these rainfall events in the Great Lakes area. There also has been a swing in our precipitation patterns, we are getting more rainfall in the early spring when the frost is still on the ground along with rapid fluctuations in temperatures. All of those events equate to more water, more impact to more people that are in the way. We are seeing changes and more emergency responses to those events.
As an example, with the March 14th event, the ground was frozen and could not absorb any water. We had two inches of rainfall on top of four to six inches of moisture in the snowpack which resulted in about 8 inches of moving water in about 12 hours. It appears that Martin Lake rose about four feet. That water simply went where it could go, across fields, overtopping road ditches, into basements, streams, rivers and wherever. The flooding in the Martin Lake area was because of the amount of rainfall and snowmelt in that specific area.
“What can Newaygo County residents do to mitigate the consequences of another such event or a new normal? Educate yourself and your family to the potential hazards and risk in Newaygo County.You can begin by accessing the following links https://countyofnewaygo.com/EmergencyServices.aspx and go to http://www.countyofnewaygo.com/Resources/EmergencyServices/Newaygo%20County%20Hazard%20Management%20Plan at the bottom of the page.”
Director Watkins provided a packet of relevant information and stressed the importance of “Disaster Preparedness, One step at a time.” Disaster preparedness can be broken down into four key steps:
1. Know about alerts and warnings systems
2. Make a Plan
3. Build a kit
4. Practice and maintain your plan and Kit.
The Family Preparedness Guide by the Michigan State Police was extremely informative. Other suggestions were to sign up and develop a profile in the NIXLE and Smart 911 Systems. Review your insurance policy and determine what types of events and emergencies are covered. Determine the risk associated within your area of residence and see if you qualify for flood insurance. Director Watkins restated that you can contact the EMS department and they can provide valuable information about preparation for these kinds of emergencies.
Drain Commissioner Dale Twing
Whether these weather patterns are the new normal or just an extreme part of a natural cycle is a good question. We do know they are more intense than most of us are used to dealing with.
For a little history and background on our County Drain systems. We know that when this area was settled and began to be developed it was like many areas in Michigan, mostly swamp. Over time water drains (ditches and small canals) were developed to move water from one wet area to another. They generally followed the natural drainage. The purpose of these drains was to dry up the land so that folks could develop farms fields, and build roads and homes. Some of these drains are over 100 years old. Even today when I assess a drain district, I get questions from residents, especially those that live on high ground as to why they should have to pay the assessments for the drains. There are many reasons that you need the County drains. You need them to move water off your property. You need them so that we can maintain the roads so that you can reliably get to and from your property. So that emergency services like fire, ambulances, and police can serve you and the community.
We inspect our drain ever three years and ensure that they are clean and working properly. Our maintenance workload is increasing because of the infestations of various invasive species like Emerald Ash Borer that kill the ash trees and they fall across the drains and have to be removed. We now have the Autumn Olive shrub growing along the banks and it has to be dug out and sprayed or it comes back with a vengeance. In the drains, we also have infestations of Milfoil weeds that have to be treated.
This invasive water plant cannot be completely eradicated once established. Then there are the beavers. In some cases where there are beaver dams that are creating a health or safety issue like backing water over a homeowner septic system, we can get a nuisance permit from the DNR to go in and remove the beaver and dam.
During the March 14th flood, most of the County drains worked well. However, some certainly might be under capacity as they were built many years ago. That said I need petitions to do an expansion of a drain which is often a long and expensive process. I don’t like to tax people but we get no funds for these expansions from anywhere. We have to assess the residents of the watershed.
Sometimes after doing a cost-benefit analysis, it is just not worth it. In that case, it makes more sense and cheaper to have the property owners do something on their own. We can only do work on legal established drains. Often many of the complaints our department receives are either related to City and or the Road Commission’s drainage. We work very closely and collaborate with the Road Commission because the waters commingle and it is an efficient way to maintain our entire drainage systems
Also, what we notice now is that even if our drains are clear they can quickly reach carrying capacity, because over time the drainage landscape has changed. Humans are impacting the drainage system. Farmers are filling in wetlands, tiling their fields and there is more development. Now the water is getting to the road ditch and into the County drains much faster.
During the March 14th flood, most of the County drains worked well but their carrying capacity was exceeded. We did receive a lot of calls and after the event we worked with FEMA and County Emergency Services. Most agreed that this was a perfect storm given the frozen ground, snowpack, and rain. It probably was a 100-year event and the chances of that happening again is pretty slim. There are some expectations from residents that they will be protected from floods events like this one. Sometimes folks expect more than we can deliver. So, the question is, do you build an expensive system for a 100-year event or to the norm? We can do whatever we need to do but it has to be done through the petition and assessment process. After you do a cost-benefit analysis for building such a system you can see where there are more cost-effective ways to improve the drainage system.
Some suggestions would be that when building new structures, add drain tiles around the footings and sump pumps in the basement. You should keep the driveway culverts cleaned out and clear. If your property has been built in a low spot survey the property and take some preventative measures. Sometimes added berms, ditching, tiling and other ways to direct and control the water flow can be very helpful. We will always respond to calls and will go out and give advice or a petition for a project. We will meet with individuals or in public meetings and advise on the best way to solve a drain problem.
In response to the March 14th flood, we have three projects underway. One is on MDOT 37 south of Grant, one is coming out of Martin Lake, and one coming out of Ramshorn. We always have to prioritize our work but we will respond to calls and requests.
Often, I get calls on issues between neighbors which we try to stay out of and just refer people to other resources. We will always collaborate with County residents and offer advice or direct them to other appropriate resources.
Road Commission Manager Kelly Smith
When considering emergencies like floods, we would like to level some expectations, we understand we are a governmental organization and we help resolve problems for our taxpayers. We will always do that within our area of responsibility, our County roads and our right of way, including ditches and culverts. Often it just takes time to respond to events and problems. We prioritize our work from the worst case on down and will eventuality get to all the problems. We do have our limitations and have to prioritize our projects and manage our resources and budgets.
It would be helpful if homeowners that can help themselves would do something preemptive. Doing that would free up time for us to help those for whatever reason cannot help themselves Some of those easy preemptive things that homeowners can do to improve drainage is keep their storm drains clear of debris. Then don’t rake leaves into the road ditches and burn them. Those that can help themselves will usually see less damage in these kinds of events.
As for the March 14th flood, we understand that it was probably a 100-year event. Because the ground was frozen much of the runoff was not related to roads and ditches, a lot of that water came overland, through agricultural fields taking the downhill paths throughout the drainage. A lot of the water that went into Martin Lake came not from the normal lake inlet but downhill and along the private roads. If we surveyed the homes and properties around Martin Lake you could see the ones that were most vulnerable to these kinds of events. Some of the homes are only about a foot above normal lake level. Those homes were the first and most affected by the runoff and the quick rise in lake water level. We hope homes in those low-lying areas that are prone to flooding would take some precautions.
During the March 14th flood, our system of ditches and culverts worked pretty well. But the capacity was exceeded by this 100-year event. Can we overengineer and overbuild a system that could have handled that runoff, sure. In our system, we use 12-inch culverts in two-foot-deep ditches. We could install 24-inch culverts but you would need a four-foot ditch. A ditch that you could not mow. You can over-engineer the system but given our limitations, we would probably only do three projects in a year rather than the 30 that we do now. Building and maintaining a system that can manage a 100-year rain event is probably not practical. It would be like building a car that could withstand any kind of accident. Because of the cost you probably would only sell three. Are there things that we can do to improve the system, sure and we are doing some of them now.
I am not going into Climate Change but for the last four or five years, we have seen changes in the weather patterns. What we are seeing now is either a drought or a downpour. These thunderstorms roll through and dump a lot of rain in a short period. About two weeks ago we had a storm north of here that dumped about 13 inches of rain in about 12 hours. I have never heard of such of thing outside of the tropics. We are seeing weather patterns that we have never seen before. At least they are not Countywide like the 40-day rain event we had in 1986. We also see changes in development, if you look around our lakes you often see those small cottages being torn down and replaced by 5-bedroom two-bathroom homes. The footprint is much larger. The farmers are tiling their fields and cleaning out their ditches. You know most people think that cleaning ditches is the answer, but it depends. We are cleaning our ditches and drains but that is also moving the water faster into our rivers and Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan used to be our excess runoff storage facility. But now Lake Michigan is about three feet higher so the water in the Muskegon and the White River is moving slower and remains higher longer. Now the larger drainage system doesn’t have time to recover between these big rain events. Just because you see the dust on our roads doesn’t mean the larger system is not full or can handle the runoff from these flood events. What we are seeing now is a systemic problem. We are having human development issue, drainage system issues, aging infrastructure issues, budget issues and weather issues. We can work with all these issues but the weather is the unknown factor.”
The point that I want to make is that we want to do our job which includes cleaning out the ditches in front of homeowner’s property. We are not asking homeowners to do our jobs but if they can help with the small preemptive things then we can do the big things they can’t do like patching potholes and maintaining our County roads and right of ways.
If you can’t or don’t want to that’s OK we will get there and do the job but it just may not be as timely as you would like.
We are always here and if you call with an issue we will come by and take a look at any problem. If it happens to be off the right of way or on private property, we may not get involved but will offer advice and direct you to other resources. We won’t tell you it is not our job and walks away.
Are we looking at climate change and a new weather normal in Newaygo County, or is this just an extended local weather pattern?
To be determined.
These were open and frank interviews with these three County Department heads. They all have to operate within a framework of statutes, acts, policies, and procedures. They use best practices and depend on available fact-based information for their decisions. The common theme among the three is that they are all dedicated to serving the taxpayers of Newaygo County. They appear to go beyond the limitations of their budgets in meeting the demands of their responsibility. They will readily use their time and resources to communicate, educate, and help the County taxpayers.
What they believe regarding climate change is a matter of personal opinion. They are educated, informed and situationally aware of what is going in their professional area and area of responsibility. It is my opinion that be it climate change or changes in weather patterns these three departments are ahead of the curve. I suggest that before we race to social media or the coffee shop to complain or blame them for something their departments did or did not do, we first seek to understand.
A situation that truly stinks.
By Kathy Morrison
Though I thought to open this article with “Something is rotten in Denmark”, I remembered more apt words from The Bard. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare wrote, “The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril.” Those of you who have had to live with the Holton/Brunswick area putrid stench know these words ring true. For those of you driving down M-120 in the right wind conditions and wondering what horrible thing is rotting near the road, let me explain.
At some point in the past few years, several huge lagoons for holding the wastewater (aka “digestate”) from the Fremont Digester were built along M-120, between Brunswick and Holton, not far from “THE” turkey farms. In February of this year, we received a letter signed by Arron Slater of Slater Custom Farms, LLC and by Dan Meccariello, General Manager of the Generate Fremont Digester, LLC, explaining that the material would be spread as fertilizer by Slater Custom Farms, on land that adjoins our land in Holton Township. The letter arrived from a third party consulting firm, on paper with no letterhead, no address or email contact info of those who signed it, and included land maps from 2001, showing lands that were no longer owned by the same people and were incomplete in their identification of the fields when compared to the written descriptions.
They called the material an “organic fertilizer”. Ah, there it is again - that word – “organic” being bandied about, fooling people into thinking you are doing something good for the environment. Organic with a capital “O” would not contain plastics in any form. I would challenge the Fremont Digester to prove that there is no plastic, macro or microscopic sized, in the digestate now being spread on area fields. From the envelope to the letter to the mismatched maps, the entire mailing immediately sent up red flags.
Fast forward several months. The parade of silver tankers going up and down Maple Island Road, to and from the Fremont Digester to the lagoons on M-120, filling and refilling the lagoons with the stinking liquid digestate material. Soon after, Slater Custom Farms began spreading it on local farm fields. We are now frequently bombarded with a foul stench that drives us from our yard and into the house, where, it is not much better because we have no air conditioning.
The proverbial “stuff” has literally hit the fan. Last night to stay cool, I had a room fan on and woke this morning to what smelled like sewage in my bedroom. It woke everyone else in the house as well. Obnoxious, putrid, horrible, and rancid. This is not anything Great Grandma Morrison would recognize as “good country air”. This is not the occasional and acceptable smell from a manure spread that lingers for a few hours, or a few days at worst. This is nauseating. The smell is always hitting someone in the area depending on which way the wind blows. Most people living in and around the Brunswick and Holton area have been subjected to this multiple times a day, depending on their location from the lagoons and the wind conditions. When we smell it at our farm, people south of the lagoons are stink free. When the wind switches and blows from the North, they get it and we can enjoy our yard and home. We have been driven indoors multiple times this year. Several times, our dismayed friends and relatives visiting have been treated to our rotten smelling neighborhood air and I can kiss that idea of a farm- stay B and B out the window.
I have used more scented candles, incense, and essential oils in the past three months than I have in several years. Some people who live closer to the lagoons smell it almost constantly. My heart breaks for them because I can only imagine if I had to put up with this every hour of every day. I can imagine that anyone living within nose shot of the lagoons will see a drop in their house resale value. If I were at a home viewing and smelled what we get a blowing in from the south, I would walk out and buy elsewhere.
The DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) was recently renamed EGLE(Environmental, Great Lakes, and Energy). They have been notified and are trying to bring the Fremont Digester into compliance with regulations. I know that regulatory processes can move slowly and making companies and farms comply with regulations can take a time, but that is no consolation to the people who are living with this horrible smell in the meanwhile. If the whole concept of a Digester plant is to create “green” energy by capturing the bio-gas and using it to generate electricity for area homes, I ask, what is “green” about people living near the lagoons being forced to close up their houses on lovely days when the windows used to be open and instead, run the air conditioning or furnace fans with charcoal filters to get away from the stench.
I really wanted to try to be humorous in some way, bringing some bit of levity to the issue while writing this, but there is NO funny about it. It stinks, figuratively and literally. So if you are driving by this neck of the woods and smell something foul and rotten along M-120 that makes you wonder if you just drove past 200 overfilled Porta- Jons at a music festival, you will know that it is just the new normal out this way.
Please feel free to contact me for more information through our farm Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009974053561.
Additionally, Holton – Be Active group on Facebook has frequent posts regarding the issue as does the Facebook group page: Fremont Digester and Lagoon Updates
By Tracy Streichhirsch, Great Lakes Energy
Photos by Thomas Mann
Never a good time and as perennial as the winds and storms that bring them.
Recently we went through another round of weather related woes leaving many residents (who have not yet bought that generator they’ve talked about getting for a couple years or so) in the dark, literally.
While most folks are patient about such events some can get a bit testy when unable to access the many accoutrements that come with electricity. To help those who might experience frustration with their power providers we offer this peek into the other side of the outage, courtesy of Ms. Streichhirsch
The phone rings and they leave. Boots laced up and ready for anything, they walk out the door on Christmas morning, during school events, recitals, in the dead of night, and all those other moments most get to enjoy but you can never get back. Lineworkers perform one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, often in the harshest weather conditions, to help the rest of us when the power goes out. The risks are high and there is zero margin for error in their work. This is the life of the lineworker.
At Great Lakes Energy, ensuring your power comes on also requires a team of people supporting the difficult job of the lineworker. Area supervisors, dispatchers, member service representatives, communications teams, line scouts, engineers, tree crews and many others that leave their life at home to go to work to ensure that your power comes back on as safely and efficiently as possible. Some outages warrant contractors in addition to Great Lakes Energy crews to be involved. Every outage is different. Every storm is different. The weather can be treacherous, but the lineworkers and team at Great Lakes Energy never waver in their solid dedication to get your power restored. They are committed to the local communities they serve which, in turn, means they are committed to you.
Your power company doesn’t want your power to be out any more than you do. Everyone wants to return safe. Trust that they will take care of it as efficiently as possible while keeping safety their number one priority. So, even if you aren’t a Great Lakes Energy member, the next time your power goes out, remember there are people working hard for you from the moment you report the outage to the moment your lights go back on. That’s life on the line.
Great Lakes Energy is a local electric cooperative serving 125,000 members in 26 counties in rural Michigan, including Newaygo County. For more information visit gtlakes.com or facebook.com/greatlakesenergy.
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