Stories indexed with the term ‘environmental protection’

Ann Arbor Canoe Liveries Re-Open

After being shut down temporarily due to a sanitary sewer overflow into the Huron River, Ann Arbor canoe liveries along the river have been re-opened as of 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, according to city of Ann Arbor staff. The liveries had been shut down on Aug. 29 until the problem was rectified and until testing of river water would indicate that it was safe to re-open them.

Sewer Discharge into Huron River Reported

Overflow from the city’s sanitary sewer system was discharged into the Huron River – the result of a clog in the system caused by tree roots in the Nichols Arboretum, according to a city of Ann Arbor press release. [.pdf of city press release] The situation was reported on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 29, when “a sewer odor and some gray pooled water” was reported to the city, flowing overland into the river. The sewer was unclogged later that evening, and a city crew applied lime – a white powdery substance – to the ground to kill bacteria.

In addition, city of Ann Arbor canoe livery trips between Argo and Gallup were halted on Thursday through Friday. Water samples will be … [Full Story]

Skatepark Rolls; Council Bails on Talk Time

Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 15, 2013): By recent standards, the council’s roughly three-hour meeting was relatively brief.

Pie chart of meeting time spent on each item.

Of the Ann Arbor city council’s roughly 3-hour meeting, about a quarter of the time was taken up by deliberations on changes to the council’s rules (dark blue wedge), some of which would have affected public speaking time. Total public speaking time at the meeting (red wedge) was about 21 minutes, or 11% of the meeting. (Chart by The Chronicle based on time stamps of live updates filed from the meeting.)

About a quarter of that time was spent in deliberations on changes to the council’s own rules. That included a proposal to reduce the length of public speaking turns from three minutes to two minutes. After voting 10-1 – over the lone dissent of Margie Teall (Ward 4) – to eliminate the shortening of public speaking turns, the council discussed a number of the other proposed changes that had been recommended by the council’s rules committee.

Those changes include a shortening of councilmember speaking turns, adding public commentary to the council’s work sessions, moving nominations and appointments to a spot earlier on the agenda, and prohibiting the use of mobile devices for texting or phoning at the council table.

As councilmembers recognized that they would not be able to find their way to a clear consensus on the rules changes until they had longer deliberations, the council decided to postpone the item until its first meeting in September – which this year falls on Sept. 3.

So the council delayed launching itself off the lip of the legislative half-pipe to change its own internal rules. However, councilmembers took the advice of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) when they voted on the construction contract for a new skatepark: “Just go for it!” The unanimous vote on a $1,031,592 contract with Krull Construction came after some scrutiny led by Sally Petersen (Ward 2). Her questioning was based on the project’s additional cost, compared to its original budget.

The originally approved budget for the project was $800,000 – though the expectation was that it would cost about $1 million. The total budget now – including the construction contract, 10% contingency and $89,560 design contract – is $1,224,311, or $424,311 higher than the originally budgeted $800,000. Funds to pay for the skatepark include a $400,000 grant from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, $300,000 from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund, and $100,00 raised by the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, which paid for the skatepark’s design. This particular effort by the Friends dates back to 2005.

An item added to the agenda the same day as the meeting led to considerable discussion about the relationship between the city and the University of Michigan. The council had failed on May 13 to approve a right-of-way occupancy for the university to install conduits under Tappan Street. An early departure from that meeting by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) contributed in part to the council’s inability to achieve an eight-vote majority.

Whether an eight-vote majority is needed is the source of friction between the city and UM. Under the city charter, an eight-vote majority is required for the council to approve transactions involving an interest in land. The purpose of the conduits under Tappan Street is to connect a new emergency generator to the Lawyers Club buildings at 551 S. State St. The Lawyers Club and the generator are located on opposite sides of the street. The university’s view is that the agreement needs to convey an interest in land, something the city attorney’s office disagrees with. The council’s resolution approved on July 15 directs the city staff to renegotiate with UM.

The other item on the agenda receiving at least 15 minutes of discussion was one that granted a fee waiver for events held in Liberty Plaza. That action was prompted by public protests at previous council meetings about the possibility of charging a fee to the church that hosts Pizza in the Park – a homelessness outreach program that distributes food and other humanitarian aid.

The council handled a raft of other items, including three different contracts related to protecting the local environment. Two of the contracts include an educational component – one related to the city’s materials recovery facility (MRF), and the other to stormwater management. The third concerned monitoring the city’s now-closed landfill at Platt and Ellsworth.

The council also handled several other items related to stormwater management. Three of the items involved street reconstruction – on Stone School Road, Forest Avenue, and multiple streets in the Springwater subdivision. A fourth item approved by the council was a contract for tree planting, which will be paid for from the city’s stormwater fund.

Among other items, the council also approved the distribution of $1.2 million in human services funding to various nonprofits that do work under contract with the city.

In non-voting business, the council received an update from chief of police John Seto. He reported that through the first six months of the year, Part 1 crimes – the most serious types of offenses – are down 10% compared to last year in the city, while overall crime is down 7.5%. Seto also reported that the police department is analyzing the initial data collection from the electronic activity logs for officers.

During public commentary, the council heard from advocates for racial equity, who called for the council to take action in response to the not-guilty verdict in Florida’s Trayvon Martin shooting case. [Full Story]

Council OKs Enviro Protection Contracts

The Ann Arbor city council has approved three different contracts related to protection of the local environment.

Two of the contracts include an educational component – one related to the city’s materials recovery facility (MRF), and the other to stormwater management. The third concerned monitoring of the city’s now-closed landfill at Platt and Ellsworth. Action by the council came at its July 15, 2013 meeting.

On the council’s consent agenda was a $43,788 annual contract with the Ecology Center to give tours of the material recovery facility (MRF). The facility sees 4,000 visitors a year. The cost of the contract is split 60-40 between the solid waste fund and the drinking water fund. The drinking water funding is related to … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Acts on Climate Plan

A climate action plan was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Ann Arbor city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

Also at the meeting, the council passed a separate resolution that urges the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case gave the EPA the authority to regulate emission of green house gases (GHGs) as pollutants – such as water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3).

Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in GHG emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. Baseline for the reductions are 2000 levels. The action steps identified in … [Full Story]

Planning Group Supports Climate Action Plan

A draft climate action plan for the city of Ann Arbor, two years in the making, was endorsed by Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their Nov. 20, 2012  meeting. [.pdf of executive summary] The plan’s goals include a 25% reduction in community greenhouse emissions (over the year 2000 baseline levels) by 2025. This is the same goal set by the University of Michigan. In the shorter term, the goal is a reduction of 8% in emissions by 2015. Long-term, a 90% reduction is sought by 2050.

The plan provides a range of strategies for achieving these goals, divided into four categories: (1) energy and buildings, (2) land use and access, (3) resource management, and (4) community and health. … [Full Story]

County Board Debates, OKs Act 88 Tax Hike

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 3, 2012): A sometimes heated debate over whether to raise a tax for economic development resulted in narrow approval by the board. It was a 6-5 vote on the increase to 0.06 mills, up from 0.05 mills. As an example, the 20% hike means that taxes for economic development will increase from $5 to $6 for each $100,000 of a property’s taxable value. The issue had been previously discussed at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting, but postponed until Oct. 3.

Janis Bobrin

Janis Bobrin, Washtenaw County’s water resources commissioner, attended the Oct. 3, 2012 county board meeting to present environmental excellence awards. She received a standing ovation from commissioners. She is not running for re-election, and will leave office later this year after more than two decades in that position. (Photos by the writer.)

The board is authorized to levy the tax under Act 88 of 1913 – and it does not require a voter referendum. Voting against the increase were commissioners Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. They cited several objections, including the timing of a tax increase while many taxpayers are struggling because of the economy, and the unlikelihood that the tax will be lowered in the future, when economic conditions improve. Peterson also felt that the Act 88 funds aren’t being used for their original purpose – to leverage matching dollars for economic development – and instead are being diverted to support county operations.” It was never meant to be a piggy bank for county government,” he said.

The final vote to levy the increased tax passed 8-3, with Ronnie Peterson, Wes Prater and Dan Smith voting against it. Alicia Ping has in the past also voted against the Act 88 tax, but supported it this time – though she voted against the amendment to increase the rate. She hoped commissioners would consider reallocating some funding for the western side of the county, pointing out that there are economic development needs there too, including a lack of decent Internet access.

Far less contentious was an initial vote to move control over administering the county’s 5% accommodation tax from the county treasurer’s office to the finance director. Two members of the Washtenaw County Hotel/Motel Association spoke in support of changing the accommodation ordinance in this way. The vote by commissioners was unanimous, though Dan Smith noted that this is the second time this year that the ordinance has been revised, and he hoped it would be the last. He also expressed some concern that all hoteliers aren’t being treated equitably. A final vote and public hearing on the change is set for Oct. 17.

Commissioners also approved a set of recommendations to guide county administrator Verna McDaniel in her negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for animal control services. The current contract with HSHV ends on Dec. 31. An accompanying report from a policy task force was discussed only briefly – in part because the final version had been sent to commissioners only that day and there had been little time to digest it, and in part because some commissioners wanted to adjourn so that they could watch the first presidential debate, which began at 9 p.m. The board plans to continue discussion of the issue at a future date.

During the meeting, board chair Conan Smith told commissioners that a caucus would be held immediately prior to the next board meeting – on Nov. 7, at 5:30 p.m. – to discuss appointments to various county boards, commissions and committees. Such appointment caucuses are open to the public. [A listing of all vacancies is found on this website. An online application to apply for an opening can be found here.] The news prompted Ronnie Peterson to criticize the process, which he felt was not sufficiently transparent. [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Gives Environmental Awards

Four environmental excellence awards were given out by the Washtenaw County commissioners at their Oct. 3, 2012 board meeting. The awards ”honor local businesses and non-profit organizations who provide exceptional leadership in environmental protection during National Pollution Prevention Week.” The winners were chosen by the county’s environmental health division and the office of the water resources commissioner.

The University of Michigan’s Radrick Farms Golf Course received the 2012 Excellence in Water Quality Protection Award for its “innovative water and energy conservation measures, environmental stewardship programs, and stormwater management systems.” The 2012 Excellence in Waste Reduction and Recycling Award was given to Wylie Elementary School of Dexter, for its “extensive recycling program, purchasing of recycled products, and educating their students in waste reduction and conservation … [Full Story]

“Fracking” Opposed at County Board Meeting

Concerns about proposed oil and gas drilling in the Saline area using a technique known as “fracking” were raised by several speakers during public commentary at the April 4, 2012 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Similar concerns had been voiced by commissioners at previous meetings, and the board plans to hold an April 19 working session on the topic.

Speakers included Mitch Rhode, CEO of Saline-based Quantum Signal and founder of “,” which has mobilized against drilling in this area. Paxton Resources – a company based in Gaylord, Mich.– has notified the county that it has filed an application with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality to drill an exploratory oil and natural gas well … [Full Story]

Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality

Ann Arbor city staff and others involved in resource management – water, solid waste, the urban forest and natural areas – spoke to a crowd of about 100 people on Jan. 12 to highlight work being done to make the region more environmentally sustainable.

Matt Naud

Matt Naud, Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, moderated a panel discussion on resource management – the topic of the first in a series of four sustainability forums, all to be held at the Ann Arbor District Library. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the first of four public forums, and part of a broader sustainability initiative that started informally nearly two years ago, with a joint meeting of the city’s planning, environmental and energy commissions. The idea is to help shape decisions by looking at a triple bottom line: environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity.

In early 2011, the city received a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to fund a formal sustainability project. The project’s main goal is to review the city’s existing plans and organize them into a framework of goals, objectives and indicators that can guide future planning and policy. Other goals include improving access to the city’s plans and to the sustainability components of each plan, and to incorporate the concept of sustainability into city planning and future city plans.

In addition to city staff, this work has been guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: Park, planning, energy and environmental. Many of those members attended the Jan. 12 forum, which was held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The topics of the forums reflect four general themes that have been identified to shape the sustainability framework: Resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The Jan. 12 panel on resource management was moderated by Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator. Panelists included Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council (and a member of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission); Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest and natural resource planning coordinator; Jason Tallant of the city’s natural area preservation program; Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor’s solid waste coordinator, who oversees the city’s recycling program; and Chris Graham, chair of the city’s environmental commission.

Dick Norton, chair of the University of Michigan urban and regional planning program, also participated by giving an overview of sustainability issues and challenges that local governments face. [The university has its own sustainability initiative, including broad goals announced by president Mary Sue Coleman last fall.]

The Jan. 12 forum also included opportunities for questions and comments from the audience. That commentary covered a wide range of topics, from concerns over Fuller Road Station and potential uses for the Library Lot, to suggestions for improving the city’s recycling and composting programs. Even the issue of Argo Dam was raised. The controversy over whether to remove the dam spiked in 2010, but abated after the city council didn’t vote on the question, thereby making a de facto decision to keep the dam in place.

Naud said he’s often joked that the only sure way to get 100 people to come to a meeting is to say the topic is a dam – but this forum had proven him wrong. The city is interested in hearing from residents, he said: What sustainability issues are important? How would people like to be engaged in these community discussions?

The forum was videotaped by AADL staff and will be posted on the library’s website. Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” and an update on the project given at the November 2011 park advisory commission meeting. [Full Story]

County Postpones Action on Road Millage

Washenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 5, 2011): The main discussion at Wednesday’s board meeting focused on a proposal for countywide road repair – and the possible mechanism to fund it.

Steve Powers, Verna McDaniel

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers talks with Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel before the Oct. 5 meeting of the county board of commissioners. Powers, who started his job in mid-September and was formerly a Marquette County administrator, told the board he looked forward to building more collaborative efforts between the city and county. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal debated by the board came from the Washtenaw County road commission. Rob Turner (R-District 1) recommended indefinite postponement. He objected to the idea of levying a millage without voter approval – an action that road commissioners believe is possible under a 1909 law. It’s still on the books but that hasn’t been used in decades.

Ultimately, the board voted to postpone action until their Dec. 7 meeting. The next evening – on Thursday, Oct. 6 – they held a working session on the issue.

In other business, the board gave initial approval to a contract with Sylvan Township, related to its bond repayment schedule, which the township is struggling to meet. The county will be tapping its reserves to help the township cover the bond payments, but the deal is contingent on township voters passing a 4.75 mill, 20-year tax that’s on the November 2011 ballot.

The board also took an initial vote to create a new management position and hire Greg Dill into that job – as county infrastructure management director. The job is part of a broader reorganization of county administration, which hasn’t yet been approved by the board.

Accolades were threaded throughout the meeting, as the county handed out its annual Environmental Excellence Awards to several local organizations. Praise was also served up to Lansing lobbyist Kirk Profit for his work on the county’s behalf. That praise included initial approval of a two-year contract renewal for Governmental Consultant Services Inc. – Profit is a director of the Lansing-based firm.

The board also said an official farewell to Kristin Judge, a Democrat from District 7 who resigned her seat, and was attending her last board meeting. [Full Story]

Local Firms, Nonprofit Get Environment Awards

At its Oct. 5, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed a resolution honoring winners of the county’s 2011 Environmental Excellence awards. The county gave its overall Environmental Excellence Award to the Chrysler Group LLC for the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, commending the firm for its waste reduction and recycling program, its model stormwater and erosion control system involving native plants, and its efforts to keep toxic materials out of the waste stream.

The Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission was given the Excellence in Water Quality Protection Award for its innovative stormwater management, use of native plants in landscaping, and pollution prevention. An honorable mention in this category was awarded to Horiba Instruments Inc.

The Leslie Science and Nature Center of … [Full Story]

Residents Frustrated by Dioxane Decision

About 50 residents gathered at Ann Arbor’s Abbot Elementary School late last month to get an update – and raise concerns – over a new consent judgment that changes the cleanup requirements of 1,4 dioxane contamination caused by the former Gelman Sciences manufacturing plant in Scio Township.

Matt Naud

Matt Naud, the city of Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, points to his home on a 3D map of the Pall-Gelman 1,4 dioxane plume. The map was constructed by Roger Rayle, a leader of Scio Residents for Safe Water, who brought it to the March 30 public meeting about a new consent judgment related to the plume. (Photos by the writer.)

Mitch Adelman, a supervisor with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality’s remediation division, began the March 30 meeting by acknowledging the crowd’s reaction to the new agreement, which was issued earlier in the month without opportunity for public input. “I don’t expect anything I say or do tonight to alleviate your anger or frustration,” he said.

But Adelman noted that if a company like Pall – which owns the former Gelman Sciences site – proposes a remediation plan that complies with state law, “we’re obligated to accept it.”

For nearly three hours, Adelman and Sybil Kolon, MDEQ’s project manager for the Pall site, gave an update and answered questions about the new consent judgment, the history of the cleanup, and what residents might expect in the coming years. They were challenged throughout the evening by people who’ve been following this situation closely – most notably by Roger Rayle, a leader of Scio Residents for Safe Water and member of the county’s Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD). Rayle has been tracking the dioxane plume for many years, and presented his own graphical renderings of data to the group.

The meeting was attended by several elected officials: Ann Arbor city councilmembers Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5); Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran; county commissioner Yousef Rabhi (District 11); and Sarah Curmi, chief of staff for state Sen. Rebekah Warren, whose district covers a large portion of Washtenaw County, including Ann Arbor and Scio Township, where the plume is concentrated. [Full Story]

Michigan Dems Primary: House 53rd District

On Saturday, June 12, the Ann Arbor city Democratic Party hosted a candidate forum for the primary races for the seats in both the 52nd and 53rd districts for state representative. Although the forum, held at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street, was a joint affair for all four candidates in both districts, The Chronicle has split its coverage of the one event into two articles, one for each district’s candidates.


Democratic candidates for the 53rd District state House seat at the June 12 Ann Arbor city Democratic Party forum: Jeff Irwin, left; and Ned Staebler, right. (Photos by the writer.)

The Democratic primary in the 53nd District of the Michigan House of Representatives is contested by Jeff Irwin and Ned Staebler. The 53nd House District covers the majority of the city of Ann Arbor, and parts of Scio and Pittsfield townships.

The seat is currently held by Rebekah Warren, who was elected to that position in 2006, and is eligible to seek re-election – but has chosen instead to run for the 18th District state Senate seat, currently held by term-limited Liz Brater. In Michigan, state senators are limited to two four-year terms, and state representatives are limited to three two-year terms.

This coverage of the June 12 candidate forum consists of the questions that candidates were asked, with answers given by the candidates in paraphrased form.

The order of the remarks as presented here reflects the same relative order as they were made at the candidate forum. For each question, the order was randomly chosen among all four candidates. The remarks of 52rd District candidates are presented separately: “Michigan Dems Primary: House 52nd District[Full Story]

Michigan Dems Primary: House 52nd District

On Saturday, June 12, the Ann Arbor city Democratic Party hosted a candidate forum for the primary races for the state representative seats in both the 52nd and 53rd districts. Although the forum, held at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street, was a joint affair for all four candidates in both districts, The Chronicle has split its coverage of the one event into two articles, one for each district’s candidates.

Christine Lee Jeff Lee

Democratic candidates for the 52rd District state House seat at the June 12 Ann Arbor city Democratic Party forum: Jeff Lee, left; and Christine Green, right. (Photos by the writer.)

The Democratic primary in the 52nd House District is contested by Christine Green and Jeff Lee. The district covers the better portion of western Washtenaw County and small parts of the city of Ann Arbor.

The 52nd District seat is currently held by Pam Byrnes, who was elected to that position in 2004 and is term-limited. She is running for state senate in District 18, a seat now held by Liz Brater, who is also term-limited. In Michigan, state senators are limited to two four-year terms, and state representatives are limited to three two-year terms.

This coverage of the June 12 candidate forum consists of the questions that candidates were asked, with answers given by the candidates in paraphrased form.

The order of the remarks as presented here reflects the same relative order as they were made at the candidate forum. For each question, the order was randomly chosen among all four candidates. The remarks of 53rd District candidates Jeff Irwin and Ned Staebler, which are occasionally referenced by Lee and Green, are presented separately: “Michigan Dems Primary: House 53rd District[Full Story]