Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 4, 2012): Much of the county board’s recent meeting was devoted to an item not on their agenda – concerns about proposed oil and gas drilling in the Saline area using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Several residents spoke on the topic during public commentary, citing concerns over health, well contamination, property devaluation, and damaged roads caused by company tanker trucks, among other effects. They noted that state regulators aren’t providing adequate oversight or protection, and urged the board to take action.
Speakers included Mitch Rohde, CEO of Saline-based Quantum Signal and founder of “NoPaxton.com,” which has mobilized against drilling in this area by Paxton Resources, a company based in Gaylord, Mich. The company recently notified the county that it has filed an application with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality for permission to drill an exploratory oil and natural gas well in Saline Township. [.pdf of notification letter]
Several commissioners thanked the speakers for coming and expressed their own intent to look into the issue, though it’s not clear what action can be taken at the county level. An April 19 working session will focus on the topic. That meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.
In other items at the April 4 meeting, commissioners honored county dispatchers and got an update on cleanup from the March 15 tornado that touched down in the Dexter area. Marc Breckenridge, the county’s director of emergency management and homeland security, gave an estimate of $5 million in damages to private homes and property, and another $2 million in response costs – expenses incurred from the road commission, county workers, the sheriff’s office and others. The county intends to apply to the state for help in covering some of these costs.
Funding controlled by the state was key to another item on the April 4 agenda: A resolution urging state legislators not to eliminate the personal property tax, unless 100% replacement revenues are guaranteed. More than $40 million in PPT revenues are received by local units of government within Washtenaw County. Leah Gunn, who wrote the resolution, expressed skepticism that legislators would pay attention to the county’s concerns, but said it would at least send the message: ”Don’t mess with us.”
Two action items were related to the county’s criminal justice system. The board approved the appointment of Elisha V. Fink as magistrate of the 14A District Court. She’s filling a vacant part-time position previously held by Camille Horne, who left the job at the end of 2011. Commissioners also gave initial approval to hire Nimish Ganatra as an assistant prosecuting attorney at a salary of $81,690. The vacancy opened in December, following an employee retirement. The hire requires board approval because the salary is above the $69,038 midpoint of an authorized range. While several commissioners praised the hire and the office of county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie, Wes Prater cast a dissenting vote. Citing ongoing budget challenges, he objected to hiring someone at an above-midpoint level.
Several other items were handled during the meeting, including: (1) final approval for the county to become a charter member of the Washtenaw Health Initiative, at an annual cost of $10,000; (2) initial approval to accept federal grants for the county’s weatherization program for low-income residents; and (3) acceptance of federal grants for local workforce development programs.
During public commentary, Douglas Smith talked about a lawsuit he’s filed against the county over a denial of his Freedom of Information Act request. The FOIA related to a surveillance video of an incident in Ypsilanti Township involving the theft of $20 from a court employee’s car – Smith alleges the money was taken by a high-level staffer with the sheriff’s office. Smith has spoken about this issue at previous board meetings, asking the board to intervene.