The MDEQ; Polluting our Water in Pursuit of What?

” The DEQ is evaluating whether the water is safe to drink, but also whether extracting more from the spring aquifer will harm the environment. “

 

The environmental religion here dictates “recharging the aquifers” or bringing water tables back to some imagined ideal. This  leads to the  tragic consequences in which environmental-“Green” fantasies poison peoples’ wells.

To illustrate;

 

There were 50-70 homes around the Knapp’s corner in NE Grand Rapids that suddenly found that their well water which they used in their homes started tasting like Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Further investigation showed a high level of salt (NaCl.) This was ultimately traced to “a detention pond” that the DEQ and other environmentalists had demanded be installed in the ditches and pipes that drained storm water from the buildings and parking lots from the Meijer and other businesses in that shopping center. During the winter this water was saturated with rock salt used to melt ice on these paved surfaces. The detention pond retained this salty water and allowed it to percolate into the aquifer, so poisoning the wells of private homes and businesses in the neighborhood. I found at least one ten year old academic study from the University of Minn. documenting how detention ponds contaminate ground water with salt. They are known to contaminate water supplies yet the DEQ and environmental groups continue to demand that we build detention ponds, swales and wetlands.

 

But why would anyone want to detain or keep the water flowing from a paved surface in Michigan?  Some claim that it diminishes the flooding of the creeks and rivers downstream. That’s nonsense. Paved and water impervious surfaces represent possibly 2% of the land area in the USA and contribute only slightly in the increased flow in draining streams.

 

The real reason is that the environmental lobby wants to “refill the aquifers” and bring the “water tables back” to some imagined ideal that existed before, let’s say, 1800, when Michigan was a malarial and yellow fever infested swamp,  you know, the ideal “wetlands.”

 

And so, as in this story, the DEQ (the bunch who messed up Flint’s water supply) and environmentalists intend to do good but end up destroying real people’s lives. The 70 homeowners around Knapp’s corners are being forced to hook up to chlorine tasting city water should have a legal case against the city and state that imposed retaining water in their neighborhood. A bulldog plaintiff’s lawyer might make a lot of money taking the phonies and deluded believers in “going back to nature” to court. Makes me almost love the plaintiff’s bar.

Socialist Realism in Kentwood

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I took this pic in, I believe Yaruslav, one of prettiest places on our tour of Russia. The foreground is made of cement, classic Socialist realism. (It was 2 days before Victory Day, one of their biggest national holidays, so the flowers.) In the background, a classic Russian Orthodox church, probably 300 years old, built by a merchant to commemorate his good fortune. Which do you think will last?
I use this to illustrate city and other government planning. We in Kentwood are afflicted with the bland, the cheap, what a bureaucrat views as safe and so “grants” a building permit.

Our city’s motto; “Let’s not celebrate wealth, creativity or the disturbing. We need rows of apartment buildings, endless ranch houses and factories built the way the planners let them be built.”

Banish all threats to the city’s master plan!

Why Not Just Build a Road

The Wing Avenue project will come to some resolution in the next few weeks. The folks who have lived there for generations are forced tolerate high traffic flow including trucks and numerous school buses because Breton Avenue has not been built through to 60th Street.

We on the commission have been told that we need to wait for a developer to pay for the Breton extension and that the city can’t afford the time/money/uncertainty of putting in a “bypass road” with water/sewer/bridge over the Paul Henry/sidewalks/curbs/storm drainage/wetlands…  Only a developer who reaps the benefits will do the job.

We may be like the dog scratching at the wrong fleas.

The only issue before us is to get traffic down to 60th as efficiently and safely as possible. Development may happen, or may not. Wing Ave. as used now and no matter what is done within the currently contemplated plans, will not be safe or efficient.

 

We need a straight road from Breton with stoplights at both 52nd and at 60th-cheaply and quickly done, avoiding costly permitting processes.

Why not just build a straight, minimally adequate “20 year, temporary” road without providing for development? Envision roads like Northland Drive north of Rockford, or South Division as it approaches Allegan County or the picture above that I took in Mecosta County last week- nothing fancy-roads that safely carries a lot of traffic at 55 miles an hour (the locals drive 62.) These country roads are lined with small businesses and farms. They provide ways for cars,  farm machinery, school buses, and even bicyclists (us) to get around. It’s all that we need to gain an important civic goal here in Kentwood.
Bikes on the Paul Henry Trail will have to pause for traffic, but that’s a hazard on every rails to trails that I’ve ever used. The swamps will cause the road to sag, but roads rolling a bit doesn’t bother the drunk speedsters in Gogobiec or Delta counties. I doubt that these rural counties spend a million dollars for a mile of adequate roads-our costs should be fairly modest. There may be some cheap gew-gaws that we may want to add, multi use trails or a third lane, but the traffic engineers get paid a hell of a lot to figure that sort of thing out.

The Oakland Inferno and Government Caused Poverty; Does a Lack Respect for Regulations and Codes Cause such Tragedies or is Poverty Resulting from Regulations and Codes Lead to Disrespect for the Law?

At the 6 Dec 16 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, a commissioner uncharacteristically commented at length on the recent Oakland fire; we heard that the warehouse had not been properly inspected and certified for occupancy for residency or for hosting shows. The tragedy illustrated the need for inspections and enforcement of codes. I would have answered immediately but was taken aback by the unexpected. Also, I lacked even the most basic understanding of the issues involved in Oakland.

Within minutes of arriving home after the meeting, I was looking at NYT articles which presented the Oakland warehouse fire and analysed the reasons why alleged artists lived in that building and tolerated dangerous conditions.

I copied the following snippets from the two NYT articles that are linked in the title;

About the Ghost Ship: “The city’s (Oakland) $2,899 median rent is now among the highest, and just short of median rents in Manhattan….rising rents and fears of eviction can push vulnerable people in a desperate search for housing to unsafe spaces….a vast gray economy of live/work spaces that, legal or not, are regarded as an important source of affordable housing…“You bring these places up to code and you end up pricing out the people who make Oakland such a great place,” Mr. Dolan said.”

Now this is a bone on which a skeptic, such as myself, can gnaw.

I may have written here about my own housing experience. In Texas, where they still respect private property, I paid 400 dollars per month for a furnished one bedroom. This residence would cost me 700 in Kentwood where we have zoning and planning, 800 in Grand Rapids where they add inspections to the mix and 2500 in Manhattan where the residents also have rent control and where the landlords are hated and bled white by innumerable government leeches. Regulations, inspections, taxes, harassment of owners all cost money, something that poor people don’t have and so they gravitate toward the Ghost Ship and others like it. (Parenthetically, over 20 years ago, I knew that over a dozen otherwise homeless individuals squatted in the old Mary Free Bed building on Cherry Street. What happened in Oakland is not unique. There are poor everywhere squeezed by the high cost of real estate.)

The flaws with the “need for inspections” are that 1) I can’t find evidence that inspections of electrical, plumbing, structural and heating projects have any impact on safety or livability. Maybe there is evidence but no one publishes their findings. If someone knows of such a study, please tell me where I can review it. 2) Individuals who want to can easily avoid inspections, or worse yet, bribe, influence or frustrate the inspectors and end up doing what they want. The owners/managers of the Ghost Ship certainly had mechanisms in place to evacuate residents and to hide other evidence of people living there. 3) Many places will escape inspections due to the bureaucracy and ineptness of government. In Oakland, “no one is responsible.” The mayor has deflected criticism from the inspectors who ignored the building even though the program is probably a money maker for the cash strapped city.

We seem to have a chicken and egg problem here. I will concede that there are structural problems that can be detected and corrected by inspections so possibly averting a border line number of tragedies. However, the cost of inspections falls squarely on the poor who are driven to find ways to get around the costs. There are scofflaws who operate below the radar to provide services for these poor people and whose properties are never inspected or worse yet, who bribe inspectors so disgracing the law and government.

I’ll admit that we will never get rid of inspections. Ordinary peaceful folks who obey the law will pay the fees and justify the expense because it makes them feel reassured that someone in authority has blessed whatever project that they have paid for. There is a phrase that I saw somewhere; “Keep the yokels insecure, and the money never stops.”

Less scrupulous folks and the desperately poor who have nothing to lose will collude and easily get around inspections. Some, tragically, will get burned.

Self Driving Cars, Pitttsburg, Uber, and Us, Overlooking the Atlantic

So I’m here in a very nice seaside rented home on an obscure North Carolina island with the family. The kids and grand kids are off in various swimming/biking/exploring modes and rain is forecast. I’ve been working on my congressional campaign, and so distracted from blogging. Nevertheless, there is some new raw material that beg for expression, I’m on the porch watching storm clouds gather for the first time this week, so let’s organize the news of the last month and see if there’s anything that we on the commission need to heed.

Kris retired two years ago and decided that she liked to travel with me as I do locums work. This means that we take a taxi to and from the airport, a truly awkward experience. We call a day ahead, call half an hour beforehand, and still they don’t show up. The drivers are invariably African and hostile until my alcoholic personality disorder kicks in; “Africa, big place, where in Africa?” “Ethiopia.” “The Highlands or coast?” “Oh, you know Africa! The HIghlands.” Kris; “You’re Christian? Did you get kicked, go to Libya?” By this time the guy is wracked with emotion, ready to talk about his family, hopes, past, and we’re at the end of the journey. It costs $13.40. I try to give the guy 15 dollars, if I can find it as it’s often dark or worse yet, raining. Awkward.

Then the people at the airport decreed that Taxis bringing folks from Kentwood had to charge a minimum of 15 dollars. I don’t know how the airport can write a rule like that or even enforce it. We at the city commission should investigate.

This diktat caused me to rebel. I downloaded Uber and we have since had an excellent experience. The price is $7.30, half of a taxi, it automatically goes on my credit card and so is a recorded as deductible cost of doing business, the cars are uniformly interesting (two Priuses) and the drivers are all fascinating (a guy who sold art, several retired executives escaping their wives, an African American who was damned if he would ever work for somebody again.) In creative moments I calculate that if Uber can get us to the airport for 7 dollars, that they can get us to Meijers for 5; maybe get rid of one of our cars……

Then the Economist threw a bomb. It devoted a recent issue to the Uberization of transportation. It’s not what our Uber drivers had envisioned. Uber wants to get rid of all their drivers and instead operate a fleet of self drivers.-enough self drivers to replace most car functions as Americans now use them. They would operate a large fleet, cars constantly running, that would pick people up at their front doors and deliver them to their places of work, doctor’s offices, bars and at Aunt Tillie’s, then go off to pick up yet another customer.. The cost would be minimal, safety high, efficiency nearly perfect.

Wow.

Then Uber announced that they were testing 4 Ford Focuses that had been modified to be self drivers in Pittsburg.    Pittsburg!   Fifth Avenue is the only straight street in the whole region. They had to build the airport 20 miles out of town where it was flat enough to land a DC4 back in the day. It’s ice and snow, steep grades, intersections where 5 streets come together, narrow, 1900s built streets. Everything is lined with worn out brick or cement. No one would test drive a self driver in that environment.

Unless he knew that his product could handle the job. (I would have said “Had the calm confidence of a Christian holding 4 Aces” (Twain) but can’t make it work.)

Daughter who has lived in P’burg for 7 years is here with us, so we ask about the self drivers; Yep, she’s seen more than one. They exist, ugly, roof has a bubble so distinctive enough for it to be known if they fail somehow.

I’d guess that we’ll know that self drivers are viable, efficient, attractive and cheap enough to go commercial by next spring. How long before you can buy one, or before Uber orders a few 100,000 Priuses modified to self drive? another year? maybe 2? These 100,000 cars will replace a million personal cars in people’s garages and on the parking lots.

We on the commission had better think on this.

Some thoughts.

The cars likely will not be built in Michigan, or if they are, the mechanical parts will be mere commodities lacking attractive luxury pricing markups that would stimulate competition and creativity. Self drivers are computers and software with a metal attached.

Public transit in all it’s forms is doomed. Taxis and buses cannot compete with personalized pickup and delivery in a warm (or air conditioned in the summer) car. Passenger railroads (why do we support Amtrack? This company regularly kills and maims the elites in the NY to Washington corridor;  even as I write, there’s been death and over a hundred injured in Hoboken, NJ) and intercity buses will be replaced in their roles of moving people a few hundred miles to other cities or even to Florida in the winter. School buses, kaput.

Will parking lots, parking spaces on streets and the width of roads be affected? If so, what do we do with the extra space; more buildings next to the malls? Parks that never get used?

Will shopping for groceries, clothing and minor purchases be abolished since things can be ordered on the internet and then delivered cheaply when the resident is at home and ready to receive the goods. So what happens to malls, big box stores and strip centers? A warehouse full of dry goods and staffed by robots will no longer need to be located on our main streets.

Will plunging transportation costs encourage people to live further out in the country? I can’t think of any arguments that would support them wanting to live closer together, so scratch the New Urbanism and Smart Cities. That’s my opinion but maybe others can marshal opposite arguments.

Do good street lighting, traffic lights and signs mean much to a robot? No, but there will be many years before human drivers no longer struggle with steering wheels and brakes? How important will street maintenance and snow removal be in this pending storm of change?

The accidents that are reported for self drivers in Palo Alto, where these have been standard for years, are almost all caused by humans disobeying the law while the patient self drivers are scrupulous in heeding the law. The patrolling for- and punishing of speeders, drunks, and unlicensed drivers will disappear, so there go lucrative traffic fines, busybody drug courts and the fill in the hours work of lurking for speeders that police do. Also, we should anticipate fewer accidents with their fires and injuries that occupy the fire department.  Maybe we should cut budgets and recruitment.

The latest fad in policing is DDACTS, in which our police concentrate on known high crime areas looking for minor traffic violations and vehicle defects that serve as an excuse to “stop and frisk” the drivers without ruffling constitutional feathers. Gone. Those old Pontiac and Toyota beaters will be soon retired and the traffic in poorer areas will resemble that of the wealthiest suburbs. And all the self drivers will soon have traces of cocaine and marijuana detectable, just as it is on our US currency.

Will our fleet of cars, fire engines, plows, utility trucks self drive? Quite probably, to some extent so we’ll get some cost savings.

The folks who will first use self drivers are the old who are still living in their own home. They can more easily take care of themselves if they have the increased mobility, so forestall moving into retirement villages. So what happens to the explosive growth of these corporations that depend on a aging and dependent population?

I think that air traffic will be relatively spared, so our connection to Kent County’s airport will be an advantage.

Well the rain passed us by, a watery sunshine, temperature 78, moderate wind,  and I see an osprey hunting off shore.  Commission meeting next Tuesday, so gotta get back in the next few days. Life in retirement is hard but yo gotta do what ya gotta do..

I Do the Heavy Lifting for Our Parks Service

My wife and I live in the public space. We bike almost daily (we would hike but there was a dead crow in front of the place last week and I’ve not seen a blue jay all summer; West Nile is around and the only person that I know who died of it was a 73 year old physician; uncomfortably close, so this geezer is off long walks with exposed skin for now.)
In any case, we bike 20-35 miles and have 4 favorites, all on rails to trails or public roads.

Last Friday, in need of variety, we tried the White Pine. Good trail, but very crowded, even on a weekday.
On Labor Day Saturday we tried the Paul Henry and East West trails in Kentwood. I thought that the trails were pleasantly busy, but not scenic or long enough; Kris though them too busy. It was a holiday weekend, so being used is OK.

I thought I’d film the parks of Kentwood since most are adjacent to the trails but had only my android phone, but what powerful toy! I edited the complex result on phone that evening and uploaded it to Youtube that evening, soliciting comments from some trusted friends. I then did the definitive editing on my Mac, Here’s the result;

As we filmed the parks along the trails, it became obvious that a trend was developing and Kris suddenly became enthusiastic about filming the entire melange; she stared like a mouse hypnotized by a snake, so I have video on 15 of the parks, taken at a time when they should have been mobbed.
I’d been asking for data on park use for 3 years and been ignored. Kris and my spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon and got the answers for the Parks Department and for the commission at no expense to the taxpayer and learned a lot about smartphones.

I Get My Comments Published in the NYT, Expect Hate Mail

The problem with economics and other soft sciences is that a series of unsubstantiated pronouncements constitute an argument. We have no reason to trust any of these explanations, much less the standard liberal bromide that we need to tax money away from savers and give to spendthrifts. All of these theories are propounded by Keynesians who got the Japanese and Europeans into the pickle in the first place. My problem is that we in the USA have exactly the same trajectory and Keynesians in charge as did the Japanese and Europeans. The throwing money at the dartboard to pick a solution has failed and no one has any better ideas.
Economics, as a “science” does not have the power that would justify allowing the Fed and Congress, or any other central power to engineer the economy. Capitalistic societies have booms and busts, deflations and inflations, localized collapses and even disappearances of productive life. Visit any ghost town or recall the 1840, 1870-90, 1930 deflations, the panics, most short lived and self correcting in the history of the USA.
There may not be anything wrong with deflation. Little people who save can gain by putting money under their mattresses and won’t lose it to inflation. Investors will need to be much more careful to be sure that their projects make sense, our government will struggle and be hampered in its attempts to “help” people.
Finally, under socialism, planned economies, welfare states and the like there are no booms, only chronic busts.