Tag Archives: environment

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.

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..

Breton Taking Wing on Wing Avenue, a Proposed Double Purposing

We just got the proposed agenda for the 5 July meetings. Planning wants to put on its dog and pony show of how they propose to ease Kentwood back to the 20th century by willing businesses and builders to behave abnormally, but, I digress.

The one real muddle involves the necessary rebuild of Wing Avenue along with the upgrade of the infrastructure forcing the folks along it to hook up to utilities. This seems inevitable and will be unpopular.
The other yet longer term building project will be extending Breton Road seamlessly through to 60th Ave. It currently stops at 52nd , and folks have to stop, make a left turn, then a right turn at Wing to go through to 60th. The current vision is to build an entirely new road across an existing farm when that can be acquired, over wetlands with those bureaucratic headaches and necessitating two signals.

It’s occurred to me that there is a more compact way to solve both problems. Why not make two round and rounds on 52nd Ave, one at the south end of Breton, and the second at the north end of the newly rebuilt (maybe slightly widened and graced with a bike path that would preserve its scenic charm and make at least two commissioners happy.)? The traffic from either direction would not have to stop, but rather would be routed onto 52nd Street for about a quarter mile. Breton Ave would not have to be built through saving money and stress on the environment.
Since we’re into round and rounds, maybe also put a round and round at the junction of Wing and 60th Street?
It’s also possible to make what would technically be just one round and round on 52nd to be more of a long rectangle, but traffic and civil engineers get paid a hell of a lot to figure out small details like that.

I probably won’t be able to be at the meeting but will forward this to several commissioners; might make for some interesting conversation, and actual planning..

Planner Counting the Chickens, Our Well Managed City Hall

A valued constituent of mine, Thomas Webb, has just called me about at least the second attempt by the city planner to enter his property to count chickens. Seems that Tom keeps a flock and sells the eggs produced. An number invented by the city planner limits Tom to 50 chickens. Chickens is a slippery term as we know from the battles over adolescence-when does a teenager become a human? And when does a chick become a chicken. The nature of things is that chickens have to be replaced so eggs incubated and hatched, chicks raised and at some point these adolescent birds have “chickenness” conferred on them. But when? Another problem has to do with sexes of the birds. Males get the ax, but male not obvious until they are adults.

In any case, our city planner appeared at Tom’s door a few weeks back stating that he’d heard that Tom’s flock was larger than his sanctioned 50 and that he needed to count the birds. Tom asked whence the information, how did a waxing and waning number of chickens bother anyone much less cause the cosmic order to unravel? He wanted to know what sort of disturbance, anxiety, or nuisance was being caused upon another resident as he would address it immediately. He quite appropriately denied our planner access to his property, and told him beyond any doubt that if he wanted to count chickens on his land, he’d need a warrant from the court. Thursday our planner contacted him again asking to count the chickens and seemed surprised when Thomas made it clear he meant it when he denied him entry because there was no warrant.

It turns out that Tom is leaving Kentwood, (an enormous loss of a vigorous, informed and concerned citizen) and moving to Columbia, SC. The flock will be liquidated within a few days. Even if a warrant is sworn (and what judge would go along with this farce?) and carried out in the usual “government time” there won’t be anything to count.

There are two considerations here. The first concerns the harassment of Mr. Webb by city hall. He had run for mayor 3 years ago and for at large city commissioner last year. Our mayor spent a fair number of taxpayer dollars sending out a letter to voters alleging that it was necessary to correct one of Tom’s campaign issues, all the while ignoring an outright lie told by Tom’s opponent. Is this chicken episode part of a scheme to use political and government resources to pester a governmental official’s opposition?

The other issue has to do with our city planning. Would I be out of line if I were to question whether the $400,000 plus budget (sixteen hundred dollars per workday charged to Kentwood taxpayers) is budgeted to judge the maturity of chickens?

The Contributions to Colorado of the Environment Protection Agency after it Disturbed a Mine in Colorado. Now Drilling Vents into our “Toxic Waste Dump”

Our national EPA worried about the site of an abandoned mine in western Colorado into which water from another mine had seeped. Minerals, including water soluble lead and arsenic were known to be present. The outflow of this water had become constipated years ago by some collapse of soil around the original mine entrance, and so there was a build up of pressure and an unknown risk of a kind of “Johnstown Flood” attendant on disrupting a stable unpleasantness. For unaccountable reasons, the EPA elected to play look into this abstract problem more closely, something went wrong, and someone took the opportunity to publish the now famous pictures of a yellow stained river. The EPA promises an investigation.

We in Kentwood now confront a similar potential blunder into our own unknown, the EPA- designated toxic waste site behind the municipal complex. This had been available as a place to get rid of trash for all residents and businesses of Kent county for many years. There had been deep ravines at the site and the underlying topography remains uncharted. No one knows what’s in the piles of discarded household and industrial junk. Bill Wenzel, candidate for the first ward city commission remembers that there was for a time an informal economy at the dump in which men scavenged over the new incoming trash each day, salvaging metals and other stuff that they could recycle. The site was open to any number of Grand Rapids area brass casting, aircraft, auto, plastics and furniture manufacturing industries. My late father in law worked for Doehlar-Jarvis, a subsidiary of National Lead, an electroplating company that used violent poisons to etch and coat metals over many decades. No one seems to know what happened to the detritus or production at the picric acid (military explosives) plant built at Palmer Park during WW I.

We have recently been informed that the EPA is contemplating drilling exploratory vents into this potential mine field that sprawls within shouting distance of our civic complex and several apartment buildings.

There are vents in place that no longer produce methane for whatever that’s worth. It’s unclear what purpose is served by drilling more extensively. Do they even know where to drill? Is this drilling actually meant to allow more noxious gases to escape? Is the purpose a preparation for eradicating this dump? I doubt that whatever they do will provide a comprehensive picture of what was left there. We have no reason for spending hundreds of thousands on this venture.

My concern is that they will encounter the unexpected, providing a release point for toxins,  clouds of methane and of other noxious and poisonous gases that will make the area dangerous. There may be explosives or burning organic material down there, like those reported for coal and burial grounds for trees, that the drilling could rile up.

Environmentalists are fond of the the precautionary principle, an approach to risk management that states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence strong evidence, that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action (Wikipedia.)

Our county’s municipal dump is not aggressive, metaphorically advancing on us with guns blazing or ready to spread disease. The dump is an empty field with some pipes coming to the surface, a conversation piece at best.

We have not been given any goals that justify this venture. Those Kent County commissioners and far off EPA bureaucrats who would stir this up would act ritually surprised and even convene a commission to investigate if 3 million gallons of yellow gunk emerged from their holes. It would make international headlines.

But we in Kentwood would have to live with the genie that comes out of the breach, be he benign, and useless, or the Satan himself.

The Cowardice of Politicians faced with Muscled Opposition, or was it an Impending Election and Memory of the Detention Pond Incident 2 Years Ago?

The big noise at the last committee of the whole (“COW”) meeting involved the petitions of about 5 (but about 10 burly guys showed up) homeowners who wanted us to allow them to keep fences, sheds and gardens in easements that served as drainage ditches for the excess water in their neighborhood.  These structures partially blocked the flow of water down those shallow ditches. Everyone in the neighborhood had added something to this area of the commons. The effect was water retention in the neighborhood. If every owner inserted enough into the commons to back water up only one inch, the effect of having 12 such obstructions would be to raise the water table by a foot. This extra water would keep basements damp with attendant mold, allergies and occasional flooding. More generally, the excess water provided areas where mosquitos could breed, termites and other vermin could thrive, and prevented many plants and lawns from growing because their roots were under water. There would be more humidity in the air, need for air conditioning and ice in the ground. This complex of dampness and the stagnation of water leads to the  “unhealthy neighborhoods and homes” so dear to the dimwits of The National Enquirer.

It was pointed out that most of the owners were not aware of what easements were and that they had not been told of their presence in the deeds and mortgages which they had signed. The homeowners became victims of bad paperwork and everyone ignored the major problem which was that they were victims of the higher water tables in their neighborhoods. This lack of knowledge of easements became the dominant theme for the evening, and everyone except myself voted to have the engineering staff re-consider the ordinances about flood plains and storm water drainage. They were given a year (after the elections, y’know), and asked not to enforce the current rules on the owners in the room until then. In other words, our city’s engineer was asked to ignore civil engineering.

But nature is an unforgiving mistress, and the commission caved in to political exigency, and neglected its enforcement of a law which pays these residents rich rewards.

The law is not meant as a tool for Kentwood to force folks to perform or refrain; rather it gives a recourse for the individual to protect himself from others who may harm him. In the present case, even one homeowner who obstructs water outflow raises the dampness for the entire neighborhood and should be discouraged. Here, all of the owners have participated in the folly, have congealed their defiance (a political act) and been abetted by the city commission conspiring in yet another political drill. None of them realized that the higher water table caused them subtle and expensive harms in the medium term.

Not the city engineer nor anyone else in the room was prepared to explain it, and that’s the pity. I suspect that a simple truth, known to any farmer a hundred years ago, that one pitched water away from the house and barn, drained swamps and the like, could have blunted the hostility of the petitioners and swayed enough commissioners to do what was right.

But politics led to this unfortunate result, a strange disdain for reality.

Public Land Use Planning from the Victim’s Point of View.

My distrust of “Land Use Management” did not arise out of some LIbertarian screed, rather it grew out of seeing the insensitivity of Planners to what the market place and human flourishing dictated.

Over 10 years ago, my wife and I became one of the minor victims of Planning and Zoning in Grand Rapids. We owned 3 acres of mostly swamp on the East Beltline SE and foresaw selling it as the kids moved on. The property to our south, a magnificent seven acres on high ground and wooded, was for sale and we thought we’d piggy back onto that obvious big deal.

We and that neighbor were surrounded by office buildings and a half mile from Woodland and Eastbrook malls.  Neither of us had garbage collection, water/sewer connections, public schools, parks or grocery stores, but nevertheless we were zoned residential when commercial or even industrial seemed reasonable. The owners of the seven acres tried repeatedly to change the zoning, all  to no avail. They held out for about 12 years but finally acceded to city planning. One, infuriated by his perceived loss, called me up and asked me to buy his property instead of letting the city steal it; the price was ridiculously low but I saw no future in owning two properties coveted by unscrupulous bureaucrats.

Burton Ridge apartments, quiet, prosperous and settled rental units were on our north. They owned 40 acres of developable land behind us that were platted and prepared for apartment construction at least twice. Burton Ridge and those 40 acres were the victims of spoliation, bluntly stated.

The city plans, based on some transient theory, dictated a low income housing project be built in a nicer part of town for some flakey social purpose or another, and sure enough, the buildings went up on the neighboring seven acres and were occupied. Things started to disappear and were vandalized in our garage. I tried to institute security to no avail. Burton Ridge renters were really aggravated. I heard complaints of attempted break ins, cars damaged and of confrontations with young thugs. The two long term occupants that I knew by name left.

About a year after the housing project was finished, the developer, wanting to build another 36 units on our plot, approached us with an offer that was $100,000 short of our asking, but it was better than nothing so we took it. Best thing that we ever did since it got us out of the high tax, no services City of Grand Rapids and into Fox Chase Condos in Kentwood with it’s low taxes and a wonderful life style. We count ourselves winners. It was worth more than the $100,000 just to get rid of the aggravation arising from our new neighbors.

The owners of Burton Ridge lost good renters and the the 40 acres of land behind us has and will not be developed; who would? The last I looked, their property is now isolated by a high barbed wire fence. The mainly elderly occupants who moved had to find new lives elsewhere; their lives were disrupted. These are among the costs calculated in those two Economist articles (1 and 2) that are imposed on poor people by urban Planning and Zoning.

But the insult imposed on me by GR zoning and planning commission was not in having to move and maybe missing out on a few bucks. I understand that you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, (Stalin?) and what right do I have to brood my egg when great social goods need to be satisfied at the expense of tax paying property owners?

No, the outrage inherent in land use management became apparent after we agreed to sell.

The developer, call him Charlie, was a 40 year old from Cleveland, a nice guy who would fly in GRR to steer the project through to completion. I figured his take at 10% of our portion of the project, about 120K less expenses. I got to be his buddy citing my erstwhile real estate license and willingness to learn how the business worked.

The cloven hoof first appeared when a young fellow with hot,  burning fanatical eyes, showed up with his brand new SUV identifying him as “An Environmental Engineer.” He asked permission and then spent 3 days wandering our 3 acres. He wanted to see my basement with its old paint cans and epoxy left over from building boats, and then clucked his disapproval. On the second day, he called in a consultant and I overheard them saying “Of course it’s wetland, look at those trilliums!” (Had I known, I would have mowed that portion of lawn or spread Scotts weed and feed to make it dry land, but wet lands it would be.)The environmental engineer proceeded to mark off most of the front and sides of our acreage. There was not much room for 36 apartments and things looked grim, but not for long! Two weeks later, the engineer re-appeared and sheepishly moved all of his flags at least 75 feet down the lawn and toward the swamp, room enough for our project to proceed. Oh, and then, when the plans changed a year later, he re-appeared and moved the flags to the north side of the property to accommodate a parking lot and road. Strange how wetlands change, but who am I to impute financial pressures that may have suborned our environmentalist when it was necessary to accomplish the great societal good?

Charlie took me to at least two city planning commission meeting where he presented his case. He was introduced as “a developer who is well known….skilled…does good projects” as though this were necessary to convince the unelected planning commission. He and I would sit at the back where he would mock some of the commissioners, telling me what each would say and the like. Not that the commissioners didn’t make fools of themselves on their own. One mentioned that the current recommendation that he’d read about was for office buildings be next to the road and parking placed behind the building.

The commissioners all called Charlie by his first name, and he knew each by their official title. Cozy, you might say.

The project went through. Kris and I did have to drive to Okemos for the closing; seems that Charlie was in Michigan that day to play golf. I was too polite to enquire further.