Friday, September 10, 2004
JEREMIAH STETTLERTHE SAGINAW NEWS
Enough peace and quiet; it's time to talk.
That's what some residents are saying, claiming that high-level dioxin cleanup negotiations between Dow Chemical Co. and the state Department of Environmental Quality have stayed hush-hush too long.
Despite state promises to report publicly on the negotiations after 30 days, talks between Dow and the DEQ have dragged into a third month.
That doesn't sit well with people such as Gary Henry, a Freeland resident who has led a dioxin-related lawsuit against Dow. He said a public accounting is long overdue.
"We're going to assume it has taken a turn for the worse unless they come out and tell us otherwise," he said.
DEQ spokeswoman Patricia Spitzley said the department is not trying to shroud the process in secrecy.
Calling promises of a 30-day update "too ambitious," she said scheduling problems and the sheer complexity of dioxin cleanup have lengthened the process.
"We haven't been at a point until recently where we felt comfortable coming back to the public," she said. "But we realize, too, that it is time for us to give an accounting."
Spitzley said her department will break its silence in a public meeting for Saginaw-area residents this month. She could not confirm a date.
State Rep. John A. Moolenaar, a Midland Republican, said he will meet with both parties at 9 a.m. Wednesday for a progress report. He said he will report back to the public.
"While it has extended longer than I would have liked, I am hopeful that there will be a productive outcome," he said.
What's important, Moolenaar said, is that officials bring closure to an issue that has haunted mid-Michigan. He said a well-deliberated process with the state's highest officials, including Lt. Gov. John Cherry, should do that.
"I'm hopeful that with the lieutenant governor's leadership, it is possible," he said.
Still, rumblings persist among local environmentalists and Dow critics that the negotiations are reminiscent of the more secretive Gov. John Engler years, when they perceived that state officials brokered back-room deals that favored Dow.
In a recent letter to Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, nearly 30 residents living along the Tittabawassee River lashed out against the state's apparent inaction in dealing with dioxin.
"Is the state waiting for dead bodies to float down the river before anything is done?" residents wrote. "It appears now that nothing has changed from the Engler days. What a very sad day for all of us who are concerned and living in Dow's dioxin facility."
Many of those residents rallied Thursday in Imerman Memorial Park in Saginaw Township, urging the state to lift the lid on information to the public.
United under a new banner, "Campaign for a Clean Watershed," residents and environmentalists vowed to light a fire under state regulators and Dow by posting yard signs, handing out T-shirts and launching a media blitz.
They are calling for increased soil sampling, better signage in contaminated parks and greater transparency at the state level.
"Dow's failures to address the contamination and the state's apparent reluctance to force it has consequences for the entire watershed," said Michelle Hurd Riddick, a spokeswoman for the environmental watchdog group Lone Tree Council.
While Spitzley said the frustration is "probably justified," she said the state hasn't lost sight of public health.
"This administration has made it their top priority to be accountable to the public," she said. "I think we have fulfilled and continue to fulfill that commitment to keep the public informed." t
Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.
© 2004 Saginaw News
For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawasse River Watch web site www.trwnews.net for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.