Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pennsylvania House Passes Great Lakes Compact

The Pennsylvania house passed their version of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Resources Compact, by passing HB 1705. The bill is now being sent to the Senate for a vote.

The bill needs to be passed in the Senate and then signed into law by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Iranian War Preview with Scott Ritter and Jeff Cohen

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and Jeff Cohen founder of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting), spoke at Ferndale’s First United Methodist Church on Saturday.

Both of the talks focused on the failure of the media in the run-up to the Iraq War and the current failure of the mainstream media in the current run up to war in Iran.

Cohen spoke first about his misadventures and eventual termination from Fox News and MSNBC where he was the senior producer for the Donahue show as well as an on-air commentator. Cohen, like Ritter was right about Iraq and the WMD’s claim.

Cohen further drove home what he called a “New York Times bias,” where they are effectively “Putting clothes on the emperor…” by giving credo to stories such as the one by Michael R. Gordon that used all unnamed U.S. officials to explain that the deadliest bombs in Iraq were manufactured by Iran. Cohen cited the mock story that had New York Times editor Bill Keller identifying Gordon as "…a voice-activated tape recorder.”

Cohen has evidence of this bias one of which is an MSNBC memo (The memo is in Cohen’s recent book.) that was written to him in the run-up to the Iraqi war that said he had to make a quota for every guest he had on. For every anti-war person, he would have to have two pro-war people on. Debates, which were a common segment with Cohen were not allowed. They opted for generals who were supposed to be “objective experts.”

Cohen claimed that when he suggested having Scott Ritter on MSNBC people whispered: “Haven’t you heard? Ritter is getting covert funding from Saddam Hussein.”

Cohen’s concern is that the people that got it wrong the first time are still prevalent in papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR, while people who were right about Iraq all along are all but shut out of the mainstream media, while the same mistake is being repeated with the run-up to war with Iran.

The one bright spot as identified by Cohen is the flourishing of independent media and the success of people like film-maker Robert Greenwald and bestselling author Jeremy Scahill. Independent media is doing well and providing net activism to effectively combat issues like net neutrality.

Scott Ritter started things out on a light note asking people to stop clapping as he was “Still suffering from Michigan hospitality.”

Ritter who served in the Marine Corps for twelve years and worked in the 1980’s with Reagan and Gorbachev to sign a treaty to ban nuclear tipped ballistic missiles. He also worked as the Chief UN weapons inspector from 1991 to1998, and was a vocal critic of the Iraq War from the beginning, going as far as making the 2002 documentary “Shifting Sands.”

Ritter cut to the point quick saying “We are on the path towards war with Iran” adding that we have a “...unitary executive that has navigated so far off from the system of checks and balances that they are indistinguishable from a dictator.”

Ritter finds that the main problem is that the Bush Administration falsely believes and keeps repeating (as they did with Saddam and WMD’s), that Iran had a nuclear program that was discontinued in 2003. This gives them the same leverage as they had with Iraq, which is if they don’t admit to what they never had, than they will be held accountable.

Ritter says that “War is almost inevitable.” He tried to remain positive by citing that war with Iran is an elective war and that it could be stopped one of two ways. The first is, stop the economic sanctions. Ritter called economic sanctions nothing but regime change; “Stop the sanctions, stop the war.” The second way is injecting the debate into politics since we are into an election cycle, if you get enough of the voting electorate worked up than war could possibly be prevented.

During the question and answer session Ritter provided a timeline for the coming Iran war. Since it is an elective war preparations need to be made, such as getting Israel to go along with the war which is already happening with Bush’s recent visit to Israel and Israel’s recent airstrike in Syria of buildings that were purported to be nuclear facilities. He predicts that in April there will be a military strike in Iran that will last 5-7 days, with troops coming later. Why April? Part of the reason is that the military’s modernization of B-1 bombers and bunker busters will be finished in late March, early April.

Ritter see’s the summer months as the best time to rally against further escalation, since U.S. troops will likely be on the ground in fall of 2008. He provides optimism by saying that “Policies change because they fail” and this policy will be no exception.

By Jason Tafilowski

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Water Compact update

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, was passed in the Indiana Senate a week ago and is expected to pass the Indiana House. The Council of Great Lakes Governors website is already reporting the legislation as passed in the Indiana House. It shouldn't be a problem since the law passed 47-0 in the Senate.

The new Compact is part of the effort of the eight Great Lakes states to put effective laws to limit diversions. The current system for large water withdrawals would not hold up in court according to most legal experts.

To outright ban water diversions may not hold up to international trade agreements if water was ruled as a good, and not a finite resource.

Even the Supreme Court ruled in Sporhase v. Nebraska that groundwater is an article of commerce that subjects it to the dormant commerce clause in the Constitution. Thus, to outright ban water diversions would be unconstitutional.

For the new Compact to be effective it would have to pass through both chambers of Congress in all eight states and be signed into law by the Governor. Then the Compact would have to be passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress as well as the two Canadian provinces.

So far the only two states that have passed it are Illinois and Minnesota. It was nearly passed in New York last year but failed due to a technicality. New York lawmakers are supposed to pass the bill again this session.

Wisconsin is the only state that has not yet introduced any legislation, but that is supposed to happen this year.

In Michigan there are two active bills that have both been amended recently. All of the recent attention on national water issues should keep this on the legislative agenda for 2008.

Other promising news is the recent Congressional override of President Bush’s veto of WRDA. WRDA provided legal authorization of a myriad of Great Lakes programs. This suggests strong current support for the Great Lakes at the national level.

Many people are concerned that all of the people leaving the Midwest for southwestern states will weaken support for the Great Lakes nationally, since Great lakes states (especially Michigan) will lose House members.

By Jason Tafilowski

Monday, January 21, 2008

Scott Ritter in Ferndale

Scott Ritter, former United Nations weapons inspector and author of “Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change,” will be in Ferndale this Saturday.

Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 2:00 PM
First United Methodist Church of Ferndale
22331 Woodward Avenue
Ferndale, MI 48220

Admission: $10

more information here.

A recent Metro Times interview with Ritter


This is an interesting report I just heard on marketplace about water desalination. There are also some very good links.

The Water Front

I have yet to see this documentary. The issue is very under the radar in the local media. The only mention I could find was in the Metro Times. It is interesting because the filmaker went to many different places and ended up choosing Highland Park to help frame the worldwide issue of water privatization.

The film seems to be doing well with nationwide screenings, as well as winning various awards at film festivals. The Water Front is also just recently available for purchase.

The Water Front

A Saga of an Inhabited Wasteland: Part II

By Jason Tafilowski

It looks like any other rural setting with rolling hills and trees with the sun giving the dead grass a golden crispness while it waves gently from the wind. The only other objects in the horizon are houses, a decrepit old fence, and a for sale sign. This old mound has a dirty little secret, it’s a former landfill.

The Six Star landfill is hardly unique; it is one of nine landfills in the immediate area of Hamlin and Dequindre, only it is for sale for $2.9 million by Simon Property Disposition LLC. The site like the other landfills is close to a number of recreation areas and with any luck could become a park or a subdivision itself someday.

The 59 acres is currently zoned R-4 residential, meaning that 4 residential houses per acre can be built on the site. The owner of the landfill Kenneth Frantz said in an e-mail: “Some types of development would not require any clean up at all, such as use as a park or sports facility.” The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has found that contaminants are within the state’s acceptable limits for residential building.

Frantz goes on to say: “The only issue might be methane, but even that is uncertain.” In 2000 a house right next to the landfill on Parke Street blew up. The explosion was widely attributed to the Six Star site. Frantz claims “…the methane levels from the closed Helen Allen Park landfill (across the street from the house that was destroyed) were in the 90% range.”

The Helen Allen park landfill is owned by the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority. The authority was created in 1951 by Oakland County municipalities to get rid of area waste and is still operating.

Helen Allen Park used to be a city park, but the park was relocated, all that remains are pipes that monitor methane levels.

In 2002 the DEQ asked authority officials to investigate high methane levels. According to Frantz “…the methane levels at the Six Star site were actually fairly low.”

Regardless of which landfill caused the explosion there is still a remaining park containing a baseball diamond within walking distance of the Parke Street home that blew up.

The Parke Street explosion continues to worry local residents when methane issues arise. Four years after the explosion the Detroit News did an article on methane gas that was detected near homes from Freedom Hill County Park. The Parke Street explosion still rang clear in people’s memories and even prompted some residents to consider selling their house.

There is nothing unusual about landfills being converted into recreational areas. The EPA even encourages it, providing pamphlets for converting toxic Superfund sites into parks. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has a pamphlet concerning Michigan’s liability laws for people thinking of buying contaminated land.

Some of the worst toxic Superfund sites in Oakland and Macomb counties are very close to recreational areas.

Hi-Mill Manufacturing is bordered on three sides to The Highland State Recreation Area. Hi-Mill is located right off M-59 in Highland Township and makes aluminum, brass, and copper tubing parts and fittings for the refrigeration industry.

Hi-Mill is a superfund site that has gotten worse with time. Even after the remedial action plan was set into place in 1993 contamination has gotten 35 times worse.

The last EPA Five-Year report found that “Institutional controls currently in place do not address exposure pathways to contamination that has migrated beyond property boundaries.”
The report also found that two community wells that were installed in 1998 “…may be drawing in contaminated water from the Hi-Mill manufacturing site into the drinking water system.” These wells along with two others serve 1,308 residents.

Other Hi-Mill issues in the past include on site contaminated drinking water with bottled water having to be supplied to employees.

They used to dispose of liquid waste into chemical lagoons. The lagoons had a tendency to overflow and it was found that they were spraying chemical waste into the air to prevent the overflow of the lagoon.

Despite all of these continued problems Hi-Mill received no requested funding in 2002 according to the Inspector General’s report. The Inspector General’s report has found a statewide problem of insufficiently funded superfund clean up sites. As a result the report notes that EPA regional offices have begun to request less money because of the lack of funding. Taxpayers have been paying more to clean up Superfund sites. In 1995 Superfund’s “polluter pays fees” expired. According to the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, 1995 taxpayers paid $9.6 million to clean up Superfund sites as opposed to 2004 which cost taxpayers $40 million.

The Hi-Mill Manufacturing site costs around $23,000 per year to maintain. They pay a contractor to maintain the site. This is consistent with the J & L landfill (which neighbors the Six Star site.) which is estimated to cost around $25,000 with the EPA and MDEQ picking up the tab.

The G & H landfill in Utica cost $451,000 last year just to maintain. Though like the Hi-Mill site it is being funded by the parties responsible for the contamination.

The G & H landfill which is located at 23 mile and Ryan is also next to a number of water sources such as the Holland Ponds Natural Area and Rookery, the Clinton River, and Clear Spring Lake which is a large lake that serves a subdivision.

According to an EPA Five-Year Report, one of the original reasons for taking action was threats to people using recreational areas. People were in direct contact with contaminated soil and water.

The EPA responded by shutting down recreational trails near the site and blocking off the area.

Though the G & H site is properly contained at the moment, the 99 monitoring wells still show dangerous on-site levels of arsenic and benzene.

A recent Five-Year EPA Report reveals that a study is underway to determine whether portions of the site can be “returned to productive use by the surrounding community.”

A Saga of an Inhabited Wasteland: Part I

It is a warm November day, but no children are laughing and playing on what used to be the Suburban Softball field. The diamond is overgrown, the clubhouses and trailers have a look of desperation, junk everywhere. On the horizon, a sole young man talks on his cell phone, and eventually gets on his mini-bike and rides off.

There are at least 12 local landfills in Oakland and Macomb within a mile of recreation areas. While many landfills have been safely converted into parks and sports facilities there have still been safety issues and problems with regulating many of these sites.

For well over 20 years youths from Rochester Hills played softball on this old landfill, and for over 20 years people have been exposed to elevated methane levels and dangerous leachates.
The site is now owned by Real Estate Interests Group Inc, a Bloomfield Hills based developer that has dealt with problem sites in the past. When REI bought the site they shut down Suburban Softball because they were obligated to the 1994 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act that makes a new owner of a contaminated site liable under due care.

Due care means that the owner of a site must take proper precautions to not operate a dangerous site that includes explosion risks and the migration of dangerous chemicals off of the site.

What is different about purchasing contaminated land after Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act is that upon purchase the owner must take an environmental survey of the land called a Baseline Environmental Assessment (BEA). This report must be turned in to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

The Suburban Softball fields were actually two former adjacent landfills. One is called the Veteran’s Landfill and was an unregulated and unrestricted dump from the end of WWII until 1973. The second landfill, also known as the Cardinal Land Corporation landfill was a licensed landfill run by Browning Ferris Industries until it was closed in 1978.

The problem with the Veteran’s Landfill was that since it wasn’t regulated, garbage was placed directly on the soil. Normally landfills have clay liners or some other method to protect leachates from oozing out of the site and into the groundwater. Some parts of this site had a thin clay liner that was initially found under the site, but no other precautions were ever taken.

The top of the landfills did have about two feet of clay material placed over it to act as a cap to prevent rain water from entering the landfill and to aid in limiting gas migrations. When garbage in a landfill decomposes it gives off methane as a by-product. The methane can often get into buildings and cause explosions, when the methane leaves a site it is referred to as a gas migration.

Shortly after Browning Ferris Industries closed their landfill the site was bought by Dirk Dieters and he opened Suburban Softball, after his purchase there were little improvements done to the site. “We’ve had nothing but ten years of environmental problems” confirms Rochester Hills Director of Planning Ed Anzek

Recent assessments done by REI engineers have found that the landfill cap ranges from 4-feet thick to 6 inches and that it is porous allowing rainwater to get underneath.
When rainwater infiltrates a site and can seep out the bottom it causes leachate outbreaks. Leachates are when dangerous chemicals seep out of a waste site. What is more significant is that these leachates are draining right into the Clinton River.

Anzek further explains that: “The Private storm-water detention system that runs across the front of the landfill collapsed about ten years ago. And when I’m talking collapsed this is 40-feet deep right next to all the varying household waste; a pipe collapses, leachates leachated the biodegrading poisons from a landfill site were getting into this pipe going directly to the Clinton River. We were after him to fix this pipe he said I don’t have the money I’m not gonna do it.”
Another concern was the light posts that were installed for night games. The light posts drilled through the cap of the landfill releasing methane gas. Richard Zanotti who is the Land Development Director for REI told the city council in a Brownfield meeting that the light poles initially had to keep being straightened out when they were originally installed because they were anchored in garbage and some fell right over.

Anzek also showed concern over the lights saying: “They did their methane testing and would get whiffs of methane coming out of the ground next to the light posts they had open electrical circuitry any spark with methane, Boom.”

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett is quick to add: “We take those methane issues very seriously because we actually had a house in the year 2000 blow up in the city of Rochester Hills located next to a landfill…”

REI has since put in gas probes to monitor methane readings and they have found on-site readings at the 70% level along with 40% concentration levels off-site. To put this in perspective a home with just 15% of methane concentrations could cause a home to explode.
So far there have been many different plans on how to clean this up, current estimates for the complete removal of all waste is in the range of $35-$40 million.

REI originally submitted a work plan referred to as the 381 work plan. This called for the complete removal of all 900,000 cubic yards of waste. After the waste was removed they would put in a clay liner.

After REI had the 381 work plan approved they proposed a change. Zanotti explained to the city council in a Brownfield meeting that the office building that was supposed to go on top of the landfill was moved and therefore they could have a four-five thousand square foot pad on clean soil.

Instead of cleaning the landfill they claim to be containing it. The next proposed change was to put a parking lot and landscaping on top of the landfill and provide adequate drainage so that no rainwater would seep through. They would then construct a slurry wall, which is a wall that runs down to parent clay and would cut off any leachates on their way to the Clinton River.

Now in the most recent Brownfield meeting in August the plan has changed again. Now REI proposes building on top of the landfill using pile foundations. Pile foundations are where they drill an auger (in this case) about 35 to 40 feet down and as they pull the auger out they pump in concrete. They are quick to point out the Home Depot at 12 and a half mile as an example. It was built on 20 yards of municipal waste and has passive gas vents that went below the surface and adjacent to the building there are methane vents which allow gas to escape from beneath the building.

The new goal is to take out less than 350,000 cubic yards of waste, which pleases some residents who were concerned about odor issues. This would take the clean-up time from a full year to only 3-4 months.

Now they want to install a bulkhead barrier that would cut off the storm sewer on their property and prevent any migration from getting to the Clinton River. This would then be rerouted to the local sanitary sewers. They would also cut the broken pipe that is currently leaking into the Clinton River.

REI could not be reached for comment but the unconfirmed rumor is that Target is considering buying the site. This may yet again change the plans for the site. Either way there remains the problem of regulating and enforcing environmental safety standards.

By Jason Tafilowski