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E-M:/ Drain Code Update

Enviro-Mich message from juliemec@voyager.net (Julie Stoneman)

Rep. Howard Wetters (R-Kawkawlin) is holding
marathon House Ag Committee meetings this
week in an attempt to get the drain code bill
(HB 4337, H-4) out of committee and to the House
floor in time for consideration before summer
recess.   We'll know tomorrow (Thursday) if
he'll be successful.

Amendments are flying with some improvements
to the bill, but many important issues remain:

***Due Process***

Problem:    Inability to appeal the final scope
                          of major drain work,  including the final route,
                          drain district boundaries, and cost
Status:         Unchanged

Problem:    Ambiguity regarding extent of circuit court
                        review for the limited appeal process available.
Status:         Clarified somewhat with amendment by Rep. Nye
                         (R-Litchfield) that allows parties to bring
                         expert witnesses to court.  This should give
                        the Court the ability to review the substantive
                        issues leading to a decision for major drain work.
                       Currently, the courts can only review whether
                        the procedures for making the decision
                        were followed correctly

***Public Lands Assessments***

Problem:       " Improved" public lands and some "unimproved"
                               public  lands can be assessed for drainage
Status:                There is no definition of "improved" or "improvement"
                                The public may get stuck with subsidizing
                                drain work that supports new development.
                                Money that should go to important natural
                                resource programs would go instead to
                                paying for drain work--even if the public lands
                                don't benefit from the drain work!

***Conservation Lands***

Problem:        Lands or interests in lands that are protected
                                for conservation purposes (such as lands
                                with conservation easements held by land
                                trusts) are not protected from drainage or
                                drainage assessments.
Status:                 Unchanged

***DEQ Permits***

Problem:        Major drain work exempt from DEQ permits
Status:                 Cloudy--significant drain work including
                                extensions, widening, straightening,
                                etc. are not clearly required to get
                                DEQ approval


Problem:        Drain assessments are based on "benefits
                                derived" from the drain work.  There is
                                no definition of benefit.
Status:             Unchanged.

Problem:        Major drain work is undertaken when there
                               is a finding of "necessity" by a three member
                                Board of Determination.   There is no
                                definition of necessity
Status:           Problem still remains despite the fact that
                             the Board of Determination must consider
                          a lot more information including alternatives,
                          natural resource impacts, etc.

We'll know tomorrow what specific actions will
be needed to assure that these and other problems
are taken care of.  Stay tuned for messages from
either Holly Madill (MUCC), Sue Julien (Sierra Club),
or myself.  Thanks for the work to date, it has helped!

Julie Stoneman
Director of Land Programs
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette Dr., Suite 2A
Lansing, MI  48912
ph:     517-487-9539
fax:    517-487-9541
email:  juliemec@voyager.net

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