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E-M:/ Drain Code Out of Committee

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

Drain  Code Voted Out of Committee--Floor Action Stifled Until Fall

Rep. Howard Wetters (D-Kawkawlin) had the votes lined up last Tuesday to
move the drain code bill out of the House Agriculture Committee and to the
House floor.  Fortunately, House leadership and members on both sides of
the aisle balked at rushing the 253 page bill through before summer recess
so it will not see action until fall.  A good thing, too, because HB 4337
(H-6) is full of provisions that appear to reform the old code but on close
examination fall far short.

What happened?  With no notice (but with some predictability), Ag Committee
Chair Wetters introduced a fifth substitute at what would be the last
committee hearing just days before the House adjourned for the summer.
After addressing several of his own amendments to the new substitute but
ignoring outstanding amendments to the previous draft, Wetters moved the
bill out with full Republican support and that of three Democrats.  The
bill's ready for action, but getting amendments added on the floor to fix
the cumbersome and complex piece of legislation will not be easy.

Have we made any gains?  Yes and no.  By and large, the really substantive
issues of the code have not been addressed.  There are many helpful
amendments, but they tend to circle the issues instead of meeting them head
on.  For example, HB 4337 (H-6) requires Department of Environmental
Quality permits for all new drains and for some other types of major drain
work.  But natural streams, creeks and rivers can be designated as drains
and subjected to mandatory cleanouts without permit review as part of
perpetual maintenance provisions.   Activities that would deepen, widen,
relocate, and straighten drains are also exempt from permits.    In another
"near miss"  of real reform, natural resource impacts of most major drain
work would have to be evaluated.  But when deciding if major drain work is
necessary or not, HB 4337 (H-6) does not clearly state that the decision
must be based on the evaluation of those impacts.

Many of the core issues that MEC, MUCC, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters
and others have been advocating are still valid, and we will be working
over the summer with House members to get needed amendments when the floor
debate begins in the fall.  The Senate will be a much tougher battle and
their's a possibility of two bills moving through both chambers of the
legislature at once.

As campaigns heat up this summer and your legislators are more accessible
in the district, please make a point of raising your concerns about the
drain code.  Don't let House members be fooled by a bill that only
masquerades as reform.  Ask them to support changes to HB 4337 (H-6) that

1.       PERMITS:   Require compliance with the Natural Resources and
Environmental Protection Act (PA 451 of 1994) for all major drain work and
prevent natural streams, creeks and rivers from being treated as drains.

2.      IMPACT EVALUATION:  Provide clear criteria for determining the
necessity of major drain projects in light of potential natural resource

3.      PUBLIC PROCESS:  Provide meaningful public hearings so that
affected citizens can comment on the complete project scope before work is

4.      APPEALS:  Give citizens the right to appeal the final project--its
scope, the route and course, total costs and the size of the drainage

5.      PUBLIC LAND ASSESSMENTS:  Prevent taxing of game and forest lands
for perpetual maintenance of drains and prevent payments of any valid
assessments on developed state land from restricted Department of Natural
Resource funds.

6.      BENEFIT:  Define "benefit"  so that both benefits and damages can
be considered in determining who pays for drain work.

7.      PERMANENTLY PROTECTED LANDS:  Protect lands from draining that
carry deed restrictions (conservation easements) for the purposes of
natural resource conservation.

Questions?  Contact:

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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