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E-M:/ Clarification of Senator Bennett's concerns

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org


After my postings Wednesday on Enviro-Mich discussing the status of the
Michigan Natural Features Inventory in the DEQ and DNR Budget, Senator Loren
Bennett asked Tom Woiwode, Executive Director of the Nature Conservancy, and
me to meet with him to discuss the issues.  First, I want to thank Senator
Bennett for taking time to delve into this issue with us.  Senator Bennett was
concerned about my characterizations of his motives in the postings, and
spoke with us candidly about his reasons for pursuing the amendments he has
sought.  While we continue to disagree over the language Senator Bennett has
amended onto the DEQ and DNR Budget, and because of limited time to talk were
unable to discuss the issue thoroughly, I wanted to provide the readers of
this listserve a sense of Senator Bennett's reasoning as to why he has taken
these steps.

Senator Bennett explained that about a year ago he decided to follow a DEQ
permitting process from beginning to end to see what actually went into the
process of consideration of a permit.  He has followed a proposed golf
course, attending meetings and reviewing documents associated with the permit
process. Senator Bennett asks that the participants try to ignore that he is
a Senator and act as they would normally so he can get an honest feel for the

The proposed golf course site is in the lake plain prairie ecosystem type and
includes listed sensitive species, thus was known to be an important area
ecologically, and in fact the Nature Conservancy (TNC) had tried to purchase
the land for protection in the past.  Earlier this year during a meeting on
the proposal involving both the developer and representatives of TNC's
Michigan Natural Features Inventory(MNFI), comments made by MNFI staff were
construed as being hostile to the approval of permits, and thus were
understood by Senator Bennett to be intended to block the permit.  Senator
Bennett said a concern was raised to him separately in this process about
what he characterizes as a conflict of interest, saying that the MNFI's
review of the permit amounts to a regulatory action on a piece of property
the TNC has previously expressed interest in purchasing.  In offering the
amendments he has, Senator Bennett contends he is merely seeking to address
the conflict of interest that he believes exists.  In addition, he is adamant
that he has the highest regard for TNC and that he is not seeking to "kill off
state T&E species identification efforts" as I stated in my message, but
merely wanted the contract with MNFI terminated to address the conflict of
interest perception.

Tom and I explained our points of view about this issue, although the
discussion could not be completed because of the brief amount of time
available before the Senator needed to be in session.  While we disagreed that
a conflict of interest exists, we both expressed no overall objection to the
MNFI eventually being spun off intact from TNC to a university, an agency or
some other appropriate organization.  The major problem both Tom and I see is
that the timing contained in the amendments (cutting off the contract on
October 1, 1999, beginning of FY00) would have a devastating effect on the
MNFI program.

Senator Bennett observed that his amendments would allow for universities to
bid on providing the services.  While that is accurate, we pointed out that
the MNFI is the only organization in Michigan, if not in the country, with
the critical combination of skills and information needed to perform these
functions.  Transferring the MNFI intact to a university or agency is a
workable alternative that is being discussed, but it will take a longer time
than the six months available between now and the beginning of FY00.  At that
point, Senator Bennett needed to leave to get to the floor of the Senate
(Detroit schools issues were scheduled for action).

While we did not have a meeting of the minds over the issues, I again wanted
to thank Senator Bennett for taking the time to raise his concerns about the
Enviro-Mich postings directly to me.  Following our discussion I wanted to
post to Enviro-Mich the information he provided us, and apologize for any
mischaracterization of his motives or intent.  In the hearing on the DNR
Budget Wednesday, Appropriations Committee Chairman Senator Gast asked
Senator Bennett and Senator Ken DeBeaussaert to work out a compromise to
address the concerns with the current language, and Senator Bennett has left
the door open to that possibility.  The DNR and DEQ Budgets are likely to be
voted on in the full Senate next Tuesday so that any resolution will need to
be finalized by that time for the Senate to address this issue.

Anne Woiwode
Sierra Club

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