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E-M:/ Drain Code Reform Comments

Here's a note I sent to Erin Martin, Detroit Free Press concerning her well written article (April 5) on Drain Code reform.  Sue Julian asked me to post it on Enviro-Mich.  I will continue to track Drain Code reform progress from afar.  Cheers, Fred Ayer
"Hi Erin - I thought you did a great job highlighting both the frustration and mystery that surrounds the Michigan Drain Code as well as painting a very accurate picture of the dedication and drive of Sue Julian.  Being form Maine, I had never heard of  a "Drain Code" until about six months ago when I agreed to help an old college friend who lives in Clinton County.  I'm a consultant who works with hydroelectric project owners throughout the country on regulatory issues associated with federal and state licensing and permitting.   When my friend called to say that the stream (in Michigan a "drain") that runs behind his house had been destroyed by the local Drain Commissioner I offered to help.  While unfamiliar with the Michigan Drain Code, I have spent the last twenty five years working on water related environmental protection statutes and regulations and have a pretty decent understanding of the regualtions that protect streams and wetlands.  When I agreed to help, I assumed that my friend had been asleep at the switch and missed the public notice regarding the preparation of an environmental assessment  and a public comment period for the work to be done on the stream behind his house.  Well, the more I researched the issue the more I felt like H.G.Wells' time traveller--I'd stepped back into an early 1950's level of sensitivity to the environment.  The more people I spoke with, the more I realized how archaic and powerful was this Michigan Drain Code.  In an effort to find what kind of public participation or public notice process was used for this construction work on my friend's farm, I spoke with Drain Commissioners, state agencies, federal agencies, and conservation groups, and essentially got the same answer from all: "I'm not sure if we have to do that because the Drain Codeexempts us from environmental laws and Drain Commissioners are free to do what they want."   "Exempt even from the federal environmental laws?"  I asked.  "Well, we think so, but that's really someone else's job."  Wow!  If one of my hydro clients had done the kind of work that was done at the stream behind my friend's house (removal of healthy trees, destruction of riparian habitat, and construction of a new 30 foot wide road) without permits or environmental review and an opportunity for public comment, I would expect that they would be fined  or worse.  In Michigan, this kind of activity appears to be ok!  What gives?  Michigan's reputation in establishing tough standards for hydroelectic projects is nearly legendary--where are these warriors for the environement?  Where are the federal agencies charged with administering federal environmental laws?  Who is minding the store?  I hope that Sue Julian and others working on updating the Drain Code are successful.  At least successful in bringing the Drain Code into the twentieth century!  Worry about crossing the millenium barrier in another 40 or 50 years.  Cheers, Fred Ayer "
34 Providence  Street
Portland, Maine 04103