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E-M:/ Drain Code Bill (HB 4803)



According to sources, the Michigan Senate appeared that they might vote on the Drain Code today. Please contact your Senator today and ask them to VOTE NO on the new Drain Code Bill (House Bill 4803).
 
To find your senator's phone or email, go to this website and click, to the left, on "find your senator":  http://www.senate.state.mi.us/
You can locate your senator's fax number by going to his/her web page (an
option under "find your senator").
 
Here's a press release from November 21 on the new Drain Code Bill (HB 4803) by Fred Fuller, Saint Clair County Drain Commissioner:
 

For Immediate Release                                        Contact: Fred Fuller
November 21, 2000                                               office: (810) 364-5369
                                                                                  home: (810) 794-0846
 
NEW DRAIN CODE BILL WOULD
SEND CITIZENS’ RIGHTS AND PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY
DOWN THE DRAIN
 
St. Clair County Drain Commissioner Fred Fuller calls the proposed new Drain Code bill now pending in the Michigan Senate, "a sham" that will further diminish accountability to the public, the rights of citizens to due process, and the environmental protection of Michigan’s waterways.
 
Fuller has written his state senator, Dan DeGrow, the Senate majority leader, for a third time, asking him not to move the Senate Substitute for House Bill 4803 on the Senate floor when the Senate reconvenes on November 28. HB 4803 was bulldozed through the Michigan House of Representatives in a hectic pre-Christmas session last December and opponents fear it will pass the Senate with little scrutiny again, in the lame duck session this fall.
 
Fuller says he is apparently the only Drain Commissioner in the state who is not afraid to speak out against the bill. The legislation was largely written by the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners (MACDC), an organization that includes not just Drain Commissioners, but also contractors, engineering firms, drain law attorneys, and other consultants for the lucrative drainage industry. The MACDC has spent thousands of dollars lobbying for the legislation.
 
The Michigan Department of Agriculture also plays a powerful role in the MACDC. It provided grants to the MACDC for writing the legislation and has kept the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources from commenting on the legislation. Drain Commissioners are exempt from most environmental laws and for years have been able to turn natural creeks and rivers into channelized drainage ditches without restraint from citizens or environmental regulators. While most states, and federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, have turned away from channelization projects, the drainage industry in Michigan has continued these old practices because of the MACDC’s political clout and because it is a great way for special interests to profit from tax dollars, Fuller says. Drain Commissioners are able to place special assessments on people’s property without any chance for a vote or referendum. The new bill would not help this situation, and in many ways would make it worse.
 
Fuller says that other conscientious Drain Commissioners are probably afraid to speak out against the MACDC because of the hammer the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) holds over their heads. Representatives of the MDA chair all intercounty drainage boards for drains that cross into more than one county. They vote in case of a dispute between counties so are able to side with one county against another. Thus they can exact retribution on any Drain Commissioner that might challenge them. Fuller says he has already felt their wrath as they have tried to force a channelization project on his county and also make his county pay 70% of the cost. He is still fighting that project---the South Branch of Mill Creek Intercounty Drain.
 
Fuller says the section of the Michigan Department of Agriculture that handles drain projects is completely out of control, facilitating big dredging projects that subsidize development more than agriculture, promoting expensive over-engineering at taxpayer expense, and ignoring the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The section is euphemistically called the "Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section of the Environmental Stewardship Division" of the MDA.
 
"They have hidden from public scrutiny for so long that they are completely out of touch with reality," Fuller says.
 
Fuller believes the first step in revising Michigan drain law should be to remove the Michigan Department of Agriculture from its position of dictatorial power. But the new drain code bill will increase the MDA’s power.
 
Fuller lists these other problems with the legislation:
Fuller says that HB 4803 passed the House of Representatives and has escaped media scrutiny so far because few people comprehend the importance of the Drain Code and fewer people still take the time to understand it. But, he says, the Drain Code is the most important statute for the day-to-day management of Michigan’s waterways.
 
Fuller says HB 4803 has also been "greenwashed" to appear as if it contains environmental reforms and it has some important backers who pretend to be environmentalists, but a close examination of the bill, Fuller says, will reveal that it contains few effective environmental reforms.