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E-M:/ Who Decides What's Best for Manistee?

Who Decides What's Best for Manistee? 


            On October 19th U.S. Magistrate Judge Ellen Carmody, on behalf of the Western District Court in Grand Rapids, granted motions made by the Manistee Citizens for Responsible Development and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to join the City of Manistee in defending a federal lawsuit filed by the Manistee Saltworks Development Corporation.  Judge Carmody denied a motion made by the Sierra Club, who had also petitioned to intervene in defense of the City.


            Earlier this summer the Manistee Saltworks Development Corporation filed a $100 million lawsuit in federal court against the City of Manistee.  Manistee Saltworks Development Corporation is owned by the Tondu Corporation, which wants to build a 425-megawatt coal-fired power plant on an abandoned former industrial site on Manistee Lake and adjacent to a predominantly low-income residential neighborhood. 


            Last April, the City's Planning Commission turned down Tondu’s application for a special use permit to build the coal plant after a massive community organizing effort, led by the Manistee Citizens for Responsible Development and other concerned citizens throughout Michigan.  The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal government also opposed the coal plant, as did two other Michigan tribes, the Sierra Club, American Lung Association, and many other fishing, conservation and environmental groups. 


While the scope of Tondu's project was massive, and the public response was huge, the process by which it was rejected was normal.  A landowner made a proposal; the people spoke out; the City reviewed the information; and the Planning Commissioners made the decision they felt was best for the community. 


There is also a process for landowners like Tondu who disagree with a local zoning decision.  State zoning law allows Tondu to appeal the City's decision to Manistee County Circuit Court, where it can be reviewed by a local judge and if the City did anything improper, the decision could be reversed or sent back.


Tondu did not file an appeal, however.  Instead, Tondu is trying to elevate this case beyond the state court process with claims that its federal civil rights have been violated.  These claims carry a staggering price tag:  Tondu is demanding $100 million from the City of Manistee. 


Tondu wants more than just money, however.  The lawsuit also demands a court order barring the City from enforcing its zoning rules against the development of the coal plant.  In its complaint, Tondu refers to this as “interfering” with their alleged “right” to build a coal plant.  And Tondu wants a jury to decide its case, a request the City has inexplicably agreed to.  


Different people can have different opinions about whether Tondu should be allowed to build a coal plant in Manistee.  But who do you believe should make the decision:  the community and its leaders, or a federal jury sitting 150 miles away? 


The Manistee Citizens for Responsible Development (MCFRD) believes the people of Manistee should decide.  That is why MCFRD petitioned the federal court for the right to intervene – to support and help defend the decision made by the City, and to make sure the process is protected. 


We hope the City will also defend its decision, but we cannot be sure.  Comments made by some City leaders raise at least a possibility that this will not occur.  Petoskey residents recently saw Emmet County, under pressure from insurance company lawyers, cave in to the demands of a big-box store developer rather than fight a potentially expensive federal zoning case.   As a concerned citizens group, MCFRD does not want to see the same thing to happen in Manistee. 


Manistee Citizens for Responsible Development