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E-M:/ FW: "Tondu decision a win for grass-roots efforts"

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October 21, 2005


Tondu decision a win for grass-roots efforts

The issue:
A judge tossed a
Texas power company's lawsuit against Manistee

Our view:
The little guys get a well-deserved win

See Related Story:
Judge tosses Tondu-Manistee lawsuit - October 14, 2005

      The deck appeared stacked against residents of Manistee two years ago this month, when Houston-based Tondu Corp. - billed locally as The Manistee Salt Works Development Corporation - swaggered into town.
      Tondu wanted to build a 425-megawatt coal-fired power plant and sought a special use permit to site the facility on 30 acres adjacent to
Manistee Lake.
      At first, Tondu tried its back-slapping best to ingratiate itself to Manistee officials, promising jobs and tax riches to a popular tourist city that, although blessed by miles of sandy
Lake Michigan shoreline, two fine trout streams and thousands of acres of pines and hardwoods, had struggled in recent years under a wobbly state economy.
      The Texans' howdy y'all act worked for a while, and local officials initially swooned over prospects of an enhanced tax base.
      But grassroots groups, comprised of environmentalists, the local American Indian tribe and plenty of just plain folks questioned Tondu's motives.
      They doubted a number of the company's claims, including how many jobs it would provide, how much tax revenue it would generate and, most of all, what kind of environmental steward Tondu would be in a place that desperately needs to protect and showcase its natural resources.
      And the more those folks looked, the deeper they dug, the uglier the power plant concept appeared to be.
      City officials finally realized that Tondu had quietly maneuvered for tax-exempt status. The company also had woefully understated the amount of mercury and other pollutants it would spew into the air and water.
      Despite the company's barely concealed threats of a lawsuit, the city swallowed hard and nixed Tondu's special permit request.
      Tondu promptly filed suit, and accused Manistee of violating its rights. It sought millions of dollars in damages.
      Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard Alan Enslen of
Kalamazoo put an end to two years worth of Tondu bluster and bullying. He dismissed the suit and said the company had no grounds to claim Manistee treated it unfairly.
      "(Tondu) needed to show that
Defendant City permitted another special use applicant to strain its resources, increase pollution, enrage its citizens, blemish its skyline, and generate no tax revenue when it denied Plaintiff's permit," Enslen wrote.
      It's a heartening, laudable decision by Enslen, and a nod to the groups and individuals who rallied against a powerful business interest and city officials for telling Tondu "no."
      And the verdict is a win not only for northwest
Michigan residents and those who live and work downwind of the proposed plant, but also for anyone who cares about clean air and water.


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