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E-M:/ Jean Klock Park outrage

Dear Enviromichers,

In case you haven't heard yet....

The decision on the fate of Jean Klock Park at the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund meeting last week was 3-1 to convert this public park to use as part of a privately-owned golf course.  The meeting was a travesty. It was a dark day for environmental protection of public parkland.

The Trust Fund board ignored and abrogated its own procedures, policies, and its very mission.

Lana Pollack was the notable exception. She alone was the conscience of the board, asking questions and prodding her colleagues into a discussion about their role in protecting the public trust. That discussion did not happen.

After a leisurely morning of listening to presentations by other cities and the DNR for acquiring new public parks and developing public recreational facilities, none of which required decisions that day, the chair rushed the Jean Klock Park decision. He attempted to confine community supporters in attendance to a mere five people and limit their time. Questioned and challenged on this procedural change, the chair decided to allow a three-minute presentation by each person.

It should be noted that the MNRTF meeting agendas are publicly posted with a beginning meeting time but no ending time. If board members assume they will be finished with business in the morning, there is no indication to the public before or during the meeting that this is the case. With a controversial topic like this one at the end of an agenda it should have been a surprise to no one that the meeting would be long.

Rather than making a formal applicant's presentation for the City of Benton Harbor, representatives of the development companies and Whirlpool-backed organizations that would develop the golf course, the city manager,  Whirlpool's corporate vice president for communications and public affairs, and some city commissioners were each allowed to make 3-minute argumentative pleas. This change in format was calculated to give the appearance of grassroots community support for the project. These folks were anything but grassroots. They mostly talked about the need for jobs. A former judge gave the impression he represented the Friends of Jean Klock Park and acted as an authority about the consent judgment when in reality he has no authority. (This man also lives adjacent to the park and his property would look out over the golf course).  A youth director spoke of the [financial] benefits from the park-turned-golf course because this would allow him to do more with indoor recreation, like basketball and skateboarding. 
Real, grassroots community members were there and voiced their opposition to the board. One black city commissioner, who courageously voted against the park conversion proposal in a consent agenda vote back in Benton Harbor, spoke in favor of protecting the park. Another respected black community leader presented the board with the language of a petition and indicated about 1,600 signatures were collected.

The founder of Friends of Jean Klock Park was physically prevented by a DNR staffer from going up to the front of the room to answer a question that was asked, while Harbor Shores developers were allowed to intercede and interrupt.

One Benton Harbor taxpayer read a letter from the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. A member of a regional planning commission talked about their written comments on environmental impacts. A state representative talked about the need for a careful, deliberate decision and considering carefully the community opposition. Dr. Richard Brewer, the author of Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America, talked eloquently about the future of all our parks if the Trust Fund Board is not going to uphold the protection of these places when parks are attacked piece by piece.

I was the only person in the room who showed maps including the map Harbor Shores didn't want anyone to see. This map, posted on the Friends of Jean Klock Park website (www.savejeanklockpark.org), shows the extent of the golf course and its complete takeover of all of Jean Klock Park except the beach.  The 3-minute cut-off did not allow me to finish my presentation about how most of the "new parkland" is inside the golf course, how the mitigation parcels would never meet requirements for new MNRTF-funded new parkland if submitted on its own, about how the conversion does meet Land and Water Conservation Fund requirements, and about the  failure of six Nicklaus signature courses inside state parks in other states (all created through similar high-pressure political strong-arming) and the financial costs to those states who took on those risks.

Anyone watching the proceedings had to be embarrassed by the procedure and the board's indifference.

Again I thank Lana Pollack for her heroic attempts to get the board to do the right thing or to at least discuss the right things. Sadly, the board did neither.

While this is a major setback, I invite those of you outraged by what is happening to the public trust and protection of our state's parkland--and the continued railroading of the Jean Klock Park deal--to visit the Friends of Jean Klock Park website. Look for their update in the news and notes section:


Thank you again to the numerous supporters, both individuals and organizations, who have written letters, made phone calls, lent expertise, and made donations.

For nearly 90 years, generations of Benton Harbor residents have been fighting off one development scheme after another for Jean Klock Park. This by far is the biggest battle. And it's not over.

LuAnne Kozma

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