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
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
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
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.
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