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E-M:/ Jean Klock Park Federal Lawsuit Has National Implications

Enviro-Mich message from LuAnne Kozma <luanne_kozma@yahoo.com>


For Immediate Release

August 8, 2008

LuAnne Kozma, 248-473-5761
Michigan Director, Defense of Place

Cindy Arch, 707-430-0438
Executive Director, Defense of Place


Community park advocates sue National Park Service for NEPA violations
Land and Water Conservation Fund Act put to the test

(Novi, Michigan) – August 8, 2008   Residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. Tuesday to stop the construction of an exclusive golf course in their town's only beachfront park, Jean Klock Park. Defense of Place commended the action, saying the suit could help parks across the nation.

"The federal law that protects Jean Klock Park also safeguards thousands of parks across the country, at all levels of government," said Michigan Director for Defense of Place, LuAnne Kozma. "This lawsuit has national implications and will be precedent-setting for the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. There are development schemes, some as obscene as this one for Jean Klock Park, queued up in other Great Lakes states and elsewhere. The public's prime shoreline is what developers are coveting. America's public parks cannot be surrendered just because a private developer demands it."

The lawsuit, filed by Toledo, Ohio, attorney Terry J. Lodge on behalf of seven Benton Harbor and Benton Township residents, alleges extensive violations of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) by the National Park Service and failure to properly apply regulations mandated under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. The State of Michigan and the city of Benton Harbor are named as codefendants in the 52-page complaint.

The suit also contends that the $900,000 appraisal price for 22 acres of Jean Klock Park and their dramatic views of Lake Michigan is too low because it ignores explicit federal requirements. The
developer, Harbor Shores, paid for the appraisal. A second appraisal, mandated by the state, was not submitted.

In compensation for the Park's land, the developer offered seven non-contiguous, mostly contaminated wetlands parcels along the Paw Paw River. Eighty-percent of the mitigation value was attributed to a single 1.47 acre brownfield parcel that is post-industrial Whirlpool property, appraised at $714,000. The view from "Parcel H" is of the back of a commercial building.

"What would be left of Jean Klock Park would be non-viable parkland, which also violates the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act," said Kozma, who testified before Congress about the Act and Jean Klock Park earlier this year. "The golfers would have the commanding views of Lake Michigan from the re-built dunes; not children, not the public."

The $500-million, 530-acre Harbor Shores luxury home and resort development, backed by the Benton Harbor-based $18-billion Whirlpool Corporation, features a Jack Nicklaus championship 18-hole golf course where a round of golf will cost as much as $225. Jean Klock Park's pristine sand dunes were targeted for conversion to three fairways, a land grab justified by the developer's need for a "dramatic element" to secure "maximum profit." Benton Harbor's per capita income is less $9,000 per year.

Term-limited Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has been a tireless advocate for the Harbor Shores development and the conversion of Benton Harbor's only beachfront public park, defending the state's role as catalyst and saying the state will market the project as "southwest Michigan's gem along the Lake." The area's Republican congressman, Whirlpool heir Fred Upton whose lakefront residence is a short walk from the golf course, was instrumental in securing National Park Service approval for the conversion.

"When prime public parkland is seized by the government for private development without regard for the law, all public parks and open spaces become vulnerable," said Defense of Place Executive Director Cindy Arch. "Add to that the total disregard for the intentions of the Klock family who donated the land in perpetuity for the children of Benton Harbor to honor their deceased daughter, Jean, and the stage is set for undoing the entire land trust system that safeguards so many special places throughout the United States. Promises of permanent protection won't be worth the paper they're written on if places like Jean Klock Park fall to developers."

Defense of Place has learned that of the 447 people who commented in the public process period, required by the National Park Service when it rejected the project last year for lack of public input and other problems, only 109 listed a Benton Harbor address. There is also evidence of a developer-driven form-letter campaign that provided the pro-development comment.

"The supporters of Jean Klock Park are far more numerous than Harbor Shores would like everyone to believe," Kozma said. "The NEPA process in not a beauty contest or opinion poll. Luckily for the citizens of Benton Harbor, the truth will come out through the court process and not the Harbor Shores propaganda machine."

Donations in support of the citizen lawsuits can be made through the local advocacy groups, as well as through Defense of Place. Protect Jean Klock Park is accepting contributions for the federal lawsuit and Friends of Jean Klock Park for the local lawsuit, filed last month against the state, to uphold the 2004 consent judgment prohibiting any further park development or non-public use.

Defense of Place has assisted the advocates in the fight to save Jean Klock Park, providing technical assistance and obtaining documents in the public interest from federal, state and local agencies through the Freedom of Information Act that otherwise would not have been made public. Defense of Place works nationally for permanent protection of parks, open space and wildlife refuges. To contribute or for more information:

Defense of Place www.defenseofplace.org
Protect Jean Klock Park www.protectjkp.com
Friends of Jean Klock Park www.savejeanklockpark.org

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