007 garbage

Jun 18, 2008 at 12:00 am

News Hits, as you've probably noticed, happens to think the ongoing debate regarding the future of Detroit's municipal waste incinerator is a big deal. A very big deal. Apparently not everyone shares that belief.

We make this observation based on attendance — or, more pointedly, the lack of attendance — at a meeting held last week by the City Council.

You see, the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority is supposed to decide by month's end whether it wants to buy the burner, continue leasing it or make a shift from incineration to a combination of landfilling and stepped-up recycling.

The council has already voted to pursue the latter course, but the administration is acting as if it — and not the council — is the one that will be calling this shot.

As noted in a report from the council's Research and Analysis Division (RAD), the issue is mind-bogglingly complicated. There are a variety contracts with overlapping end dates and major questions about how to handle the facility's ongoing obligations to provide electricity and steam.

There is so much to sort out, in fact, the RAD folks say public discussion of the incinerator's future should have begun at least two years ago. Instead, with just two weeks remaining before the crucial July 1 deadline, it is obvious to News Hits that some City Council members don't have a clue as to what's going on. But even worse than being clueless is going AWOL during crunch time, which was the case when Council President Kenneth Cockrel Jr. had trouble attracting the five-member quorum necessary to conduct last week's meeting. Council members Monica Conyers, Sheila Cockrel, Barbara-Rose Collins and Alberta Tinsley-Talabi all apparently had more pressing business to attend to.

Also absent was anyone representing GDRRA itself. The quasi-governmental agency is controlled by a board: All of its members are appointees of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. At the head of the table is Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams, who was reportedly out of town last week. But GDRRA also has a full-time director, John Prymack.

"Why couldn't he be here?" asked Cockrel. But there was no one around capable of answering that particular question.

It was at least the second time the council held a meeting hoping to get answers only to come up short.

As the RAD staff reported: "The informed discussion of this important and far-reaching public health, environmental and economic issue in May 2008 was seriously hampered by a lack of full information, including unavailability of relevant, even crucial documents ... as well as the lack of full, transparent and thorough discussion among all affected viewpoints, both regarding the administration's intentions with regard to ... impending deadlines and also regarding the underlying pubic policy issue of the relative merits of various solid waste management options for the City of Detroit."

The council — at least those members taking this issue seriously enough to bother showing up at relevant meetings — appears to be getting a bit peeved by the administration's apparent stonewalling. "Why are they being so secretive?" asked Cockrel, who accused the administration and GDRRA of treating what is supposed to be public information as if it were "James Bond stuff."

Council member JoAnn Watson, who pushed the council to abandon support for the incinerator, suggested that the next step should be to subpoena both the relevant people and documents necessary to get a clear understanding of exactly what's going on. Council was expected to vote on that matter on Tuesday (after this issue went to press.)

Since this rag began focusing attention on the issue months ago, News Hits has suspected that the Kilpatrick administration was deliberately maneuvering to keep the incinerator going. Withholding information and putting everything on a last-minute basis, it seems, is all part of team Kilpatrick's game plan.

As Jim Frey, a recycling expert from Ann Arbor working with incinerator opponents, alleged at last week's meeting that even the document seeking bids to determine landfill costs was drafted in a way that will make dumping seem more expensive than it needs to be. He wasn't the only one critical of what's officially known as a "request for proposals"; RAD Director David Whitaker likewise told council the document was "flawed in many respects" and questioned whether council could make a "true evaluation" even when the administration does hand over information.

At this point, News Hits will be shocked if all this actually gets settled by the July 1 deadline. Watson, at last week's meeting, raised the issue of seeking an injunction should the administration go ahead and try to keep using the incinerator. As an added kink in an already twisted chain, Watson also began raising questions about GDRRA's legitimacy. She told council that state legislation that created the authority when the incinerator plan was being implemented two decades ago included a provision that the city of Highland Park was expected to be a part of the authority. But Highland Park long ago pulled out. Without that municipality's participation, is GDRRA actually a legal entity?

You can add that to a growing list of unanswered questions.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]