Letters to the Editor

Jul 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

Water watchers

I'm writing to address an error in Jack Lessenberry's column ("Shooting straight," Metro Times, July 2). I'm an environmental law professor at Wayne State University and, in my free time, I'm the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, based in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Your column discussed the politics behind the Legislature's recent approval of the Great Lakes compact and accompanying Michigan water withdrawal statute. However, your description and critique of the bills is entirely inaccurate. You write: "Personally I think the current bills still allow too much water to be diverted — a company could still suck up as much as 5 million gallons a day. And the bills do not protect groundwater."

Each of your statements regarding the bills is incorrect. Consider:

1) Both the regional Great Lakes compact and Michigan statute prohibit almost all diversions of Great Lakes water out of the basin, with a few limited exceptions for public water supply for communities just over the basin dividing line. The total quantity of the diversion does not mater. A pipeline delivering 100,000 gallons per day of Lake Michigan water to Arizona is prohibited just as a pipeline with 10 million gallons per day. And a "company" is not even eligible for the limited exceptions to the ban on diversions, as it is only for public water supply.

2) The Great Lakes compact and the Michigan statute also regulate in-basin uses of water, such as the Detroit water system and other municipal suppliers, large farms, and power companies. The 2006 Michigan water withdrawal law required permits for in-basin uses over 5 million gallons per day, but the 2008 Michigan law lowers the permit threshold to 2 million gallons per day for most users. It also creates a system in which any withdrawal over 100,000 gallons per day must still determine its environmental impact and could be subject to permit requirements.

3) Both the Great Lakes compact and the Michigan statute regulate groundwater withdrawals along with surface water (Great Lakes and inland lakes and rivers) withdrawals. This is perhaps their most important policy advancement. The common law rules regarding groundwater rights in the Great Lakes states are generally less progressive and less uniform than for surface water rights. Historically, groundwater and surface water in the Great Lakes states were subject to different rights and rules for allocation. The Great Lakes compact solves this problem. It defines "Waters of the Basin or Basin Water" to mean "the Great Lakes and all streams, rivers, lakes, connecting channels and other bodies of water, including tributary groundwater, within the Basin." This recognition of connected groundwater and surface water as a single resource to be managed uniformly is a long overdue advancement in water law. Addressing both ground and surface water is also critical to the eventual success of any Great Lakes water policy, since ground water comprises more than 15 percent of the total water supply in the Great Lakes basin. —Noah Hall, author, Great Lakes Law Blog, greatlakeslaw.org/blog, Ann Arbor

Treasurer's tasks

I am writing in response to Curt Guyette's story on the race for Wayne County treasurer ("Tax bumps and rolls," Metro Times, July 23). While interesting and well-written, the piece omits important facts on the efforts and the results achieved by the Office of Wayne County Treasurer, Raymond Wojtowicz, to help Wayne County families.

Since 2004, Wayne County Treasurer Raymond J. Wojtowicz has:

•Created a Communications/ Community Outreach Department in 2006, which has conducted numerous community workshops on how to avoid property tax foreclosure throughout Wayne County.

•Created partnerships with more than 20 community nonprofit organizations as part of our outreach efforts to educate residents about how to avoid property tax foreclosure and also to instruct them about the wide variety of community resources available for those in need of assistance.

• Created the Taxpayer Assistance Department that specializes in offering assistance to those taxpayers most at risk.

• Disbursed more than $300 million to the city of Detroit, the Detroit Public School District, and the Detroit Public Library for their operating budgets, courtesy of the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund (DTRF). Without the DTRF, these entities could be forced to wait months or even years before collecting these funds.

• Disbursed $84 million to Wayne County's General Fund (courtesy of the DTRF) for use in preserving jobs and services. More than $255 million has been disbursed to this fund since the program's inception.

• Approved more than 2,000 hardship applications, allowing struggling Wayne County residents having trouble paying their delinquent property taxes to stay in their homes.

• Repeatedly extended the deadline for repayment of delinquent property taxes. No other county in the state of Michigan does this. He has also repeatedly removed all occupied properties from the delinquent property auction list so that none of these properties could be put up for bid during the auction. Only vacant lots and abandoned properties have been on the list, and the same will be true at the 2008 auction of tax-foreclosed properties in September and October.

• Brought more than a 3-to-1 return on slightly more than $600,000 spent on community outreach efforts to alert and educate Wayne County residents who were facing possible property tax foreclosure about what the Treasurer's Office can do to help them. That return is in terms of delinquent property tax revenue collected, and that doesn't include the revenue collected from the more than 1,500 property owners after the March 31 deadline had passed, which by itself represents $4 million in revenue.

Terrance Keith, Wayne County Deputy Treasurer

Supplemental comments

With reference to the You Are Here supplement, "Tale of two cities" (Metro Times, July 2), I was offended by the words "The lunatic asylum" under the photo of the first floor corridors of the beautiful Fisher Building in the New Center area. As the heading for copy continued, the supplement author explained that in 1904, an unnamed writer in an unnamed Detroit newspaper referred to the layout of Detroit's streets as "an insane asylum," an inappropriate comment in 1904, 2008 or any time

Some clarifications and omissions: The International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit (111 E. Kirby), a non-profit with two departments (ethnic education and immigration), also houses two privately owned businesses: the International Café (mentioned under "Drinks & Dining") and, on the first floor, the International Gift Gallery (omitted under "Shopping"). The listings also omitted the DIA's gift shop, the gift shops at CCS, the Detroit Historical Museum and the Charles A. Wright Museum of African-American History.

As late as the 1950s, Detroit had two exclusive shopping areas, downtown and New Center, which had Pringle's Furniture, Moseley's Fine Linens, Julie's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Currently, Detroit is three cities: downtown (with the Fox Theatre, opera and sports venues), midtown (including the Bonstelle, Hilberry, the Max Fisher, the Detroit Medical Center) and New Center.
Barbara Sherwood, Detroit

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