LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – With thousands of acres of Michigan farmland, wetlands and other wildlife-friendly habitats on the chopping block to make way for EV battery or semiconductor plants, one would think that environmentalists would be up in arms that these projects are moving full steam ahead without what some say is much consideration to the possible environmental destruction that the developments might cause in the immediate and foreseeable future.
But instead of doing what most would call due diligence by having environmental studies done ahead of time and analysis brought to the communities in question so that facts can be debated, these development projects, many of which have been reported to have started years ago, continue to move ahead, hidden behind non-disclosure agreements, while the residents near these megasites are told that their concerns about the environment are unjustified and unwarranted.
And mum’s the word with little or no pushback from groups like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Michigan Nature Association, Michigan Audobon, the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter, The Nature Conservancy, Flow for the Love of Water, the Michigan Farm Bureau or any other organization who purports to exist to be in the business of protecting Michigan’s farmlands, wetlands, land usage, animals, insects, birds, water usage or water quality.
Michigan News Source reached out to all of these organizations to ask them if their organizations stand behind the building of these megasites on farmland and wetlands and in areas that will possibly have an environmental impact on water, land and wildlife.
Ducks Unlimited had “no comment at this time” but Joe Genzel, Communications Coordinator of the organization said, “We did recently work to secure $10 million in funding for Michigan wetlands” and “We are also working with the AG industry on a cover crop program in Michigan which promotes soil health and water retention, keeping more sediment and nutrients out of waterways.”
And although the Michigan Farm Bureau website says they are committed to Michigan farmers and are helping to preserve natural resources for generations to come, they don’t seem to be in opposition to the megasites that are going to be bulldozing over thousands of acres of Michigan farmland.
The Michigan Farm Bureau of Companies responded to the question about supporting the megasites by saying, “The Michigan Farm Bureau Family of Companies is comprised of several companies, two of which are Michigan Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau Insurance. As a community partner that employs more than 1,000 employees, the Family of Companies has a vested interest in economic development and attracting a talented workforce for our area.”
Their response continues by saying, “Farm Bureau Insurance, like many mid-Michigan businesses, is a member of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), which is comprised of more than 50 prominent local businesses and organizations with a common goal to grow, retain and attract business to the tri-county area. Michigan Farm Bureau’s member-driven, grassroots policy is decided upon collectively by our farmer members on an annual basis. Our current policy supports the private property rights of landowners, land use decisions being made by locally elected townships zoning and planning officials, and encourages our members to become actively involved in land use planning and zoning.”
It should be noted that Donald Simon, the CEO with Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan, also sits on the board of LEAP as their treasurer and CEO. LEAP is deeply involved in the Eagle Township megasite, otherwise known as the MMIC (Michigan Manufacturing Innovation Campus). LEAP is involved in marketing the megasite and putting together the land needed for the development.
The rest of the organizations that we contacted did not respond to our request for comment on the megasite developments.
It appears that only the citizens who live in and around the areas of the proposed sites – and a new organization called EDRA (Economic Development Responsibility Alliance of Michigan) – are asking questions and sounding the alarm on the possible environmental destruction in the state that might be caused by these proposed megasites.
EDRA says that there are no economic impact reports for the Eagle Township MMIC, the city of Marshall’s BlueOval Battery Park or the Gotion plant near Big Rapids. Additionally, the amount of water needed for these projects and possible water contamination is of major concern to this organization.
Marjorie Steele, founder of EDRA, says, “Water is, in my opinion, the one true unifying factor in all of these communities being targeted for development by the MEDC and legislators. Gotion and Ford Blue Oval stand to suck up 715,000 gallons of water per day or more – each – out of adjacent major Lake Michigan waterways, with over 65,000 gallons of wastewater being dumped back out. Neither company has provided details about how that water will be remediated or if it’s even scientifically possible to remediate. Semiconductor plants like those postulated for Mundy, and Eagle could consume 11.65 million gallons of water per day; and there are already existing semiconductor plants in the state that the MEDC plans to expand. Regulatory scientist have not yet found a clear way to make semiconductor wastewater potable again.”
Steele also adds an alarming remark. She asserts, “When I say that we are concerned that these projects will toxify and drain the entire Great Lakes watershed, I am not exaggerating.”
Steele explains, “None of these megasites have environmental impact reports. None. My farmer neighbor has to have an EIS to build a 100 foot commercial greenhouse, but Gotion doesn’t need an EIS to build a 500 acre battery plant on top of a wetlands. This is clown world.”
The Gotion megasite includes property with a creek that joins the Muskegon River. The site is also reported to contain hundreds of acres of undeveloped wilderness including wetlands which are designated by the EPS as wetlands restoration area. The Marshall battery factory has land on the banks of the Kalamazoo River and habitats for both federally protected and state protected species that are reportedly being destroyed. The Eagle township development is, according to EDRA, a “stone’s throw of the Grand River and a critical part of the Lake Eerie watershed.”
The fact that these megasite properties contain wetlands and are home to wildlife means that developments on these properties would involve possible signifiant environmental ramifications. At the very least, many affected residents have said that there should be discussions between those in charge of the developments and the residents in the affected communities about how the buyers of the megasites plan to comply with all state and federal regulations to protect the community’s land, water and wildlife habitats. And most residents want this information discussed before the deals are closed, not after.
But that doesn’t appear to be happening. The residents living in the areas of these megasites say they are in the dark about most things, including the environmental impact that will happen in their communities if and when the megasites move in. And they lament that they are up against the massive forces of the Michigan government including the governor’s office, Democratic legislators, MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation), LEAP and other economic development organizations, high powered attorneys, local county and township officials who don’t represent them, private industry and more.
Troy Stroud, an opponent of the Eagle Township megasite, is disheartened about what may become of his community after a megasite moves in. He is boastful about the wildlife around him but wonders how long that will remain a reality. He talked with Michigan News Source about the abundance of wildlife that is currently in his community and is at risk of being chased out by bulldozers and concrete. He says that his township is a hot spot “where stuff stops.” He says they’ve had a great deal of increase in their bald eagles, hawks and falcons in the area that stick around year ‘round and describes the area as also being migratory grounds for whopping cranes, sandhill cranes, herons, and migratory geese. He also looks out to the skies and sees Michigan bluebirds flying around his property all year long.
Stroud adds that the Kirtland’s warbler also stops by on the way to upper Michigan. He says it’s because the area have a lot of pine trees and a perfect environment where they can find food and shelter. He says, “Because it’s watershed through here, there’s lots of these little patchy swamps that are great for them to get a drink, a little bit of food and keep flying.”
Stroud says there are also species that are local and not migratory including snail species and bats. In fact, Stroud says that nesting boxes have been put in the township by the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) for endangered bat species.
The organization, EDRA, is working on getting answers about the environmental impacts of these megasites by bringing forth information and transparency to the communities affected.
Steele of EDRA said that she attended the The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) Board meeting on June 27th where she called for Randy Thelen’s resignation. Thelen is the CEO of The Right Place, a Grand Rapids economic development organization that receives funding from the MSF and is also on the MSF board which Steele calls a conflict of interest. In addition to the conflict of interest, she also says, “In my community’s ongoing fight to get the most basic of answers about the Gotion EV megasite’s proposed development atop wetlands and a vulnerable aquifer, The Right Place has been most obtuse. To this day, I have been provided no date for when we can expect an environmental impact study.” She says, “Instead, we are offered permits – permits to be determined by the clearly captured EGLE – in lieu of an EIS, and are offered the consolation that The Right Place will make Gotion promise to perform an EIS – as the site is being built, or after.”
Regarding the environmental impact reports not being put forward, Gotion Global Vice President Chuck Thelen told Big Rapids Pioneer in April that he had heard the term “environmental impact study” being thrown around and says there isn’t one full study – but instead multiple ones for different areas of concern.
He said, “What you do is have an impact study for each piece of the environment, so you will have a water study, you will have an air study, you will have a transportation study and so forth…All of those go to the permitting commissions for the state.”
The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is supposed to be involved in many of the components of the environmental impact studies, Thelen said, as well as legal experts and environmental consultants. He added, “There are different departments at the state level – air quality, water quality, wetlands. We will work with each one of those permitting commissions. We will hear from them what has to happen, and we will go and do it. Once they say yes, then we will make a final application for permitting. That process is still going on.” These are the permits that Steele discussed in her letter.
Michigan News Source reached out to EGLE after receiving a recent press release from AG Dana Nessel’s office about two new Gov. Whitmer appointments to EGLE. In the press release, Nessel said, “The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is a vital partner in my office’s commitment to protecting Michigan’s lakes, rivers, and streams, as well as the animal life and people that depend on them.”
With that being said, we reached out to EGLE to ask them their stand on the megasites and the fact that none of them have environmental impact reports. We wanted to find out just how committed are they to protect Michigan’s lakes, rivers, streams and animal life?
Hugh McDiarmid Jr. Communications Manager of EGLE, said, “As we discussed in April, EGLE does not have any environmental permit requests for that site (Gotion), and therefore can’t speculate on what will be requested or what the potential requirements/impacts would be.”