DURAND, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership (SEDP) has been trying to put together a deal, in connection with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) for a Megasite in Vernon Township; however, on Monday, August 7th, the Durand City Council voted 6-0 to withdraw from their partnership with the SEDP, which the city was a charter member of. Councilman Brian J. Boggs, who is on the board of the SEDP, recused himself from voting.
The Megasite being proposed is one of many in the state that has communities up in arms over the secrecy of the deals as well as other concerns including traffic, water useage, wetlands, destroying farmland and wildlife habitat. The properties in question are usually pitched to be future battery or semiconductor plants. Such is the case in Vernon township where councilman Boggs said the land in Durand could be used for a Factorial Energy battery production facility. He has, in the past, alleged that the company has ties with China and expressed that they would not be popular with the local residents.
Steve Dugid, a moderator with the “Stand Up Michigan, Shiawassee County Chapter” Facebook Group has made a similar comment, posting that the deal is an attempt by a Chinese battery plant to move into Vernon Township and that two representatives from the SEDP were at the meeting defending the deal but that “their dishonesty and backroom dealing sealed their fate.”
At the August 7th meeting, council members discussed another gathering concerning the Megasite that had been held on July 17th at Durand Union Station. It had been learned that before the meeting, SEDP President and CEO Justin Horvath and SEDP Board Chair Bryan Marks had signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with Factorial Energy. Then they all proceeded to meet together without the Durand council members or township officials because they hadn’t signed NDA’s.
At the August 7th meeting, councilman Boggs asked for the names of the business representatives who were at the meeting but the SEDP did not provide an answer. Because of these issues, the city council members said they had lost trust in the SEDP who they no longer viewed as being on the side of the city even though they had been partners for more than two decades.
Discussions at the August 7th meeting included Mayor Jeff Brands expressing that he was not happy about having to leave the July meeting because he hadn’t signed an NDA and he told the SEDP that he no longer trusts them.
The other council members didn’t seem impressed with the information or explanations coming out of the two SEDP representatives. Councilman Patrick O’Conner said, “I’m a veteran…I’m gone, I’m not having some plant coming in here turning this to Flint.”
In the end, the city decided to withdraw from the SEDP, which means that taxpayer money would also be withdrawn from them. The city has been investing $10,000 a year with the SEDP which got them a seat on the board, which has been the city manager, Cameron Horvath. Councilman Boggs will most likely remain on the board as he is the SEDP treasurer through his affiliation as the Shiawassee County administrator.
Former mayor Kenneth McDonough said on a community FB page, “It’s about time they got rid of them two (SEDP). I knew they were sneaky when I was the mayor of Durand and I tell you right now there’s more people in the wood shack that no one knows about. I applaud Durand and City Council for stopping this last night but there’s a lot more work to be done.”
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) had announced back in December of last year that they would be awarding the Shiawassee County government a $680,000 Community Development Block Grant in order to fund future development in Vernon Township for a potential Megasite. The grant was to be used for site planning, surveying, archaeological assessment, an endangered species study, traffic studies, water and wastewater analysis and more. The potential Megasite would be along the I-69 Corridor, within borders of Durand, Goodall, Brown and Lansing roads.
Councilman Boggs said at the meeting that withdrawing from the SEDP doesn’t mean that the Megasite deal is dead. Michigan News Source reached out to the city manager, Cameron Horvath, who explained what it meant. He said, “Pulling out of the SEDP doesn’t limit our options, it just pushes me now to the forefront of economic development, so I’ll be the person now for the city that is in the conversation rather than before we had the SEDP kind of doing it for us.”
Marjorie Steele, founder of EDRA (Economic Development Responsibility Alliance of Michigan) was pleased about the decision by the city of Durand to withdraw from the SEDP and said, “The City of Durand withdrawing itself from the SEDP is a fantastic step forward, not just for stopping the facility in Durand, but also for taxpayers across the state. This sends a clear warning shot across the MEDC’s bow that the opaque meddling of local EDCs will not be blindly tolerated any more – and it sets a new standard for economic responsibility and independence for cities and townships across the state.
Steele went on to say, “At EDRA, we would like to see every single township, county, and city in the state of Michigan to vote to withdraw itself from all involvement with local economic development corporations—all of which are tied to the corporate mafia league that the MEDC has become.”
Steele continued, “In place of these multinational investment deals cooked up by unelected officials, we’d like to see communities spearhead their own citizen-led developments. We’d like to see community dollars reinvested directly back into community residents, small businesses, and truly sustainable, locally developed green technologies, by the community itself – not some distant Lansing bigwigs.”