Street Talk

Street Talk: Our grandparents’ mistake surcharge

Hole truth.

June 5, 2015
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The legacy of landfills — or dumps, as everybody called them when Grandpa was a kid — is an expensive legacy we are still dealing with today.

All over the nation, Americans found some piece of land in every community that nobody wanted and dumped their trash there, generation after generation. It included all kinds of trash, even toxic industrial waste, which polluted the groundwater and nearby streams — but nobody realized it or cared very much.

By 1965, there were 29 dumps in use in Kent County, 11 of them owned by a municipality. Most were filling up fast and none met new environmental protection laws that ultimately forced their closure. Pressure was on from the state and federal governments, and threats of lawsuits were heard while everybody tried to figure out who was to blame.

Then the Kent County Department of Public Works was asked to help find new places for all the new trash being produced. So the county organized the townships and municipalities and took over two big former municipal landfills, sites now known as the Kentwood and Sparta landfills. Both closed in the 1970s, but the county was left holding the bag: the cost of cleaning up the persistent pollution and perpetual maintenance to keep the remaining toxic stew contained.

The original projected costs of continuing to control the spread of the pollution for 30 years turned out to be only a fraction of the real cost. Instead of less than $6 million, over the last 30 years the DPW has spent more than $31 million on “remediation and perpetual care” of the two landfill sites — and “perpetual” means it isn’t over yet.

Now the county is proposing a surcharge on all trash produced in Kent County to cover the continuing costs at former landfills that must be monitored and maintained. The surcharge is calculated to cost each homeowner about $1.68 per year. Businesses and all organizations that use dumpsters would pay $1.68 per ton if billed by weight, 11 cents per un-compacted yard and 56 cents per compacted yard. The surcharge is estimated to raise about $1,450,000 per year for the landfill legacy costs.

Trash-hauling businesses operating throughout Kent County would be asked to build those surcharges into their bills to customers, but they don’t actually have to forward any money to the county. That will be done by landfill and waste-recycling facilities, which weigh all trash brought in by commercial haulers and charge by weight. The facilities have all agreed to increase their per-ton charge by $1.68.

Last week the county’s Finance and Physical Resources Committee discussed whether “County Surcharge” was enough of an explanation to put on trash bills and waste-hauler websites. Some commissioners wondered how to fully explain the need for it to those paying for it. One suggested maybe it should be “Landfill Maintenance Surcharge.”

Commissioner David Bulkowski joked that maybe it should be “Our Grandparents’ Mistake Surcharge” — which is funny, but accurate.

One member of the committee, Commissioner Diane Jones of Rockford, voted against moving the surcharge question to the full board.

“The funding shortfall is part of a 30-year issue. I have a hard time asking my constituents to pay a surcharge to fix the 30-year-old issue,” Jones told the Business Journal.

The surcharge proposal goes to the board’s Legislative & Human Resources Committee Tuesday, which will also vote on whether it should go to the full commission. If it does, there will be a public hearing at 8:30 a.m., June 25, before the full commission votes on it.

Welcome to Meijer

Meijer Inc. is a Michigan company that never forgets its roots.

That’s evident in its annual collaboration with the Michigan State University Product Center.

Sixteen of the Product Center’s clients will soon be appearing in Meijer stores. All of the Michigan-made companies have been notified of the process they will need to compete in their categories.

Meijer buyers at the annual Making It in Michigan Marketplace Trade Show, which is hosted by the Product Center, chose many of the products selected.

“It has been great to have another opportunity to get Product Center clients shelf space, and they will be on shelves for a year in their relevant category,” said Matt Birbeck, senior project director, Food Processing and Innovation Center at the MSU Product Center. “We are delighted that the Meijer team is committed to keep going with this Michigan-made program and have indicated to us that they will be again present at Making It in Michigan 2015 to review new products.”

One selection includes a nationally award-winning hot sauce, Scotty O’Hotty Gourmet. The culinary journey of owners Scotty and Suzi Owens began in 2011 when they started bottling hot sauce, salsa and pickles at the end of each gardening season. After Scotty lost his engineering job, they decided to make a foray into the food industry.

“Going into our third year of business, we have reflected upon all of our contributing factors that have made our venture a success, and one important factor is the Making It in Michigan Conference and Marketplace Trade Show,” said Owens. “This event has allowed us to showcase our products to buyers from many major retail establishments such as Meijer. We are elated to be chosen to represent the best of Michigan products.”

The feeling is mutual, according to Meijer officials.

“The MSU Product Center not only helps local food manufacturers prepare for the requirements of selling to the retail food channel, but they ultimately help Meijer bring the best new products to market quickly, efficiently and safely for our customers,” said Pete Heinz, director of dry food for Meijer. “Our team always looks forward to the Making It in Michigan Marketplace Trade Show and consistently finds products that we can sell at Meijer stores throughout Michigan and beyond.”

This is progress?

The bitter battle over fixing Michigan’s roads continues, but now the conflict will have a face to represent the struggle — or several faces.

Progress Michigan, an activist organization with a stated mission of providing a “strong credible voice that holds public officials and government accountable and assists in the promotion of progressive ideas,” is taking a page from the state’s playbook with its Adopt-a-Pothole program.

The program will allow Michigan citizens to nominate Michigan’s worst potholes by naming them after elected officials who have failed to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.

For a small donation — which Progress Michigan will use “to fight for a responsible solution to fix Michigan roads” — residents will be able to email a picture of one of Michigan’s numerous potholes along with the name of the lawmaker they are naming it after and have it posted on the organization’s website.

“It’s been a month since voters overwhelmingly rejected the Snyder roads plan, yet we have seen nothing more from our representatives than pie-in-the-sky plans based on fuzzy math that punish hard-working families,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

“Our hope is that by putting a face to the potholes, voters will understand why our roads are so bad and will feel empowered to hold our elected officials accountable for their failure to find a solution. Maybe then, we can get House and Senate leadership to present a responsible roads plan.”

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