Milking A Multinational

August 22, 2003
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It's a safe bet that the Sappi Fine Paper mill on the south shore of Muskegon Lake long antedates all its residential and business neighbors in the Lakeside area. The mill has been there a century.

Yet now 10 of those new neighbors have retained a combination of willing Muskegon and Detroit lawyers to file what they hope will become a class-action lawsuit against "horrific odors, noise, dust, debris and air contaminants." Mind you, they don't necessarily want to abate these things. They just want "unspecified damages," which probably will wind up in the scores of millions of dollars.

Thirty years and untold millions of dollars ago, the mill did make much of Muskegon smell like a sauerkraut kitchen. Too, the chalky effluvium from its pipes was a pain for sailors in the lake's weekend regattas.

But that was millions of dollars ago. By virtue of all Sappi's pollution abatement spending, Muskegon Lake today is cerulean blue. And the cabbage odor of methyl mercaptan — detectable at 17 parts per billion — is virtually unnoticeable either on the mill's premises or in its environs.

With typical juvenile gloating, the Muskegon Chronicle reports that the suit alleges the mill's smog and noise are a form of trespass, and a nuisance that wrongfully interferes with the neighbors' use of their property.

The mill's horrific presence hasn't stopped generations of golfers from teeing off next door at Muskegon County Club — an entity that also always is booked solid with upscale wedding receptions.

It certainly hasn't kept ice cream lovers away from the little drive-in stand across the street, nor the kids away from local schools, nor worshippers from McGraft Congregational Church, nor party-goers from the Viking Lodge, nor boaters from using three (count them) neighboring marinas. Moreover, on weekends you usually see homeowners in Beachwood, Glenside and Lakeside neighborhoods mowing their grass, playing tennis or shuffleboard at McGraft Park or fishing from their boats along the shoreline.

A year ago a score of local families took very substantial mortgages to buy into a modernistic condo — a vertical, H-shaped building with its own adjoining marina — less than three blocks from the mill.

Apparently the mill wasn't so horrendous as to keep them away.

But, the lawyers assure the Chronicle that they don't want to close the mill or jeopardize 700-plus workers.

It's just that, you know, the mill is part of a gigantic multinational that owns mills on three or four continents. Deep pockets. The plaintiffs just want to live on a roadway they can rename Easy Street. Dig?

  • Millennium Park tour guide extraordinaire Peter Secchia has applied his style of ambassadorial skills throughout the month, including a small soiree to celebrate partial opening of a park almost three times the size of Central Park. The Millennium Park extravaganza surprised many residents upon opening of (only) the 6-acre beach, and likely spurred additional interest from those who would contribute to one aspect or another as the massive project progresses.

Still missing: a sculpture that might greet residents to the beach portion of the park, its gateway. Secchia acknowledged/lamented that a sculpture park along the lakes and woodlands would be redundant given Fred Meijer's vast undertaking. Then we learned that Meijer had indeed donated a replica of everyone's favorite sculpture, that of children dancing in a circle, and one of the Marshall Fredericks pieces, "Boy and the Bear."

For the record, it was a record: more than 7,000 people jammed the park, using all available parking and pushing concession stands through the new roof. Given the park's opening popularity, the county is considering additional parking/places.

And it wasn't supposed to happen. Kent County Deputy Administrator and Controller Al Vander Berg had been asked by a television station about the anticipated opening of the park and replied that it would be Aug. 15. But he didn't clear that through Secchia, which was a problem (but we won't quote him…). Millennium Park staff is hopeful that families could be treated to pond skating and bonfire areas as early as this winter, but we would not dare to make it a date.

  • Yet another form of entertainment in the vastly creative downtown sector (but just far enough away from DeVos Place) is taking shape at Tillman's. Tommy Tillman is planning to host Keno games at the long-established North Monroe restaurant. The Tillman's staff is preparing for training next month. Readers may recall Tillman's competitive answer to the Van Andel Arena draw in its opening year was to provide bus transportation to and from his restaurant for events at the Van.

  • On Calder Plaza: We hear the city commission is likely to wait through the lame duck days to consider appointment of one or another of the half-dozen candidates for the seat left vacant by Scott Bowen's judicial appointment. That is not so much fueled by GRMAYOR as by Commish Rick Tormala's endangered re-election concentration. Then again, GRMAYOR doesn't seem too happy with Tormala, and forcing him to commit to one appointee over another would be of certain interest to voters.

  • What was Hoekstra thinking? U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, when offered an opportunity to carry a television camera into Iraq, thought nothing of the ethical considerations that resounded through area media outlets last week.

The congressman, on a taxpayer-funded, fact-finding trip made film and story exclusively available to WOOD TV8, a competitive, commercial television station in a market area of no fewer than six broadcast stations and multiple radio and print news businesses. (Well, by the end of last week it was five stations when Lin Broadcasting closed the news department of Battle Creek affiliate WOTV Channel 41.) The station was apparently unconcerned that Hoekstra is not a journalist and certainly proffered his view of the world.

By week's end, Hoekstra had made available a Web site ( so that all constituents, including journalists, could view the tape.

And then, the U.S. government employee sent a press release that he would embark on a morning of deliveries with UPS, wearing the brown uniform. The reason for such an escapade was unclear, but certainly unpopular with the USPS, which is not given choices as to what delivery routes it will serve (some neighborhoods are far more interesting than others).

What can this mean…?

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