Pristine dunes are battleground for the rich and infamous

July 15, 2011
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It’s time to Oval the wagons in Saugatuck. Environmentalists are hoping the township board tonight will fend off Oklahoma bajillionaire Aubrey McClendon’s attempt to develop near Saugatuck’s Lake Michigan dunes and coastline.

But they must be feeling a little bit like General George Custer at the Little Bighorn.

McClendon, you might recall, owns Chesapeake Energy and the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, among other things, and has made his mark as a shrewd businessman and an even shrewder judge of people.

In 2006, he bought property in the Saugatuck Dunes and promptly announced that he wanted to develop it. After Saugatuck rejected the plan, McClendon sued the township, arguing that the process was “manipulated against development.”

Saugatuck officials have spent upward of $400,000 in legal fees since that time. (It should be noted that $400,000 is approximately 3 percent of what McClendon will pay his best player, Thunder forward Kevin Durant, for the upcoming season, and the team’s total payroll is north of $53.5 million for 2011-12. Talk about outgunned!)

As a peace offering, McClendon has proposed a “settlement” to the township that would allow development of a nine-story hotel, six-story condos, a 70-slip marina, a nine-hole golf course and 80 houses on property near Oval Beach.

Kinda makes you wonder what the original plan was, doesn’t it?

Environmental supporters are understandably up in arms. Said the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance in a statement: “The settlement goes around the public planning process. The settlement would remove many zoning requirements, as well as most public oversight. … The settlement creates a different set of laws for Aubrey McClendon than those locally established laws the rest of us must follow.”

The dunes, which are home to wetlands areas and a diverse array of plant and animal life, would suffer irreparable ecosystem damage, supporters say. They also fear that positive tourism marketing, like last month’s citation by Yahoo! Travel naming Saugatuck one of the best beach towns in the nation, would come to a screeching halt.

“The unique stretch of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline has contributed to an unparalleled quality of life for the citizens of Saugatuck and West Michigan,” said former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra. “It is critical to the local tourism industry, heritage and environment that this land remains protected.”

Saugatuck officials will “consider” the settlement offer tonight at 6 p.m. and take public comment. Expect tonight’s meeting to take a bit longer than the usual 90 minutes.

Our new BFF

Sometimes, the generation gap remains wide no matter how hard we try. To communicate electronically with young people today is to invite a whole new language into your head. BFF, LOL, BRB, GTG, U2 and a whole host of other texting shortcuts are popular with the younger set.

But we have to wonder: Does that shorthand play well with all ages?

A campaign launched last week to “celebrate the life and legacy” of former first lady Betty Ford prompted some head-shaking and tongue-wagging, especially on social media networks. With no disrespect whatsoever directed at Mrs. Ford, concern about the “appropriateness” of the tribute surfaced.

At question are billboards and posters featuring the headline BFF (Betty Ford Forever) and an image of her signature bouffant silhouette. There is a billboard with said image at U.S. 131 and Franklin Street, and related posters dot the downtown landscape. Similar billboards also were reportedly erected in Palm Springs, Calif., and other cities across the country.

The tribute was created to recognize Mrs. Ford’s unique love for and friendship with former President Gerald Ford, her hometown, and all that she touched through her work, according to Rob Jackson, creative director at Extra Credit Projects, the firm that designed the campaign.

“We wanted to honor her in a simple, iconic way that reflects her spirit and energy, and is anything but the typical stodgy memorial,” he said. “We hope it also introduces her to a younger audience that may not be as familiar with her impact.”

And if that doesn’t work, maybe they can just read about her in a book.

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