Of sand and water and one mans castle

July 22, 2011
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The shifting sands are at work again. R.J. Peterson, owner of Tower Marine in Douglas and president of the Saugatuck-Douglas Chamber of Commerce, took issue with last week’s Street Talk mention of the Saugatuck dunes and developer Aubrey McClendon. And he wasn’t the only one.

“We need him a lot more than he needs us,” Peterson said. “We will not have a harbor without this man.”

So is this a debate about sand, or water? It’s a little of both, really. Some reports had nearly 500 people attempting to attend last Monday’s Saugatuck Township Board meeting regarding development and zoning issues in the area, a turnout so large that officials used the high school gymnasium last Friday to accommodate everyone at the rescheduled meeting.

But that passion, regardless of which side of the matter you are on, reflects well on other issues brewing in the region.

“There’s a lot at stake here, and people are getting involved,” Peterson said. “And I think that’s a good thing.”

In addition to the dunes and harbor, officials from the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas, as well as Saugatuck Township, are putting together consolidation plans that would combine the three to provide better services at reduced costs. Sounds similar to the One Kent and Muskegon proposals (see page 1).

“The three communities combined — that would benefit everyone,” Peterson said.

But what might be an even bigger benefit is the presence of a civic-minded developer with deep pockets. By most accounts, this would describe McClendon. There have been reports that McClendon is spending about $800,000 to build a sea wall, is willing to sell a big chunk of his land for use as a state park, and has taken an interest in the area’s harbor/marina situation.

“I believe Saugatuck and Mr. McClendon have a real opportunity to advance a promising and entirely timely model for how sustainable and prosperous 21st century waterfronts look, feel and function,” said Andy Guy, McClendon’s PR counsel on the project and director of metropolitan and environmental initiatives for Wondergem Consulting in GR.

Some may remember Guy’s stint with the Michigan Land Use Institute and question his intentions, but Guy assures that he’s still on the side of the environment—as long as the truth is used.

“This land has a long and interesting story that confirms it’s not the ‘untouched’ place some would have us believe,” he said. “Sad to see extremists devaluing words like ‘pristine’ and grossly distorting facts to make people stupid, confused and afraid of change.”

Peterson is supportive of that philosophy, believing that people should see exactly what they are talking about before making negative comments.

To that end, he recently spent time with Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell (a staunch “greenie” if ever there was one) and showed him around the Saugatuck/Douglas area, even going so far as to check out the waterfront and see McClendon’s model for the project.

“We are losing our harbor,” Peterson said. “Birds can walk way out and they barely get their knees wet!”

Peterson said he and Heartwell had a “pleasant” conversation, but he wasn’t sure the mayor would stop “bad-mouthing” McClendon’s plans.

But maybe Heartwell gained a little perspective.

“I didn’t see him running DeVos or Van Andel out of town,” Peterson said.

Greener grass

The city of Grand Rapids is mulling ways to allow garbage to pile up in backyards.

The West Michigan Environmental Action Council reports on its blog that the city is “in the early phases” of an initiative that could make kitchen scrap and/or backyard composting available to its citizens.

For now, however, composting kitchen scraps and garden produce (or what WMEAC calls “backyard greenwaste”) is illegal within the city limits due to sanitary concerns such as increased rodent populations and the diseases they can spread, foul odors and unsightly compost piles.

There are just a few details to work out, but city officials are warming to the idea.

“(Composting) is a great way to garden organically,” Virginia Million, the city’s code compliance manager, told WMEAC’s blog. “(The rules) have been this way as far back as I can remember. Grand Rapids would be worried about (incorrect) kitchen waste being included in the composted materials. Anything cooked with butter or grease would be attractive to pests, and we’d want to avoid that. We need a simple policy with good guidelines.”

No butter or grease? That would eliminate just about every traditional Dutch cook from participating in the composting program.

Anyway, this idea has more legs than one might imagine. A group of Grand Valley State University researchers reportedly has completed a study evaluating composting best practices for comparable urban settings in the United States.

City officials may have to look no further than neighboring East Grand Rapids, where composting is allowed as long as it doesn’t “become an uncontained mess” or “incite problems with neighbors.”

That’s a relief!

Two years ago, International Aid Inc. announced it would be ceasing operations following a period of economic strife. Last week, the 30-year-old Christian relief organization announced that it had shipped more than $116 million worth of health products and medical equipment to the poorest regions of the world over the past 12 months.

How does that happen? After a period of transition, including staff reductions and a narrowing of focus to health products and reconditioned medical equipment, a leaner organization emerged.

“To go from having announced our doors were closing in June 2009 to sending over $185 million of aid in the past two years is nothing short of miraculous,” said CEO Brian Anderson. “It is truly humbling to be a part of a ministry where God’s blessing and faithfulness is so evident and tangible.”

The $116 million is a record high for International Aid and represents a 123 percent increase from the average amount of aid shipped over the previous seven years.

The medical supplies and equipment were shipped to Haiti, Uganda, Liberia, Israel and Japan internationally, while Arizona, Alabama and Missouri also received assistance.

Timely advice

For the second year in a row, words of advice from Kelly Springer, a partner at Plante & Moran PLLC, will be included in The 2012 Woman’s Advantage Share Wisdom Calendar.

Springer’s quote was chosen from more than 5,000 submissions for the calendar, which features inspirational advice from successful women. Her quote — “Find your leadership style by allowing your values and vision to set your course” — will appear along with her photo on one of the calendar’s 365 pages.

Springer, a CPA, joined Plante & Moran in 1991 and became a partner in the firm’s Assurance Services Practice Group in 2004. The Woman’s Advantage is a line of information products, including books, workbooks, audio CDs and calendars designed exclusively for successful women business owners.

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