Unchecked bureaucratic regulatory power threatens personal property rights in Michigan and presents unnecessary obstacles to landowners who wish to live and conduct business in the state. As a former director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, I witnessed firsthand several attempts by regulators to usurp these rights at both the state and local levels, and endeavored to curtail such abuses by promoting common sense solutions.
One such example is the treatment meted out toward King of the Wind Farms. The equestrian facility and composting operation has battled both Macomb Township officials and employees from the MDEQ. King of the Wind Farms is owned and operated by the mother-daughter team of Dolores and Renee Michaels. The duo has remained steadfast in defending their property rights since 1989, weathering hours of legal proceedings and baseless charges before eventually emerging victorious over both the township and MDEQ in Michigan courts.
As the Michaels noted in this video, their battles cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold personal duress. The family is attempting to recover a portion of their financial losses by filing a U.S. District Court complaint. The civil action by the Michaels seeks damages and injunctive relief from several Macomb and Richmond township residents as well as Richmond Township, MDEQ and Michigan Department of Agriculture officials in their individual capacities who the Michaels want held accountable for their actions against the Michaels’ Rondigo composting operations.
The Michaels have presented a very compelling case of regulatory abuse by the MDEQ. In addition, the actions of Richmond Township officials clearly display a complete disregard for the Michaels’ legally codified private property rights.
The lawsuit stems from Rondigo’s attempt to begin composting grass and leaves for crop farming operations. Upon discovering that Rondigo was constructing a farm driveway, Richmond Township took steps to halt construction, eventually obtaining a temporary restraining order in Macomb County Circuit Court that has prevented Rondigo from using the driveway for two years. Richmond Township has been attempting to force Rondigo to comply with its engineering ordinance, which Rondigo alleges is unconstitutionally vague, does not apply to farming operations and which no other farming operation in Richmond Township has been required to follow.
Since then, Rondigo alleges that Richmond Township and residents have conspired with state officials to subject Rondigo to several onsite inspections of its farm. Even though these inspections have shown that Rondigo has not violated any aspect of its Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program ("MAEAP") certification, Rondigo alleges that several state officials with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and MDEQ have acted outside the scope of their authority to make unreasonable demands and take unlawful actions in an attempt to close Rondigo’s farming operation.
Cindy Rhodes Victor, attorney for Rondigo, has said that this is one of the worst abuses of governmental authority she has ever seen. "We have alleged numerous instances where governmental officials, both locally and within the State of Michigan, have used their position to unlawfully and maliciously prosecute Rondigo. Their actions constitute a deprivation of constitutionally protected property and liberty rights, the likes that are unparalleled to anything I’ve seen before."
It’s a shame that the only avenue to seek accountability and financial relief left open for the Michaels is another court case. Hopefully this case will remind regulators and bureaucrats they should apply common sense before attempting to deny property owners use of their land as they wish.
Russ Harding is director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.