This article originally appeared in the November 21, 2002 Gongwer News Service. Copyright 2002, Gongwer News Service. All rights reserved.
By issuing bonds to fund the Clean Michigan Initiative, the state added some 60 percent to the costs of the program with questionable environmental impact, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said in a report released Thursday.
The Clean Michigan Initiative: An Assessment said the total cost for the $675 million in bonds will cost $1.08 billion with interest and administrative fees. The $153.6 million already issued will carry $91.2 million in interest and $346,000 in administrative fees, the report said.
And the report said the use of the money is questionable given the professed goal of improving the environment. "A substantial portion of the money is reserved for commercial, recreational and aesthetic improvements that will yield relatively minor environmental benefits," the report said.
The most praiseworthy part of the total effort, the report said, was the $90 million set aside for water quality programs, including $4 million for water quality monitoring. "These programs, while somewhat duplicative of other state and federal efforts, are more defensible that subsidizing a skateboard platform in Huntington Woods or bathrooms for Clinton Township's Historic Village," the report said.
But Pat Spitzley, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the recreation money was specifically set aside in the bonds and could not have been used for other purposes.
Even the water quality programs, which include pollution prevention and sediment cleanup, "may return some marginal benefits, but at substantial cost," the report said.
In addition to chastising the state for the money spent on local recreation projects from the bonds, the report also questioned using the funds for state park improvements given the funds available through the State Park Endowment Fund.
Again, Ms. Spitzley said, that money was set aside in the legislation allowing the bonds for state park projects.
The report was particularly critical of the brownfield cleanup efforts, which represent $263 million of the total bond issue. It called the expectation that cleaning up the sites would lead to new development on them "unrealistic". "Ground contamination is only one of myriad factors that dissuade urban redevelopment," the report said. "Investors are also drawn to suburban development for many reasons other than availability of uncontaminated property."
The report noted that of six projects completed in 1999 and rated as "excellent" fro redevelopment opportunity, none have been developed. And of 12 rated as "good" completed that year, one is a public parking lot and only one is under private ownership.
"More progress might have been achieved had the state evaluated prospects for brownfield redevelopment before funding decisions were made," it said. "Instead, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality essentially guessed that tens of millions of dollars invested in specific brownfield cleanups would spur private investment and job creation."
"The money was not given to the communities contingent upon sale of the properties," Ms. Spitzley said. "We went in with the realization those properties may not be sold overnight."
In some cases, she said, the properties have been black listed and will take some time to attract buyers.
But she said the goal in part was to clean up urban contamination areas with the eventual goal of then redeveloping those sites.
The report also questioned the oversight of the funding, noting that the statute allowing the bond required performance reviews every two years that neither the auditor general nor the DEQ or DNR have performed those reviews.
But Ms. Spitzley said the local units receiving the funds are required to provide detailed quarterly reports that include goals of the project and whether those goals have been met. The reports are required to be submitted before the local agencies are eligible for reimbursement, she said.