Environment Picture

Coalition slams brakes on controversial Big Rock nuclear park proposal

But plan to buy former atomic site will return in late 2007
An MEC-led coalition helped stop a controversial proposal to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to acquire the grounds of the former Big Rock Point nuclear power plant near Charlevoix.

 The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board had been asked in December to allocate $3 million in 2007—and commit to about $17 million more in future years—to acquire roughly 350 acres of the land, which includes more than a mile of undisturbed Lake Michigan shoreline and surrounds dangerous atomic waste. A revised purchase plan is expected to return late this year.

The proposal, initiated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was plagued with uncertainties about cost, liability, potential legacy contamination and the specter of 64 tons of dangerous atomic waste that would remain under heavy guard in the midst of the property. The plant was shut down in 1997 after 35 years of nuclear power generation.

Three days before the Dec. 6 Trust Fund Board vote, neither state officials nor the property’s owner, Consumers Energy Co., were able to answer basic questions, including the acreage involved in the purchase, the price, whether state taxpayers would assume liability for legacy contamination, and whether independent contractors had certified the property free of contaminants released during 63 reported toxic spills, leaks and overflows that occurred at the site.

State officials withdrew the plan on the eve of the vote, paving the way for the money to be used for several other Trust Fund projects. The Trust Fund money, from oil and gas revenues, acquires and improves lands for public recreation.

DNR officials said they would resolve liability and cost questions before returning to the Trust Fund Board with a revised proposal late in 2007.

MEC President Lana Pollack, who is one of the Trust Fund Board’s five members, has expressed serious reservations about buying public recreational land in the midst of dangerous radioactive waste. The waste, under armed guard in a 100-acre zone that would be off limits to the public, is a potential terrorist target. It also will stay there until at least 2020—the earliest possible date that a new federal atomic waste repository could open at Yucca Mountain NV.

But the plan has support from several conservation groups and environmentalists, including the Little Traverse Conservancy and the North Woods Call newspaper. They contend the risks are minimal compared to the historic opportunity to buy an intact, undisturbed piece of Great Lakes shoreline for future generations.

They fear the likely alternative is selling the land to private developers who might rim the shoreline with condominiums or worse—depriving the public of access and doing nothing to minimize risks.

Groups who opposed the proposed state acquisition of the Big Rock property in December included:

Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination
Citizens Resistance at Fermi Two
Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes
Don’t Waste Michigan
The Ecology Center
Environment Michigan
Friends of the Detroit River
Great Lakes United
HEAT–Hamtramck Environmental Action Team
Home for Peace and Justice
Huron Environmental Activist League (HEAL)
IHM Justice, Peace and Sustainability Office
Les Cheneaux Watershed Council
Lone Tree Council
Michigan Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Michigan Environmental Council
National Environmental Trust
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Tittabawassee River Watch
Wayne State University College Democrats
-Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Michigan Environmental Council
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