Two years ago North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan, opened its doors to receive out-of-state prisoners from Vermont and Washington State. On April 19, 2017, the prison filed notice with the State of Michigan it would permanently close on June 20, 2017, laying off 107 employees due to non-renewal of the client contract. Of the 370 Vermont Department of Correction prisoners that originally arrived from Kentucky in 2015, less than 200 prisoners remain. GEO Group had the option to extend the contract after two years, but decided not to renew it.
In December of 2016, GEO Group announced North Lake likely would not renew their contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections when it expired in June of 2017. In late March, a report from 9 & 10 News quoted Baldwin Village President James Truxton that GEO Group would be expanding operations with hundreds of jobs and providing funds to upgrade the waste water treatment plant. It was also mentioned that the prison might be converted into a federal detention center for undocumented workers.
As of April 19, 2017, none of the above will be happening. The contract with Vermont will not be renewed, 107 employees will be laid off permanently, and the prison will close for good. GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut, has struggled to keep the facility open. In 1999, the prison was used to house juvenile offenders, but numerous complaints and violations made the state of Michigan not renew the contract with the “punk prison” in 2005. In 2011, the prison opened briefly after signing a contract with the California Department of Corrections. The prison sat empty until the spring of 2015, when the announcement came that GEO Group had signed contracts with Vermont and Washington State to fill the prison to capacity. Mass hirings took place at the Michigan Works office in Baldwin, and by July 1, 2015, the prison opened with 370 inmates. By October of 2015, the number of inmates slowly dwindled as they were shipped back to Vermont, and the first layoffs began. Washington State Department of Corrections assured GEO Group they had no intention of shipping prisoners to Michigan days after the contract was signed.
What will become of the prison complex now is uncertain. GEO Group offered to lease North Lake to Michigan in 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama-era decision for the Bureau of Prisons to stop using for-profit prison companies on February 21, 2017. Will North Lake eventually become a detention center for undocumented workers, or will it sit empty forever? What’s certain is that on June 20, 2017, 107 employees will join the unemployment line in Northern Michigan.
Last night the Osceola Township Planning Commission denied a request by Nestlé Waters North America to build a pumping station as part of their intention to double the amount of ground water they extract and sell as Ice Mountain Spring Water.
Last fall, Nestlé began the process to double their output at the White Pine Springs location from 150 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute. They submitted an application with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality using a rule that had never been used before, but existed in the department’s rule book since 2008. Public comment is ongoing, and a public hearing was held on April 12, 2017 at Ferris State University. Overwhelming opposition to Nestlé’s application dominated the proceedings.
The township commission heard from both Nestlé and the public last night before entering a closed session. The permit was denied in a vote after the closed session ended. Nestlé still has the option to appeal the decision after they amend their request to answer questions and concerns of the Planning Commission.
Public outcry against Nestlé’s plan to drain the Muskegon River for profit is working. Water is a natural resource that should be free fall citizens of Michigan.
Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017
Here’s a small sampling :
30 tweets about the Chinese being currency manipulators. Better deflect them with my amazingly easy, beautiful, electoral college win and how about those tiny Soros paid protesters folks.
The Ice Mountain logo of Nestlé North America depicts a snow-covered mountain top; an image meant to make the consumer think the water came from some pristine glacial melt. The reality of Ice Mountain water is it comes out of the ground in Northern Michigan along the Muskegon River. We’re blessed with an abundance of water here. We have numerous lakes, rivers, cold-water trout streams as well as creeks, swamps, and wetlands. Enjoying the water draws many people from ‘downstate’ to visit this area.
Sixteen years ago, Nestlé came to Michigan. They settled in Osceola and Mecosta Counties to take advantage of the resources here and profit from them. For two hundred dollars per year, they have the state’s permission to pump 200,000 gallons of water every day out of the ground and sell it in plastic bottles anywhere in the world they want. Water taken away from the state never to return.
Nestlé now wants permission to raise the amount of water they take out of the ground every day. They want to double it, which means they will now have permission to pump four hundred gallons per minute out of the ground, rather than the one hundred and fifty they extract now. Will the extra water mean more jobs? No, not really. Will the extra draw of water have any impact on the water table and quality of the ground water in the area? That is a question Nestlé nor the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality seems interested in, or concerned about to answer.
There has been plenty of public outcry. From locals who live in the area, to people around the state struggling for access to water, such as Detroit and Flint. Residents of those cities pay more in a month to use water for their households than Nestlé pays all year to take water out of the ground and sell it for a profit. It’s no surprise people are outraged and protesting against the MDEQ potentially approving Nestlé’s application for more water.
On Wednesday, April 12, 2017, the MDEQ hosted a hearing at Ferris State University for public comment. They said the hearing would begin at four o’clock in the afternoon, and run until nine in the evening. Those of us who arrived at four were in for a number of surprises.
First, MDEQ failed to disclose before the hearing that Nestlé refused invitations to attend.
Second, at four o’clock the only thing happening in the ballroom were people socializing while a six minute video played on repeat over and over and over and over providing a brief summary of Nestlé’s application and “research.” What stood out the most was a pie chart that showed when compared to other “industrial” use, Nestlé Waters made up a tiny fraction of the water consumption in Michigan.
Third, the actual public hearing wouldn’t start until seven in the evening, nearly three hours away.
At the DEQ public hearing for Nestlé to double water output. Nestle declined invitation to attend pic.twitter.com/Yoy0CI5WbG
— Up North Progressive (@UpNorthProgress) April 12, 2017
Fourth, the MDEQ had no intention of making any sort of actual presentation to the masses. The information they offered was the looping video and piles of colored paper with what they claimed was their research and the application process.
So while the video looped every six minutes for three hours, The Up North Progressive chatted with a retired groundwater specialist from Kalamazoo. Connie Leatherman spent time talking to the many MDEQ employees standing behind tables with the same colorful photocopies of information and asking questions that weren’t addressed in their handouts. How deep was this well at White Pine Springs? What medium was it in? Why is there no data on private wells on the pie chart of water consumption in the region?
— Up North Progressive (@UpNorthProgress) April 12, 2017
These were the answers given to Connie: The well is 190 feet deep, and the medium is all sand. As for the data on private wells, the MDEQ doesn’t regulate wells on private property, so it wasn’t included in their pie chart. Connie said that with the well extracting from sand, the draw isn’t as wide as it would be with clay or bedrock, and that was a good thing. What was bad about the MDEQ’s information however was that private property wells were nowhere in their research. Also, all of the other industries using water in the region (they included hydroelectricity plants and agriculture-two industries that do use large amounts of water) don’t permanently remove water out of the state. The only industry which does that is Nestlé.
At seven o’clock the big meeting finally started. We listened to about eight minutes of rules on how people were allowed speak and when they would be called. Over a hundred people had signed up to speak, and the MDEQ made it clear that the volume of speakers would have no impact on their decision, only the speakers who provided real scientific evidence would be considered. Also, there was a three minute time limit to speak.
And then it began. First up was Peggy Case of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. She gave a fact-filled speech about the real impact doubling the water taken from the White Pine Springs would have on the water table, cold water trout streams and wetlands in the area. When she finished she received a standing ovation.
Some local news sources made it seem as if there was an equal balance of speakers for and against Nestlé being approved for the application. That couldn’t be more false. Out of the over one hundred who spoke at the hearing, only four were in favor, and two of them were employed by Nestlé. The other two represented the Mecosta County Economic Development Corporation and Big Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Heather Briggs was one employee who defiantly insisted Nestlé was a good employer and contributed to the community. A former County Commissioner from Osceola County countered that when Nestlé came to Michigan in 2001 it was because Wisconsin forced them to leave. The Osceola Board of Commissioners asked the company then if they would establish an escrow account and put five percent of their gross profits into the county. Nestlé said no to both requests. Despite the County Commissioners denying Nestlé then, zoning was changed and the company moved into Evart.
— Up North Progressive (@UpNorthProgress) April 12, 2017
Bus loads of people from Flint and Detroit were there. One Detroit resident suggested that
Nestlé be forced to pay for water what Detroit Residents have to pay. A Flint resident spoke about the outrage that the residents of the city are paying for water they can’t even drink. The room erupted with DO YOUR JOB at one point. One speaker from Wisconsin said that Nestlé is greedy and wicked. A minister who had been at Standing Rock said that water was not a resource, it was the source. Elizabeth Zipp pointed out during her three minutes that Nestlé not only pays two hundred dollars per year to pump 200,000 gallons of water every day, but they also receive $13 million from the state in tax credits. Bill Cobbs, a candidate for Governor of Michigan suggested that an injunction be filed against the MDEQ if they approve the application. Other citizen organizations represented their views, such as Michigan Environmental Council, FLOW, The Detroit People’s Water Board Coalition, and the Water Protectors.
— Up North Progressive (@UpNorthProgress) April 13, 2017
The MDEQ admitted the data showing no adverse affects would result from the increase in pumping water was based on a computer model provided by Nestlé and not based on any real time studies of the area. Demands for a two year moratorium on granting the application so the USGS could provide a real-time study of the area were repeated throughout the hearing.
By nine o’clock, the MDEQ members called for a break. The people who came from Detroit and Flint went back to their bus to head home, and those remaining talked about what had taken place. People were unhappy with the MDEQ for the three hours of dead time before the hearing began. They felt that Nestlé provided too much of the data proving their application wouldn’t harm the environment even when the computer model showed the water table and surrounding wetlands would be affected. The head waters of the Chippewa Creek are already running dry from Nestlé’s activity. Everyone agreed real-time studies needed to be done by an independent organization such as the United States Geological Service.
The last thing Up North Progressive heard while passing by Bryce Feighner, director of drinking water at the MDEQ, everything he heard tonight he had already heard before. Not the words of someone seriously considering public comment and the overwhelming disapproval of Nestlé North America.
Public comment can still be left with the Michigan DEQ until April 21, 2017.
Just in time for the March for Science, the first protest in space – or in this case, the Stratosphere. Enjoy!
In a bid to save his 2011 corporate tax cuts of $1.8 billion dollars from the Michigan state budget, today Governor Rick Snyder, in a rare visit to his office in Lansing, signed a bill requiring the state to accept bids from private contractors to operate the Michigan State Police beginning April 1, 2018. Michigan House Bill 1066 is now PA 1022
The Michigan State Police provide a number of services that serve and protect the people of the state of Michigan, including highway patrol, criminal investigations, special services such as SWAT and dive teams, coordinate disaster relief, provide safety inspections for school buses and commercial vehicles, and uphold law enforcement standards for the state.
“I believe in competitive bidding — versus privatization — but we’ve went through the competitive bidding process in the past and we found good answers.” Governor Snyder said in a brief statement at the signing ceremony earlier this morning. “After successfully contracting our prison food service and creating our own school district within Detroit Public Schools, we know this is the right route to take in providing the best service for the people of Michigan. It will save us money and hopefully provide better service.”
“The Michigan State Police have chauffeured me back and forth from Ann Arbor to Lansing and back for years now, and I know they do a good job.” Snyder added, “They also do a good job providing security, but at forty thousand to sixty thousand dollars salary per trooper plus benefits, there has to be some streamlining possible.”
The Michigan State Police refused to return all calls requesting comment.