TRAVERSE CITY -- Midland resident
Diane Hebert couldn't contain her enthusiasm Friday upon
learning of the demise of a widely criticized, state-brokered
deal with Dow Chemical Co.
"I am just thrilled," said Hebert,
among area residents and environmentalists who sued to
prevent the state Department of Environmental Quality
and Dow from cutting a deal to raise allowable dioxin
contamination levels nine-fold in Midland. "This wasn't
good for the public in any way."
The proposed deal -- a consent order
pushed by top DEQ officials in the twilight of Republican
Gov. John Engler's administration -- fell apart Friday
afternoon when Dow wouldn't accept modified language demanded
by the state attorney general's office.
"We notified the MDEQ we didn't
intend to enter into the consent order," said John Phillips,
a spokesman for the Midland-based company. "We just couldn't
get this completed this year."
Critics blasted the proposal since
a draft was released in early November. It would have
provided for "site specific" dioxin contamination standards
in Midland of 831 parts per trillion, as opposed to the
state's current 90 parts per trillion standard.
Dioxin contamination from the Midland
plant also exists in higher concentrations along a 20-mile
stretch of the Tittabawassee River floodplain downstream
Soil samples indicate that most
of the contamination around the plant site, including
some residential areas, falls between 90 and 831 parts
per trillion. Dow would have avoided potentially huge
cleanup costs under the consent order language.
Plan opponents also contended that
a health study proposed by Dow was a veiled attempt to
gloss over legitimate dioxin health contamination concerns.
DEQ Director Russell Harding, whose
term ends Monday, defended the proposed plan.
"While it continues to be my belief
that a consent order to address the dioxin contamination
in Midland is the appropriate solution, it has become
impossible at this late date to prepare a final document
that not only complies with the environmental statute,
but also reflects the substantive comments received from
all parties," he said.
Some DEQ staffers criticized the
plan, however, as well as officials with the state Department
of Community Health. Officials in both departments authored
reports and memos pointing out flaws and potential illegalities,
but those documents were withheld from the public record,
state officials said.
Also, the state attorney general's
office repeatedly criticized the proposed consent order
as illegal. Attorney general's spokesman Greg Bird said
the DEQ offered a modified consent order Monday, and after
discussions early Friday with Dow and DEQ, another document
was to be submitted Friday.
Instead, the deal died.
Phillips wouldn't discus the company's
specific problems with the modified proposed order, but
said Dow looks forward to working with new DEQ administration,
headed by Steven Chester, Democratic Gov.-elect Jennifer
Granholm's choice for director.
Traverse City attorney Chris Bzdok,
who represented the plaintiffs in the suit against Dow
and DEQ, said he will now drop the case.
"We're still going to keep a careful
eye on the process and the dioxin in Midland," he said.