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Jan 2008
January 21, 2008

Warner Norcross, Citizens' Group Close Composting Loopholes in Michigan Legislation

Leading environmental law firm Warner Norcross & Judd LLP and a citizens' group representing four townships in Southeast Michigan have successfully worked to pass legislation that strengthens commercial composting regulations in the state.

The Southfield law firm and the Four Township Citizens' Coalition, or T4TCC, lobbied in support of Public Act 212, which provides greater regulatory oversight for large commercial composting operations. The act, which was signed into law on Dec. 31, amends Part 115 of Michigan's Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to ensure composting operations engage in environmentally sound practices and minimize the risk of becoming a nuisance to neighboring communities.

Specifically, Public Act 212 requires large operations that are commercially composting yard clippings to:

  • Have appropriate setbacks from residential development, churches, schools and hospitals
  • Be isolated from surface and ground water and potable wells,
  • Register with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
  • Limit the accumulation of material
  • Maintain records of composting activities

Warner Norcross and T4TCC worked closely with Sen. Alan Sanborn, Rep. Daniel Acciavatti, Macomb County Commissioner Keith Rengert, Lenox Township Supervisor John Gardner, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau of Michigan and other key stakeholders to develop the legislation.

"Public Act 212 addresses a fundamental waste disposal problem that dates back to the 1990s," said Steve Kohl, a partner at Warner Norcross concentrating in environmental law. "Working cooperatively with state legislators, county officials and Michigan agencies interested in the environment, we have been able to put a reasonable structure in place that will ensure the disposal of yard clippings is handled in an appropriate manner – without adding undue burdens to the composting industry."

Macomb County has had recent experience demonstrating that without assuring proper management, some of these operations can create problems for their communities.”

T4TCC is comprised of homeowners in Lenox, Richmond, Armada and Ray townships who became concerned in 2006 when a composting facility expressed an interest in locating near a residential development in the four-community area. Residents learned that there was a large regulatory gap when it came to commercial composting operations created in the mid-1990s by passage of a prohibition on yard clippings in landfills.

That law recognized that organic material had a "higher and better use" than being relegated to the landfill. Yet Kohl said that the restriction created an unintentional regulatory gap that left the management of yard clippings collected by commercial waste haulers without a set of rules to govern them.

The coalition grew from a handful of concerned neighbors in northern Macomb County to more than 300 dedicated property owners. A petition drive advocating the legislation yielded more than 1,500 signatures, which demonstrated the significance of the issue.

"Our community is very fortunate to have Lansing representation with the persistence and tenacity as Senator Alan Sanborn and Representative Daniel Acciavatti," said Dr. Jared Slanec, a resident of Lenox Township and director of T4TCC. "Our efforts also were magnified via the guidance and leadership of Macomb County Commissioner Keith Rengert. Our community owes these leaders a sincere and remembered thank you.

"Additionally, we sought allies, and found our most significant to be Lenox Township and their board of trustees. Supervisor John Gardner and his board continue to be our most staunch advocate through our efforts."

Dennis Klein, a director of T4TCC and resident of Richmond Township, noted: “As homeowners, we demanded a legislative remedy that provided for protection from commercial composters utilizing agriculturally zoned land. Public Act 212 provides such a vehicle without adversely affecting legitimate farming.

"We appreciate the efforts of Warner Norcross, the legislators, government officials and the state agencies involved who worked to close a critical loophole. T4TCC will remain vigilant in our community to ensure that this important new law is enforced."

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About Warner Norcross & Judd

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP is one of the leading law firms in Michigan. With more than 200 attorneys in Southfield, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Holland and Muskegon, Warner Norcross is a full-service provider of legal services. Nearly half of our partners are listed in the 2007 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. Warner Norcross was also named the best corporate law firm in West Michigan by Corporate Board Member magazine for the third year in a row. Warner Norcross has been recognized as a national leader in client service among law firms by BTI Consulting, as one of the nation’s leading employment law firms by Workforce Management, as one of the 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For in both West Michigan and Metro Detroit and as one of the Best Michigan Businesses by Corp! Magazine. The Firm represents local, statewide, regional, national and international clients in all areas of business and civil law.

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