[Note: This artcle was originally published on March 22, 2005, as the fourth entry in our "River of Corruption" series highlighting the failure of various public officials and institutions to respond to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste at the Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant and elsewhere.]
The Grand Rapids City Attorney's Office is the second entrant into the Hall of Shame for its role in the Toxic Towers dumping scandal. Shamelessly the lawyers of that office have allied themselves with the Boardwalk developers, who illegally dumped 26,000 tons of hazardous waste (see the "Poison" article for a description of this toxic stew) next to a residential neighborhood in Creston Heights and elsewhere in the Grand Rapids vicinity. Assistant City Attorneys Daniel Ophoff, Catherine Mish, and Janice Bailey have helped the developers' attorneys oppose every citizen suit brought on your behalf in state and federal court to clean up the contamination caused by the developers' deliberate, reckless, and dangerous dumping of toxic materials into our local environment.
Like it or not, your tax dollars, courtesy of the City Attorney's Office, are helping to defend these polluters. The Boardwalk developers didn't care who they exposed to the poisoned soil they dug up from the Boardwalk project site. To maintain the false pretense that this soil was clean, they let their workers excavate it without any protection from exposure to it. They let it wash into and contaminate the City sewer system. They let it spread across neighboring properties. And they dumped it out in the open without any containment at the nearby Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant, creating an unlicensed hazardous waste landfill there.
The City Attorney's Office could have taken your side in this matter. The Boardwalk developers dumped their hazardous waste at the Filtration Plant while the City still held title to it. Instead of parroting then-Mayor John Logie's line that nothing happened at the Filtration Plant, the City Attorney's Office could have held the polluters to account for poisoning the grounds of a nationally registered historic landmark. Instead the attorneys for the City sided with the developers, which has left taxpayers open to liability for the clean-up of the Filtration Plant and the fines attached to the developers' violations of state environmental laws. (A figure that potentially exceeds $30 billion!)
To demonstrate how callous the City Attorney's Office is toward the public interest, Assistant City Attorneys Ophoff and Mish do not even deny in court documents the facts of the illegal dumping at the Filtration Plant. Since the developers' environmental consultant disavowed the last piece of evidence claiming no illegal dumping occurred, how could they? So, no hard evidence exists to refute the videotapes, photographs, admissions by employees of the developers, and soil testing that all confirm that the Boardwalk developers dumped 20,000 tons of hazardous waste at the Filtration Plant. Yet, the City Attorney's Office continues to side with polluters.
Even worse, the City Attorney's Office deliberately destroyed evidence documenting then-Mayor Logie's successful backroom attempts to dissuade the Grand Rapids City Commission from making inquiries into the illegal dumping at the Filtration Plant. (This story has been covered in the previous installment of the series and elsewhere on this site. Click here.) Give credit for this contemptuous assault against our right to open government to Ophoff, who was responsible for the destruction of the documents, and Mish, who brazenly defended their destruction before the Michigan Court of Appeals with half-truths and evasions.
Meanwhile, dear readers, give some thought to why the City Attorney's Office, whose typical mode of operation is pusillanimity, has been so vociferous in the defense of the Boardwalk developers. Why is that Assistant City Attorneys Ophoff, Mish, and Bailey have lined up against you, whose health, safety, and pocketbook has been put in jeopardy by these remorseless polluters? You may want to put that question to the head of the City Attorney's Office, Philip Balkema. (Click here for his e-mail address.) If he won't give you a satisfactory answer, it's time to tell Mayor Heartwell and the City Commission to sweep that office clean and hire lawyers who will defend you and not the self-anointed "players" in town. (Click here for their e-mail addresses.)
Remember, folks, you pay these people. They work for you.