Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 26, 2013

Benzie village at odds with farmer over migrant housing

ELBERTA — Benzie County fruit farmer Loy Putney said he can't wait any longer.

Putney wants to move migrant families who work in his apple, cherry and peach orchards into an old motel he's renovated on the Village of Elberta's south side. But he's had no success obtaining a permit from village officials, whom he accuses of deliberately stalling to keep his workers out of the community.

"I produce three million pounds of fruit a year. It takes a lot of people," Putney said. "What they are trying to do is delay this another summer."

Putney spent more than a year trying to get village officials to approve his plans. The issue sparked a court case and accusations of racial bias against Hispanic American migrant workers.

Village officials dispute Putney's claims and contend he's failed to follow rules necessary to attain a permit to house migrants.	

'No place to go'

Elberta is nestled on the Lake Michigan shoreline across Betsie Bay from Frankfort, its more upscale neighbor. There have been talks of condominiums taking root in the shadows of old produce warehouses and industrial relics.

Mexican-American worker Clemencia Rojo now calls Elberta home. She's worked in Michigan since she was 14, lived in one of Putney's two former camps for two years, and said the new apartments in the former Bay View Motel are a big improvement. Her children attend Frankfort-Elberta schools and the building is near a field where he son practices baseball.

"Over here we live in town," she said. "Where we used to live was a ranch."

Rojo's family is one of three families Putney recently moved into the former Bay View Motel without the village's permission. The village recently filed a stop work order for Putney to cease construction and remove all the occupants.

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