In 2002, while looking for a lost cow, Benzie County farmer Charles Brozofsky discovered that a stream running through his property had turned orange and smelled like a sewer. The trout that used to swim in the creek were gone.
After an extensive investigation, state environmental regulators asked then Attorney General Mike Cox to approve felony and misdemeanor charges against Graceland Fruit Inc. and waste hauler Kevin Bonney of Bonney Bros. Pumping Co. of Honor for dumping hundreds of loads of blueberry juice from Graceland in a nearby gravel pit.
But Cox — who had political links to Graceland owner Donald Nugent — refused.
Today, pollution problems linked to the dumping of blueberry juice apparently remain, and last week 10 Benzie County residents filed a new lawsuit over what they say are ongoing environmental problems.
It can certainly be argued that Cox's decision to not bring charges — a decision his office refused to explain — took much of the steam out of efforts to force Graceland and Bonney Bros. to undertake the extensive remediation effort required to clean up their mess and make homeowners whole.
Without the threat of criminal charges, civil suits were homeowners' only option.
Nugent was a big name in local, regional and state business and politics; he was on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, a contributor to Republican party candidates and called himself a friend of Cox, also a high-profile Republican.
Cox's only effort was to later negotiate a civil settlement.
Brozofsky sued Graceland and Bonney Bros. and settled in 2008 for $95,000, said his attorney, Christopher Bzdok, of Traverse City. The settlement also involved long-term cleanup requirements and regular stream monitoring.
Also in 2008 the DEQ said the companies promised to investigate and remediate groundwater contamination and restore the stream's condition and agreed to pay $150,000 to settle the DEQ's allegations, and $100,000 in compensation for damages to state natural resources.
State environmental laws allow for criminal prosecutions for a reason. There are cases like this one when civil recourse isn't enough. The DEQ thought charges were warranted and explained why. Cox never did give his reasons for failing to act. And here we are.
Does 'no' really mean 'no?'