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Candidates for $25K environmental grant sought



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March 20, 2013 - Oxford Township officials are considering applying for a $25,000 environmental grant from a Canadian-based energy distribution company, but first they want to find a deserving group, program or project that could really use that kind of money.

"I would just ask this board that we (be given) an opportunity to look at all of the entities in our township that do not receive grants or funds through millages (but) may need enhancements (pertaining) to trees, that may need drainage projects," said Trustee Jack Curtis.

Officials are looking to apply for funds through an environmental stewardship grant program administered by Enbridge, Inc. They will revisit the issue at the May 8 township board meeting.

Oxford is eligible for this grant because Enbridge has a large-diameter interstate crude oil pipeline (Line 6B) that runs through the northern end of the township. The company will be replacing this line at some point later this year (see related story below).

Eligible projects for Enbridge's grant program include park enhancements or development; tree planting programs; wetland improvements; environmental education for schools or other groups; lake/stream improvements such as invasive species control; promoting recycling initiatives; small-scale drainage improvements; enhancing natural habitats; and providing matching funds for larger natural resource and environmental projects.

"We encourage you to utilize these funds to support programs that foster a deeper appreciation of the environment and enhance the experiences of residents and visitors across the region," wrote Enbridge representative Thomas Hodge in a Feb. 12 letter to township Supervisor Bill Dunn.

"I would ask that you keep (those words) in mind when you allocate these funds because it is very generous of the Enbridge company to do (this)," said Ron Davis, director of the Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Department, as he addressed the township board. "I've never heard of anything like this . . . for a company to invest this type of money in a community."

Davis requested the township pursue the grant in order to fund enhancements and repairs to the trail that runs through Powell Lake Township Park, located off Pontiac Rd., behind the Oxford Public Library.

"This popular 1-mile (handicapped accessible) asphalt trail is used year-round by countless residents and nonresidents," Davis wrote in a March 7 memo to the board. "It provides a variety of educational and health benefits and fosters stewardship by its users."

Unfortunately, there are areas of the trail where the asphalt has been upheaved by tree roots or has deteriorated due to constant exposure to the elements.

Some repair work must also be done to the wooden boardwalks that allow users to pass over wetland areas. These boardwalks keep the trail accessible and protect the native plant and animal life from foot traffic.

"We've got about $20,000 to $25,000 worth of repairs to do out there," Davis said. "Instead of taking it out of our general fund, we'd like to utilize this (grant) to make those repairs and put in some additional stuff."

If there's enough money, Davis would like to install some park benches and trash cans.

"We've had them out there in the past and they've been vandalized," Davis said. "We just never put them back in because of limited funds."

Davis told the board that if his department received the Enbridge grant, it could then "invest" the $25,000 it saves on Powell Lake "somewhere else in our park system."

"Currently we have about $90,000 worth of repairs (to do) at Stony (Lake Township Park)," he said. "We have a tremendous amount of work to do and this (grant) will not make or break us, but it would certainly be nice (to have)."

Treasurer Joe Ferrari supported the idea of applying on the parks department's behalf because he viewed Davis' request as "more of a pressing need."

"(The grant) could be spent pretty quickly on something of value right now," he said.

The other option was to use the grant money to help solve the drainage problem in the Elk View subdivision. But given that situation has been going on for about 13 years with no end in sight, Ferrari viewed using the grant for that issue as a "wait and see" type of a thing, instead of an immediate fix like the Powell Lake Park trail.

Curtis noted that Davis "is a great director of our parks." He complimented him for having "his claws" in this grant opportunity "before anybody would even think of grabbing it."

That being said, Curtis wants the township board to see if there's a need for this money anywhere else.

"I'm willing to bet that the money will end up in the parks department, but I would at least like us to take a look," he said. "Is there something we're missing?"

"With all the committees that we're on, we should be able to come up with something (else) or we can come back with a motion for the parks," Curtis noted.

Clerk Curtis Wright agreed.

"The grant application isn't due until the end of the year, so it's not like this board has to act and make a decision tonight on this," he said. "There's still time to look at it and if there's a more pressing need than (the Powell Lake Park trail or Elk View's drainage problem), then we should explore (it)."

However, Trustee Curtis expressed his concern about the possibility of taking money from Enbridge given the company is planning to do some construction work here.

"We need to discuss amongst ourselves whether or not (we) want to sleep with the Devil," he said. "There's other township supervisors cautioning me that we should look deep before we take this grant."

If Oxford is awarded this environmental grant, it would be the third one the community has received from Enbridge.

Last year, the energy company awarded a $1,000 grant to the Oxford Fire Department as part of its Safe Community Program. The year before that, the department received a $2,500 grant from Enbridge. The department's used this money to purchase equipment such as two combustible gas detection meters, two pairs of high-powered binoculars and two bags for carrying equipment.

Given Enbridge's work has the potential to create environmental, health and safety problems such as spills involving hazardous materials, the fire department felt having this type of equipment was necessary.

In July 2010, Enbridge was responsible for an oil spill that resulted from a pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan. The oil spilled into a creek connected to the Kalamazoo River.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the spill prompted the costliest onshore cleanup in U.S. history at more than $800 million. It was widely considered one of the worst oil spills ever in the Midwest.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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