State rejects Kalamazoo’s plan to make tax breaks for smelly factories dependent on odor reduction

KALAMAZOO, MI – The town of Kalamazoo must return to the drawing board on its plan to give Graphic Packaging International a tax break while working to reduce the odor associated with the plant that has plagued its residential neighbors, according to a city official.

After hearing citizen complaints about odors from Graphic Packaging International, the Kalamazoo City Commission approved tax breaks for an expansion of the recycling giant and paper production in September. But city leaders made the benefit dependent on measured progress in reducing odors at the plant.

Now, the state of Michigan has said the city’s idea of ​​giving conditional tax relief won’t work, according to a report to the city’s commission.

Kalamazoo City’s Community Investment Director Antonio Mitchell said the state has informed the city that it will not allow conditional tax relief approvals and that this matter will need to be referred to the commission of the city ​​for action. Mitchell raised the issue at the August 2 committee meeting.

City spokesman Ryan Bridges did not immediately provide state documentation at MLive’s request.

On September 2, 2020, the Kalamazoo Town Commission approved an application by Graphic Packaging International for a PA 198 Industrial Facilities Tax Exemption Certificate for real estate valued at $ 191 million.

At the September meeting before giving the approval, Kalamazoo commissioner Jack Urban proposed to amend the resolution to approve GPI’s tax break for six years, with the approval being extended subject to compliance. the city’s commitment to install four odor control units and one complete odor. mitigation works in underground pipelines.

Mayor David Anderson said at the September meeting that he asked the city attorney to draft an amendment to the resolution to incorporate certain environmental criteria for the tax abatement, according to the meeting minutes, and City Attorney Clyde Robinson shared the language at the meeting.

The change in September amended the resolution to provide an additional exemption period upon sufficient proof of compliance with the local agreement by Graphic Packaging, including the installation of odor monitoring sensors by Graphic Packaging, compliance with regulations state and federal and good faith working with the city’s odor task force to implement corrective action if necessary, the minutes said.

Additionally, the city manager has been tasked with providing quarterly reports to the city commission on the progress of odor remediation efforts by Graphic Packaging and the city’s wastewater collection facility.

The city of Kalamazoo has approved an industrial facility exemption request for Graphic Packaging International for one year, beginning December 31, 2020 and expiring December 30, 2021, according to Ron Leix, deputy head of public information at the Treasury Department of the United States. Michigan.

The City of Kalamazoo resolution states that the exemption would be extended for additional periods of two years (starting December 31, 2021 and expiring December 30, 2023), three years (starting December 31, 2023 and expiring December 30, 2026) and six years (beginning December 31, 2026 and expiring December 30, 2032), upon sufficient proof of compliance with an agreement by Graphic Packaging, including the installation of odor monitoring sensors by the company.

The agreement states that GPI will work in good faith with the city’s odor task force to implement corrective actions if necessary, and the city manager has further been tasked with providing quarterly reports to the city commission on advancing odor decontamination efforts by Graphic Packaging and the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

For the certificate expiration to be extended up to 12 years, the applicant should follow the stipulations included in the approval resolution and request the extension.

The city would then be required to approve or deny the request by resolution, Leix said.

At this time, the State Tax Commission has not received any extension requests and cannot take any action until we receive an amendment request requesting an extension, Leix said.

MLive released a survey on August 16, 2021, which shows the state of Michigan is part of an asthma prevalence survey in the neighborhood near the GPI plant and wastewater treatment facility. from the city. A family living in the Northside neighborhood of Kalamazoo has experienced severe cases of asthma, including a fatal case that claimed the life of a 17-year-old who suffered from asthma her entire life.

State and federal authorities are addressing health issues related to the problem and the region.

Toxicologists from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services met with epidemiologists from the Chronic Disease Epidemiology Section of the MDHHS in March 2021 to discuss the possibility of performing an assessment of the prevalence of asthma and hospitalizations associated with Kalamazoo. and in the community surrounding Graphic Packaging and Kalamazoo. Water harvesting plant, MDHHS told MLive.

The epidemiological assessment, one of the recommended actions identified during the development of the health check being drawn up, will begin in 2021, the MDHHS said.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency deployed mobile air monitoring equipment to Kalamazoo during the week of May 10, 2021, in response to complaints from citizens and at the request of the Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Michigan Energy. The EPA has collected real-time monitoring data for hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic carbon in the air to compare measurements to health benchmarks, the agency told MLive.

A 14-year life expectancy gap exists in part of the zip code where part of the GPI factory is located. This means that people who live in certain places in the north of the city are expected to die 14 years earlier than people in another census tract nearby in the county.

In the past, city officials also discussed the issue of odors at meetings attended by commissioners, but did not allow public participation. These “small group” meetings have since been dissolved and replaced by a public committee of all meetings.

Related: Kalamazoo commissioners meet behind closed doors to discuss end of private meetings

GPI told MLive in August that the company prioritizes the health and safety of employees and operating factories in an environmentally responsible manner.

“Graphic Packaging has worked with experts and consultants over the past year and these efforts have led to process changes in our sanitation system,” GPI previously said. “The actions taken have resulted in significant improvements to help reduce the odor potential of our operations. We believe these changes have resulted in tangible progress and this is supported by feedback from stakeholders. “

The company refers to a study it commissioned in 2020, which indicates that odors from the factory are not considered “harmful odors”.

“The state assessed the potential for health impacts when it issued our air permit and concluded that there would be no health problem. We are below our permit limits and are confident that we do not have any emissions that pose a threat to health, ”the company said.

The company submitted a nuisance minimization plan in December with the state of Michigan that is partially implemented, the company said in a statement to MLive.

Related: Kalamazoo spends $ 1.7 million to suck the stench out of the city’s sewage system

GPI is also conducting a “detailed engineering study that assesses all potential sources of odor in the wastewater process, which we hope will result in additional actions offered by Graphic Packaging.”

This report is expected in September, the company said.

Residents, including those who spoke about the GPI tax break in September based on environmental issues, remain concerned.

The city’s environmental concerns committee, responsible for making recommendations to the city on environmental matters, briefly discussed the plant’s tax relief in August after the publication of MLive’s article on asthma.

Graphic Packaging International received state approval this week to use the proceeds of $ 125 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund part of its $ 615 million expansion at Kalamazoo.

Read more:

Kalamazoo plant at center of odor complaints approved for $ 125 million in tax-exempt bonds for expansion

Environmental injustice and racism in Michigan: a new MLive documentary

Asthma kills the Kalamazoo family living near a stinking factory. Now the state is investigating asthma in the neighborhood.

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