Opinion: An open appeal to The Docks development team

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Dear Docks Development Team,

Where to begin?

Despite the deep sadness I feel at the thought of slicing a marina into the heart of a beloved privately owned and publicly enjoyed rare dune ecosystem—and subsequently covering the surrounding area with roads and purportedly upscale houses—I am grateful for the environmental advocacy these proposals have stirred up.

I read with care and attention the letter you published in this journal on May 15, and would like to respond to a few points made therein. In italics below is referenced an excerpt from your letter:

“The Docks will bring new residents to our community, which with it brings significant tax revenue to the City, which benefits all of Muskegon. If that’s not public good, we’re not sure what is.”

The above suggests that something that brings new residents and raises tax revenue is automatically in the interest of the “public good?” Might a tobacco processing factory, a casino, a strip club, a lab using animal testing, or an adult film studio also be deemed for the “public good”? Certainly all of those potential establishments would “bring new residents to our community…(and) bring significant tax revenue to the city.”

Later in the May 15th letter you mentioned:

“…we [Sand Products Corporation] intend to follow to the letter of the law, all of the City codes.”

I think many can agree that “following the letter of the law” does not always equate to doing the right thing.  Last year, a 19-year-old in Florida was able to purchase an AR-15 by following the letter of the law. He went on to shoot and kill 17 high school students with that legally acquired weapon. Now, of course, he was not following the letter of the law when he began shooting, but the fact that he could begin shooting was resultant to the fact that he could legally obtain the gun. Similarly, it is perfectly legal for pregnant women in the United States to consume alcohol. A pregnant woman could hypothetically drink a bottle of tequila a day throughout the term of her pregnancy and do so while following the letter of the law. Point being: the sheer legality of a thing does not automatically designate it as the sensible or ethically responsible course of action. Back in the 1930s, Sand Products Corporation leveled and sold for profit a landmark sand dune deposited by a glacier during the ice age. They did this by “following the letter of the law.”

I urge you to consider that laws take a long time to be put into place, and that they are often behind the times. Up until the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, for example, there were no major laws in the United States that prevented dumping hazardous chemicals into public waterways.

Please note that environmental rights are relatively new and still often lacking when it comes to protecting sensitive ecosystems. Sometimes it is up to us as human beings to evaluate our actions using broader considerations than profit and simply checking for what is and is not “legal.”  

Human beings (not just Sand Products Corporation) have been experimenting with earth altering machines, chemicals, and power tools for only a tiny portion of recorded history (and a far smaller portion of Earth’s history). I looked up some dates of various inventions. These dates were researched using Google searches and minimal further investigation and are meant only to illustrate a basic timeline. They are as follows:

Steam engine: 1804

Power saw: 1813

Electricity: This is a tricky one. There were lots of developments throughout the 1800s. The electrical battery was first invented in 1800, and by 1835, Joseph Henry had invented the electrical relay (used to send electrical currents long distances).

Dynamite: 1867

First car with gasoline engine: 1879

Cars accessible to the masses: 1908

Electric hand drill: 1916

Bulldozer: 1923

All of these things were invented within the past 219 years. I attempted to divide 219 by the earth’s estimated 4.5 billion year existence to get the percentage of the earth’s history where humans have had the power to drastically alter its surface. The number I got was too small (for me) to even make sense of it (4.8666666666666666666666666666667e-8).

The point is: We humans have been altering the earth’s surface in extreme ways for only a minuscule period of time, yet have claimed and conformed the vast majority of it to our own purpose. Consider the power line: There were no power lines before 1835. Today, how often can we go outside without seeing them? It has been less than 200 years since the first power line went up and now everywhere one goes they seem to be present.

Please don’t mistake me; we humans have created some truly amazing things using these inventions. But other things we’ve done range from scary to downright despicable. The point is: We’ve only been experimenting with these tools and toys for an unfathomably small percentage of our time on this planet and have already eaten up its surface with concrete and human structures at a rate that makes it truly horrifying to consider a future where the trajectory continues unchecked.

Along with all of our advances in machinery, we have also been advancing exponentially in something that can be equally powerful: the ability to share information. Increased access to information allows us to better understand the consequences of our actions and thereby make better decisions. With the internet and television, we now have the ability to learn from each other on a worldwide scale. When we see pictures of people in China’s densely populated and highly polluted cities wearing surgical masks just to go outside, we can factor this in to our decisions pertaining to how we treat the air. When we hear about good ideas for how to recycle or use wind energy, we can incorporate these ideas into our society to make it more sustainable. When we hear about extinctions due to habitat loss and missing links in the food chain, we can become more conscious of our influence over both. Point being: We are not doomed to follow the reckless path of destruction that we have been barreling down since the advent of the industrial age. We made some fun toys, and we have been having a blast experimenting with them. Who can blame us? We are only human. But with the ability to spread information the way we can today, it is time for us to take a look at our collective actions and make choices to consciously move forward with our tools. I think this quote from the Spiderman comics summarizes it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Docks Development Team,

This is the information: The area of your proposed development represents one of only two remaining dune ecosystems on Muskegon Lake (the other is in Muskegon State Park in North Muskegon). We currently exist in an age in which nature and natural habitats are diminishing with unprecedented speed.   

The question, then, becomes this:

Are you, the Docks Development Team, comfortable with shouldering the responsibility of decimating the last Muskegon Lake sand dune ecosystem in the City of Muskegon?

One hundred years ago your parent company was comfortable sucking up, shipping out, and selling the sand that composed the iconic Pigeon Hill. Since that time, our species’ access to knowledge and information has grown vastly. I beg your conscience has too.


Carolyn Blake  

Carolyn Blake grew up in Bluffton and has long been passionate about the environment. She can be reached at cblake2389@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the Muskegon Times. Readers who would like to submit an op-ed or letter to the editor may do so by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com.

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