Environment Picture

Jean Klock Park’s dunes closer to conversion from public ownership to private golf course

Federal agency OKs plan to let exclusive links replace public parkland
Twenty-two acres of publicly-owned Lake Michigan sand dunes in Benton Harbor’s Jean Klock Park are closer to becoming part of a private golf course after a federal agency reversed itself in July and approved its conversion.

The National Park Service had initially denied the plan, which involves a Whirlpool Corporation-backed development to take over the public park’s dunes for an exclusive golf course. The Service said last year that the properties developers proposed to trade for the dunes were not of comparable value.

But the Park Service approved a slightly modified plan in July. The agency had been under intense political pressure to approve the conversion, which is supported by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Congressman Fred Upton, whose grandfather founded Whirlpool.

The Michigan Environmental Council has assisted a network of local activists who oppose the conversion on several grounds, including:
  • The value of the patchwork of partially contaminated properties being “exchanged” for the majestic dunes is a fraction of the recreational value of the dunes.
  • The deal sets a precedent to undermine similar deed restrictions and conservation easements throughout Michigan. Jean Klock Park was deeded forever for the use of the children of Benton Harbor by a benefactor in 1917.
  • The golf course is a threat to the ecology of the dunes.
  • The conversion violates federal environmental justice guidelines because few people in the hardscrabble Benton Harbor community will be able to afford to play golf on the converted “dunes.”
The major hurdle left for the developers are two lawsuits filed by local opponents. The suits contend that the deal illegally undermines deed restrictions and other covenants that ensure the park be used for the benefit of the public; and that it violates numerous federal environmental laws.

Carol Drake, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, is the winner of the Michigan Environmental Council’s 2008 Petoskey Prize for Environmental Leadership (see related photo essay).
For more information, visit http://www.savejeanklockpark.org/.
-Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: environmental justice, land use
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