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Digging for truth

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For more than a year, the City of Detroit Policemen & Firemen Retirement System has stonewalled Metro Times and others trying to find out exactly how much money the pension fund has loaned a company that wants to inject up to 50 million gallons of hazardous waste annually into the ground beneath Romulus.

Until now, records obtained from various sources indicated that the pension fund had sunk about $12 million into the project. But News Hits has now gotten its mitts on a letter pension board Chairman Johnny Golden recently sent U.S. Rep. John Dingell. The document reveals the true investment is much greater than previously reported.

Dingell is interested in the issue because Romulus is within his district.

Birmingham-based Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) has constructed two 4,700-foot-deep wells on the south side of I-94 between Ecorse and Wick roads. They are the first for-profit hazardous waste wells ever built in Michigan. Opponents — and there are many of them — fear that the waste will contaminate local drinking water.

Attempts to gain an accurate accounting of the pension board’s investment in the project have been stymied by board claims that it is not subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

State Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, disagrees, and went to court in an attempt to obtain a complete accounting of the pension fund’s involvement in the controversial project. Basham went to court to obtain the records and won. Still, the pension board has failed to turn over the documents, Basham says.

But thanks to Golden’s letter — and a source who provided a copy of it to News Hits — we now know that the Retirement Systems has a stake in the project it values at $55 million.

The letter says, “Over $36,000,000 of a $38,000,000 commitment has been advanced and, with accrued interest, the total Pension Fund vested interest will exceed $55,000,000.”

“I’m shocked that they put that much money in,” Basham tells News Hits. “I think it’s just a misuse of public funds.”

Basham promises to continue his fight to gain access to its books.

The multimillion dollar question: What happens if the project does not obtain final approval? This is a possibility since EDS, which built and owns the wells, is still seeking approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a “non-migration” permit. To obtain said permit, the company must show that the waste will be contained for 10,000 years.

But if the feds say nay to the permit, will the 17,800 retirees who rely on the pension fund be out $55 million? News Hits put that question to the pension board. As usual, the response was silence. Likewise, attorney Ronald Zajac, who represents the board of trustees (and who, by the way, never returns our calls or responds to our e-mails), failed to ring us back.

Perhaps some concerned police or fire pensioner(s) will ask for us.

Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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