Sparta business fights with DEQ; may leave state

7:14 PM, Nov 12, 2007   |    comments
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SPARTA - A Sparta business says it will leave Michigan if the state keeps blocking its growth. For nearly a year Hart Enterprises near 13 Mile Road and M-37 has planned to expand its operations, but the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality won't let it. The MDEQ says the property Hart wants to pave for a parking lot is a regulated wetland. But the company disagrees. Bob Striebel, Hart's vice president, says, “When there's too much rain in the spring, some water collects in it. That's what you have." "If you look at it, anybody with half an ounce of common sense knows it isn't a natural wetland, and it certainly isn't a piece of valuable environmental property," says Striebel. And the employees are just as angry, while still upset. "We employ over a hundred people, but it's a close-knit group, it's a tight group," says Holly VanGilst. VanGilst has worked at Hart for 16 years making medical instruments. The company specializes in tools used for minimally invasive procedures. "We make some pretty important parts here, they save people's lives," says VanGilst, citing how business is thriving. "We won't be moving for a lack of business; we'll be moving because we don't have a place to expand." In a letter to employees, company president Alan Taylor says they can't build a new parking lot for more employees because the MDEQ made a “cease and desist” order. "This is a good example of regulation that's over-zealous with some severe economic ramifications, but it's not unusual," says Russ Harding, the former director of the MDEQ. He says something needs to change. "First of all I'd tell the staff to not be ridiculous, as far as using some common sense. More importantly, I think the legislature needs to step in and clarify these laws and take some of that discretion away from the agency." But this is about more than just a parking explains Striebel. "If we can't expand, then we don't have any hope to meet our customers' needs." They say if they can't expand the business, they'll have to leave the state to grow. "We really can't afford that in a state with no jobs or next to no jobs. We have people leaving faster than their coming in to Michigan," says Striebel. And the anticipation amongst employees is growing. The letter said Hart cannot guarantee anyone jobs come the new year. "To run a company out of business and to make them move out of Michigan for a man-made hole, that's pretty pathetic," says VanGilst. Nearly all of the revenue Hart Enterprises' earns is from out-of-state customers. The company employs close to one hundred people. Monday afternoon we contacted Governor Granholm's office; they say they are now looking in to the issue. At 7:00p.m. Monday night, employees will be voicing their opinions at the Sparta Village council's public meeting, hoping the village can influence the state.

Nick Monacelli

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