‘I learned nothing:’ Residents frustrated by water forum

Plainfield Township would not allow 24 Hour News 8 cameras into public meeting

Plainfield Township
An open house discussing Plainfield Township water at Northview High School. (Jan. 29, 2018)


PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A public forum designed to give residents a chance to ask questions of Plainfield Township water staff and engineers fell short of the public’s expectations Monday night.

“I learned nothing. I expected a roundtable discussion, listen to groups’ discussions, group questions, and came here and just had tables of information,” Kelly Rasmussen said of the meeting at Northview High School.

Plainfield Township has been ground zero of the toxic tap water crisis in northern Kent County, with PFAS contamination discovered in residential wells. The township’s municipal water system has not been found to have high levels of the chemical, which is a likely carcinogen also linked to other illnesses. In response to residents’ concerns, however, the township will spend up to $400,000 on a filtration system to remove all trace of PFAS. There are also plans to extend municipal water to more areas where contaminated wells have been found.

Sue Smits came to the meeting because she wanted to get information on how to protect her family. She says her now-adult children struggled with thyroid disease and her son was just diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“The format’s a little confusing,” she told 24 Hour News 8 of the meeting. “I don’t know who these people are. I don’t know if they’re board members or if they are attorneys. So I’m not sure who I’m talking to and I don’t know where they’re getting all their information and it’s just hard to hear, you can’t hear anything because there’s 30 people gathered around a small lunch table trying to hear a conversation.”

Mark Prein, a project engineer for Prein & Newhof who was among those speaking with residents at the meeting, was able to give some answers to 24 Hour News 8:

“The primary questions were about areas of service — where we’ve investigating laying water mains to provide township water to the community. Some people are interested in treatment technology, such as how the plant works,” he said.

Township Superintendent Cameron Van Wyngarden said the permit for the township’s filtration system is being reviewed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Once the permit is approved, it could be 30 to 60 days before it’s implemented.

24 HOUR NEWS 8 CAMERAS TURNED AWAY

When the township put out information about the roundtable discussion, it didn’t say anywhere cameras weren’t allowed inside, but that’s what 24 Hour News 8 was told when our crew arrived to cover the event.

“We’ve heard a lot in the past, a lot of concerns about information privacy and so we wanted to be sensitive to that and we want to make sure that there wasn’t a camera over their shoulder as they got their questions answered,” Van Wyngarden, the township superintendent, explained.

24 Hour News 8 pressed Van Wyngarden further, asking about whether cellphones with cameras applied to that rule.

“Yeah, and so we’re kind of watching for that too hopefully people will be considerate of that,” Van Wyngarden said.

The public meeting was held in a public building and there was no advance warning to media of privacy concerns.

When questioned on the legality of censoring the press, Van Wyngarden responded, “You can talk with our attorney about that, but there are instances where even though it is a public setting, it’s not necessarily open to a camera in someone’s face.”

Many attendees were also unhappy about township officials’ decision to not allow cameras inside.

“I think it speaks volumes. I think that there really should be nothing to hide if we have no issue,” Sue Smits said.

“We want transparency, we want questions and we want an open meeting where media can be there and held responsible instead of a closed-door situation,” meeting attendee Cody Angel said.

24 Hour News 8 recorded video on a cellphone of the groups crowded around tables before township attorneys asked us to stop recording.