Task force elects 4 to first Hall of Fame class
Posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 and is filed under News.
by Greg Nelson
The Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force has elected four former members in its initial Hall of Fame class.
Those chosen, who are all deceased, are Arnie Bransdorfer, Fred Brown, Gene Kenaga and Joe Scholtz.
Establishing a HOF was the idea of the group’s Chairman James Hall.
“He wanted to recognize those people who have helped the community achieve as much as we have in the last 18 years,” Task Force Secretary Jane Keon said. “The executive committee nominated a list of people and voted.”
The criteria for election is:
“The Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have an exemplary record of giving time and talent to the restoration of the Pine River and adjacent land to its created intent. The inductees listed have dedicated their lives to help ensure a safe and healthy environment for current and future generations.”
The group plans to induct one or two people each year into the HOF.
Following are brief biographies of those elected in the inaugural class:
Bransdorfer and his wife, Lois, moved to St. Louis in 1956 where they raised four children.
He attended Michigan State College (later University) on the G.I. Bill and received numerous awards for his writing and photography while working for the State News, the college’s newspaper.
More than 20 years before the task force was formed, Bransdorfer was a member of the Gratiot County Board of Commissioners when the county was first learning about the highly contaminated properties, including the Gratiot County Landfill in Bethany Township and the former Velsicol Chemical Co. plant site in St. Louis.
The decisions about the cleanup of those sites were being made by state and federal officials with no local input. Bransdorfer wrote a letter to the governor recommending that a citizens group be formed to assist in the decision-making process. He received a reply that stated “under no circumstances would that be encouraged because it would engender fear in the community.”
However, a number of years later the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force was formed to serve as the Community Advisory Group to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on all local remediation projects. Bransdorfer became a member in 1998 and remained part of the group until his passing in 2011.
His son, Harold, said he believed his dad felt he had “lived the American Dream” and wanted to return to the community as much of time and talent as he could.”
In addition to serving on the county commission Bransdorfer was a member of the St. Louis Area Historical Society, Gratiot County Players and a reservist in the Michigan National Guard.
Brown had decades of experience trying to clean up rivers in Michigan and was appointed to a permanent seat on the state Water Resources Commission by former Gov. Milliken.
He helped widen the task force’s thinking regarding human health issues caused by contamination and helped get answers from government agencies.
In the Fruit of the Loom bankruptcy settlement Brown pointed out a paragraph in the Department of Justice document that could have caused the funds promised to the city of St. Louis to go elsewhere, and he was invited to write the re-wording of the document, which was used in the final settlement. If the change had not been made the city would have lost millions of dollars it used to replace its water system.
Brown passed away in 2008. His daughter, Janice London, said one of her father’s gifts was to mentor and encourage others to enjoy the out-of-doors, and he believed in both using and protecting the environment.
Kenaga was a world-renown DDT expert. Although he knew the benefits of halting the spread of malaria using the chemical, he was an early voice in cautioning against its overuse and the indiscriminant spraying of the poison.
Kenage served in the U.S. Navy during WWII as a malariologist. He held over 30 patents, published more than 100 articles, founded the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, helped establish Tawas State Park and founded the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland.
His attention to the details of chemistry saved the Pine River from a new toxin. Kenage had asked the EPA for a report that showed what was in the river water when it came out of the treatment plant. He notices that one pollutant in the water hadn’t been there when it went into the plant. It turned out that a treatment material was actually toxic and would have put even more contaminants into the river the task force was trying to cleanup.
Kenaga passed away in 2007.
Scholtz, the former St. Louis mayor and founding member of the task force, passed away unexpectedly in 2011, but not before leaving a legacy of community service.
He felt the first thing the task force needed to do was change the reputation of the polluted Pine River. Ever since the chemical plant had dumped its waste into the waterway people had warned their children from going near it.
In an effort the change that perception, he suggested the task force work with the city to get a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality grand to build a fishing platform at Barnum Park near the municipal dam.
It was used during the annual St. Louis Free Fishing Derby that Scholtz founded and organized, and later become the largest event of its kind in Michigan.
After his passing it was renamed the Joe Scholtz Memorial Free Fishing Derby in his honor.
He also worked behind the scenes talking to politicians and gathering hard to locate documents to assist the task force get information it needed.
His work was recognized when he was chosen to receive the Spirit of St. Louis Award, the city’s highest honor.