Downtown newsmagazine is beginning a campaign over the next month to hopefully influence local officials in Oakland County and lawmakers in Lansing who represent county communities to ban the use of coal tar sealcoat from residential driveways, local roads and public/private parking lots. I take the time this month to give a heads up to followers of Downtown because this push moves the publication into an advocacy role that we normally reserve for major issues facing the public. This is not the first time Downtown has pushed local officials in hopes of shaping public policy, something we do each month on our editorial opinion page (Endnote) at the back of the publication. In fact, we tackle the issue of coal tar sealcoat and its threat to both public health and aquatic life on the opinion page in this issue. But our plans here are to move a step beyond the news columns and opinion pages to apply added pressure to achieve a specific goal – a ban on the use of coal tar sealant and a ban on the sale in retail outlets of this substance. Downtown newsmagazine profiled in one of our longform features in the October issue, the threat posed by coal tar sealcoat, which has long been the process followed by commercial interests and residents as a way to both reportedly extend the life of black top pavement and in some cases, satisfy the aesthetic requirements of homeowners. This newsmagazine has long defined as part of its mission to add our voice to the discussion of issues facing the local communities. We think that is part of our responsibility as a legitimate news publication informing the public each month. As a few examples, if we look back to issues from recent years, we like to think we helped elevate the discussion and eventual public policy when Birmingham was grappling with a problem plagued bar/night club in the central downtown area; the future development of bistros in the central business district; or an overly ambitious plan for the public library in the city. My personal history also includes, dating back to the 1970's and 1980's in Oakland, raising the the level of discussion and government review of lake access legislation in the state; or the push to unite a half dozen west Oakland local municipalities to negotiate better contracts with cable television providers when that industry was in its infancy; or attempts at writing open space preservation legislation with all stakeholders in that issue with the help of a member of the Michigan Senate. The motivation on the coal tar sealcoat issue is simple: Oakland has 358 inland lakes – ranging from two acres to over 1,200 acres – that help add to the quality of life here, and coal tar sealcoat that has been used for decades poses major human health risk and ends up washing into the waterways that should be a major concern for residents, not to mention the fact that many of our communities sit at the headwaters for rivers, streams and ultimately lakes in the southern portion of the state. Yes, I know that in this presidential election year there is much talk about supposed media bias, and we are acutely aware of our role as storytellers in producing a product that seeks truth and unbiased information, which is what we attempt to provide in our municipal news coverage and in our longform features on major issues. We don't subscribe to what has become known as advocacy journalism where the writer adopts a non-objective viewpoint and only presents one side of an issue, which was really the mainstay decades ago of the alternative press, which is dwindling in both numbers nationwide and impact thanks to the growing large corporate ownership trend now taking place. But once we have identified a major problem, we also feel a responsibility to address an issue outside of the confines of the printed news and opinion pages, like we will be doing with the coal tar sealcoat concern. A few communities in Michigan have already passed local ordinances to ban the use of coal tar sealcoat and a bill was introduced in Lansing, although no action was taken on the issue in the most recent legislative session. Communities in other states are already beginning to address the issue of coal tar sealcoat, so there appears to be an increasing momentum on this issue. What we plan to do over the next two months is to educate officials in all municipalities in Oakland, along with the county board of commissioners and lawmakers representing local communities here that this county and hopefully the state can be one of the leading voices to force a stop to coal tar sealcoating. We will be sending to officials county-wide our October longform feature on this topic, along with the Endnote page from this issue, a sample ordinance from a Michigan community already banning this practice, accompanied by a letter asking officials to consider adopting local ordinances, county regulations and ultimately a state law that puts a stop to this method of sealcoating driveways, roads and parking lots with this chemical, along with a ban on sale of coal tar sealcoating products, something some of the major big box stores have started to do on their own. Downtown newsmagazine will also be adding a standing poll to the home page of our website (downtownpublications.com) to create additional feedback for public officials. We are hoping that with the leadership from local communities, enough pressure can be applied so a county-wide, if not state-wide, ban on this practice will be enacted. So over the next few months, look for updates on how we are progressing on this issue.
David Hohendorf Publisher DavidHohendorf@downtownpublications.com