Blog: Lisa Wozniak & Ryan Mark-Griffin

Lisa Wozniak, executive director, Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Lisa comes to the Michigan League of Conservation Voters with a long history in both the environmental and political worlds. Between 1996 and 2005, Lisa served as the Great Lakes regional director for the national League of Conservation Voters, overseeing programs and projects in Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin, with an enormous focus on keeping the Great Lakes Congressional caucus in check. Prior to that, Lisa cut her teeth on Lana Pollack's 1994 heart-wrenching U.S. Senate campaign and on Alma Wheeler Smith's successful campaign for Michigan state Senate. Bitten by the political bug, Lisa was destined to deal with Michigan's current political challenges, which includes the world of term limits, reapportionment, and a bi-partisan log-jam.

Lisa is adept at working with a broad array of people and organizations and brings a strategic vantage point to almost any discussion. Although she may deny her expertise (and the years behind her), Lisa is thought of as a key leader within the conservation community in Michigan. With degrees in French and art history, education and social work--all from the University of Michigan--Lisa's strong interdisciplinary background clearly influences Michigan LCV's approach to problem solving, collaborative campaigns, and political change.

Many may consider Lisa an extravert, but a deep, dark secret is that Lisa recharges by being alone! Give her a good book, time to tend to the garden or do yoga, a run with her dog, and Lisa is good to go.... peaceful, calm, measured, attentive. And, meshed between the politics and the garden is Lisa's beautiful family: husband Kenny, hip young sons Zachariah and Benjamin, and lovely dog, Santosha.

Lisa serves on the board of a number of local, state and national organizations, including the advisory board of Growing Hope, the fundraising committee of Friends of the Rutherford Pool, and the boards of the Michigan Environmental Council and the national League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

Ryan Mark-Griffin, assistant to the executive director

I've always felt odd about people writing their own bios in the third person, so if it feels unprofessional for me to use the first person here, please forgive me. I am, after all, not a professional: I am a student. Until this fall, when I transferred to the University of Michigan, I was a student at UC-Santa Cruz, on California's Central Coast. As a Banana Slug (that's right, their mascot is a Banana Slug), I worked for the student newspaper, City on a Hill Press, as the editor of the campus news desk. I also worked as an intern for a local art gallery and was the manager of the men's tennis team.

My time in California was incredible, but even from the beginning I felt the pull of the Great Lakes State calling me home. Witnessing the passion with which social activists in California (many of them my peers at UCSC) fought to improve the community they lived in though educational equality, worker's rights, environmental conservation, and benevolent government inspired me to look towards my community.

It is with the desire to better educate myself about the unique issues facing the people of Michigan that I transferred to the U of M this fall. Working for the Michigan LCV enables me to make a difference in the fight for the conservation of what I believe to be one of our nation's greatest treasures: Michigan's natural environment.

Lisa Wozniak & Ryan Mark-Griffin - Most Recent Posts:

Lisa Wozniak: Voiding of Saugatuck Dunes settlement supports local government

Imagine this:  As a hard-working Michigander, you have saved carefully over the years and managed to put two children through college. Along the way, you have also invested in a beautiful piece of property near Lake Michigan. It's not a huge piece of land nor is it on the water, but it's close enough to the lake that you can get there easily, while also accessing the lovely towns of Holland, Saugatuck, Douglas, and Fennville. It's a gift to yourself and your family after years of hard work. It's a true slice of Pure Michigan®.

But then, out of nowhere, comes a wealthy, out-of-state developer who, after years of lawsuits and pressure on the local government, wins a "settlement" to build a nine-story hotel, 66-slip marina, houses, condominiums, and a nine-hole golf course on his newly acquired 320-acre property…which is less than a quarter mile from your own little slice of paradise.

The developer's plans are inconsistent with the township's master plan and would never be allowed under current or former zoning laws, but the wealthy developer eventually gets his way.  The Township officials, who tried at first to withstand the pressure coming from the developer and his high-powered attorneys, give in -- ignore residents' pleas and "settle" --due, in large part, to the inconceivably high costs of defending themselves from the developer's claims.

This can't be true?! Unfortunately, this very scenario has been playing out in Saugatuck Township.  But, in a strange twist of good luck on November 1, a U.S. District Court Judge nullified the 'settlement'. The Judge's decision effectively stalled all development plans for the land -- a major victory for those fighting to preserve the dunes.

But why does this matter, especially if you don't own land adjacent to the proposed settlement? And, why does a statewide organization like the Michigan League of Conservation Voters care so much about such a local issue? Because it is a precedent-setting situation that should capture the attention and concern of Michigan townships far and wide, as well as property owners throughout the state who are abiding by township zoning laws while wealthy developers are financially navigating their way around and through the system.  The negotiated "settlement" had potential statewide implications because it would have set a terrible precedent. Most notably, the "settlement" would have illegally bound the ability of all future Saugatuck Township Boards from adhering to existing zoning ordinances.  This is, ultimately, one of the main reasons why the judge chose to nullify it.

In addition, the negotiated "settlement" completely removed the Township's legislative process, giving all the power in these local land battles to the federal courts. This meant that local residents and landowners would have been shut out of the debate…unless they wanted to get involved in a federal lawsuit. 

The Saugatuck battle is hardly over. The focus now shifts back to the township, where hard decisions will still have to be made. As Michigan LCV shifts our focus and continues our advocacy, it is important to remember that there are elections next year. The case of 'Township vs. McClenndon' should serve as a reminder to us all that elections, from township to Supreme Court, are extraordinarily important. If Michiganders get involved and elect environmental/conservation champions to offices at all levels of government, we won't have to rely on good luck at the last minute to protect the Michigan we love.

Lisa Wozniak: How does the Great Lakes State Become a Great Conservation State?

I love Michigan because people who have never been here don't believe that it could possibly be this beautiful or that the Great Lakes could be so vast. I love Michigan because once you've been here and experienced the sugar-sand beaches and sand dunes, the forests, the rocky shores of Lake Superior and the incredible beauty of the Keewenaw Peninsula, the endless and perfect expanse of Lake Michigan while the sun is setting, you wonder why you've ever been anywhere else. And, I love Michigan because I always believed, as a kid growing up in the Mediterranean, that all seas were salty. Not this one.

We live in a GREAT state. That's why we developed Great Michigan.

Michigan is a state that the rest of the country uses as a barometer for change. We are considered a key presidential election state. We led the way into the "Great Recession" and we will lead the way out. We were also, many years ago, a lead example of protecting our water, our air and our land. Now, in 2011, it is essential that we return to that heritage given how much we have to celebrate and protect for generations to come.  There has not been a more important time to lead since the late 1960s, when our country's rivers were on fire, acid rain was threatening our forests, and phosphorus was literally killing our lakes and streams.
Michigan is truly blessed with an abundance of natural resources:
  • We are surrounded by almost 20% of the Earth's fresh surface water; it defines us as Michiganders in countless ways and provides us with a competitive advantage hugely lacking in places like Texas and Colorado, not to mention Nevada and Arizona.
  • We have the longest freshwater shoreline (3,288 miles) in the world and the largest state park and state forest system of any state in the nation = Pure Michigan.

But the sad truth is this: Although Michigan was once a leader in conservation, it placed among the bottom four states in the nation in conservation funding in a 2008 report. Without proper funding, our state's natural beauty and, frankly, citizen health, is in jeopardy.

Did you know, for example, that:
  • Beach closures have more than doubled in the past seven years due to fecal matter (that means poop) related contamination.
  • The state currently knows the location of almost 9,200 leaking underground toxic storage tanks and it cannot do anything about because – yup – they lack the funding to remediate the sites. (These tanks have the potential to poison groundwater. That's drinking water.)
  • In 2010, Michigan was home to the Midwest's largest oil spill when a ruptured oil pipeline dumped almost one million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) understands that Michigan's clean air and pure water are central to our identity as Michiganders and key to the health of our families.  We also understand that electing the right public officials and enacting the right policies are the only way to protect these cherished, yet vulnerable, resources.

Founded in 1999, we work from a non-partisan perspective using a variety of unique tools to help frame the issues, educate the electorate (and those representing us in Lansing), and hold our elected officials accountable. One of our most important educational tools is something called Great Michigan, entitled such in connection to the visceral passion and pulling-on-heart-strings-like impact of the Pure Michigan campaign.

Great Michigan represents a collaborative effort among environmental, conservation, and public health groups across Michigan to collectively identify the most pressing environmental issues facing Michigan, present these issues to policy makers and the public in understandable terms, and provide realistic solutions to address them. This website is the result of input from organizations across the state working together to ensure Michigan citizens have access to clean water, clean air, open spaces, healthy food, vibrant cities, good jobs, sustainable transportation and safer products.

Not only does this one-of-a-kind online tool provide visitors with a way to connect with legislators, experts and organizations across the state; it also allows citizens and decision makers to take action by making time-sensitive environmental information available to them instantly. 

Take the issue of toxins in children's products, for example, which is one of the top 2011-2012 priorities for the community. If you are concerned about this (because toxins + kids = bad, as well as the fact that toxic toys get land-filled), the Great Michigan site provides you with background and progress, updates on key legislation, and ways to take action.

The Michigan LCV team not only ensures timely updates to this site, but supplements the conversations via our own organizational website and social media. Bet you didn't know that it's not uncommon to find (the carcinogenic heavy metal) cadmium in jewelry. One of our most popular blog posts of the year focused on this very thing.   

Overall, the four top priorities identified by the community for 2011-2012 (based both on critical need and the reality of what is currently possible in Lansing) are: (1) jump-starting Michigan's economy through clean energy innovation; (2) protecting Michigan's water from unsafe (natural gas) drilling; (3) connecting Michigan's cities and towns with high speed rail (and improved public transit); and (4) helping Michigan families protect their children from toxins.

In addition, if a resident of SE Michigan is particularly interested in lead exposure in homes or the environmental injustices
often found in urban centers with the disproportionate amount of industrial activity creating large and long-lasting legacies of pollution, background on these issues, links to experts in the field, pending legislation, and more can all be found on the Great Michigan site.

Ensuring Michigan steps up to once again be a national leader in conservation and environmental protection will not be fulfilled solely through a website. But, this tool puts clear, concise, compelling information into the hands of the public, thus allowing Michigan citizens everywhere the opportunity to take a more active role in the decision-making process and provides the potential to harness a plethora of collective voices to make change.  

Our cities are resilient and our citizens tenacious. I am extraordinarily proud to be a Michigander. We all want our children to be able to swim in our lakes, drink the water without fear, play with toys free of toxins, and enjoy the beauty and bounty of our very real Pure Michigan.  Great Michigan is a vehicle to ensure that is the case.

Ryan Mark-Griffin: Thank You, Michigan, for High-Speed Rail

As a 20-year-old college student, I couldn't be more excited about the prospect of high-speed rail lines running from Detroit to Chicago and Kalamazoo. Although the improvements won't be completed overnight, I have already contacted friends in both cities about taking turns hopping on the train for weekend getaways between the respective cities.

There is something really cool about the idea of buying a ticket for a high-speed train. You may not think that how cool a multi-million dollar project is really matters. But you'd be wrong.

Across the nation, cities are desperately trying to find ways to be considered cool. The New York Times ran an article on the subject, citing projects in cites from Lansing, Mich., to Portland, Ore. The reason for all this preoccupation with popularity?

Educated young people.

As baby boomers retire, attracting young professionals is increasingly looked to as an important factor in a city's economic growth. Demographers call them "the young and restless," because of their high relocation rate as they search for a job in a city that will satisfy their cultural cravings. Studies show that their probability of relocating drops significantly the closer they get to age 35, so cities have a limited window of time to attract them. Washington, D.C., is one metropolitan area that has seen growth in its population of "the young and restless" during the recession. This will give them an advantage over cities that are losing their young professionals once the economy rebounds. Reliable modern transit systems like Michigan's newly approved high-speed rail lines are key factors in boosting the vital "cool" factor that is drawing the young and restless to D.C.

So as someone who will soon be a member of this coveted demographic, I want to say thanks.

First, I want to thank those behind the scenes of Governor Snyder's team who participated in the negotiations for the state of Michigan to provide $20 million in matching funds for the $161 million in federal funding granted by the Obama Administration. These are people like former Congressman and Michigan LCV board member Dr. Joe Schwarz, who worked with Michigan's railroads and Department of Transportation to make sure that we didn't let this opportunity get away from us. The Michigan LCV has made promotion of Michigan's high-speed rail a major priority, and Dr. Schwarz was right there with us on the importance of this initiative.

Next, I'd like to thank the Michigan legislature. Despite earning a reputation for being extremely frugal, even they recognized the opportunity that this represents, passing the bill almost unanimously in both the House and the Senate. As our political director puts in his transit edition of his PWIR, this was a "sweet deal," and one Michigan couldn't afford to pass up.

Finally, I'd like to thank the Lieutenant Governor, who signed the bill into law immediately. This project is a major milestone in the battle to revive the state of Michigan as a thriving cosmopolitan destination for people all over the world.

Especially the young and restless.

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