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A conflict in Portage Township

July 19, 2011
By Richard Clark , Daily Press

ESCANABA - You can not serve both God and Mammon - Matthew 6:19-21,24

I had the distinct privilege of attending the New World premiere of Rockland, an opera about the 1906 mine strike in Rockland, Mich. The story is narrated by Alfred Laakso who in 1906 owned a candy store and led a local Rockland band, Mehilainen.

Alfred's son Dave lives in Gladstone with passion for music and justice. After seeing Rockland I now know the root of Dave's passion for music and justice, his father.

Article Photos

Richard Clark

A modern day attempt by the powerful to squeeze the little guy is taking place in Portage Township, Houghton County, not far from Rockland. The characters in this present day morality play involve a construction company, politicians, and the good citizens of Portage Township.

A part of Portage Township, Section 15, is zoned rural residential. Gravel pit and quarry operations are unlawful. The law has been in place for many years.

Relying on those laws people improved land, built homes and raised families in Section 15.

For over 20 years Vic Betterly could look out over his land and see his pond in an area of swamp and a forested area capped with rock outcroppings about 1,900 feet away. All that was to change, but not by a vote, or considered debate at a township meeting, or a change in zoning. Moyle Construction made a business decision to begin quarry operations in those rock outcroppings in face of the zoning laws.

In 2004 Mr. Betterly saw distant activity that didn't appear to be consistent with rural residential zoning. He went to his township official who said he would look into it. The official didn't get back to Mr. Betterly. Moyle began blasting rock from the face of the forested rock outcroppings.

Mr. Betterly obtained an attorney as did the Portage Township Board. They filed suit against Moyle Construction to stop it's operation as a violation of the township's zoning law. In the tradition of "I would rather apologize than ask permission," Moyle did not ask for a variance from the zoning law before it started blowing rock out of the earth. At one point Moyle set up an asphalt plant where it was blowing out rocks in the rural residential zone.

Mr. Betterly said that the explosions rattled his windows.

Mr. Betterly and Portage Township went to court to enforce the law.

Moyle argued to the judge that it should be able to make the best commercial use of the land regardless of the desires of the community of Portage Township. Judge Gotham disagreed with Moyle Construction citing Michigan Supreme Court precedent.

After Moyle lost in court it asked for reconsideration. Judge Gotham reconsidered and turned Moyle down. Judge Gotham was correct. The Michigan Supreme Court has said courts should not substitute for zoning boards.

Having friends in high places helped Moyle. Judge Gotham signed his opinion denying Moyle's motion for reconsideration on May 10, 2011. On June 15, 2011 State Representative Huuki and State Senator Casperson introduced laws that would reverse Judge Gotham's decision circumventing the desires of the Portage Township community.

Senator Casperson and Representative Huuki supported the emergency financial manager law that strips local elected officials of authority, so it is not surprising that they have ignored the wishes of Portage Township Board and Its citizens.

Portage Township officials feel stabbed in the back because it appears as if they have been abandoned by their elected state officials in favor of a construction company.

They say that they were not contacted by Senator Casperson to give evidence on the law he was sponsoring in the Senate to overrule the Judge Gotham's decision. The senator succeeded in pushing the anti-local government law. It awaits the governor's signature.

In June Senator Casperson told Portage Township residents he would slow down the legislation, but he didn't.

In 1906 Finnish miners in Rockland struggled against the Boston mine owners who used Finnish scabs. Now the citizens in Portage Township struggle against Lansing injustice spearheaded by their own U.P. legislators.


EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at



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