Bay County Farm Bureau prefaced its sixth annual Committee Meeting Day March 24 with a legislative breakfast that drew a host of decision-makers representing local, state and federal offices.
Guests included Mike Wilson of the Bay County Soil Conservation District; Bay County Executive Jim Barcia and Commissioner Vaughn Begick; Jake Bennett from the office of Dist. 8 Congressman Dan Kildee; Dist. 96 Rep. Timmy Beson; Bay County Road Commissioner Jacob Hilliker; Consumers Energy representative Jeff Mayes; Holly Mueller from MSU Extension; and local Farm Bureau Insurance Agent Rudy Schlatter.
Each of them took a turn updating members on current issues from their respective areas of influence, resulting in a diverse and free-wheeling exchange with the Farm Bureau members ready to pick their brains.
Much of that discussion concerned the status of Bay City’s four bridges over the Saginaw River — troublesome bottlenecks on a good day but more worrisome now, with maintenance closures and a new toll plan pending for one of the spans.
Leading his comments with an overview of pending road projects across the county, Road Commission Vice Chair Bill Schumacher then broached the inherently painful bridge topic. Between deck work, replacement projects and the tolls soon to take effect, he hit all the pain points head-on.
“The bridge situation’s not gonna be good,” he said, advising frequent users to invest in a transponder device that to minimize the cost of using the updated Liberty Bridge linking Vermont Street on the city’s west side with Woodside Avenue on the east.
Making matters worse is MDOT’s plan to replace the Lafayette Street bridge in 2024-26. It’s the southernmost of the four spans and the one nearest Michigan Sugar Company’s busy plant, west of the river. The designated detour — via the Veteran Memorial Bridge on the south side of downtown — is the nearest option but means a more congested and convoluted route through town for beet trucks.
Among the many members dreading the inconvenienced is Ben Ritter, who grows sugar beets and other row crops near Munger — east of the river.
“I’ll just to go to Saginaw for everything,” Ritter said, because it’ll soon be too hard to get through Bay City.
Set Aside Party
Fresh off MFB’s Washington Legislative Seminar, Bay County board member Ray VanDriessche shared his overview of the organization’s first D.C. junket since Covid. Retiring Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke with attendees, plugging an upcoming series of farm bill forums members should consider participating in.
Owing largely to her championing of Michigan agriculture, both in and beyond the context of the farm bill, VanDriessche broached the sometimes contentious topic of Farm Bureau’s support for the Lansing Democrat.
“She’s been a great ally for agriculture for years,” Ritter interjected, suggesting her track record in the state legislature didn’t anticipate her exceptional representation of Michigan on the national stage.
VanDriessche then cited a similar example in Dist. 8 Congressman Dan Kildee — another urban Democrat “who’s been a great advocate for agriculture.
“Farm Bureau must remember you need to look at the person and what they’re doing for your industry,” VanDriessche said. “Set aside party affiliation. You’ve got to work with both sides of the aisle.”
To that John Boothroyd, manager of government relations for Michigan Sugar Company, chimed in with his own Kildee plug.
“He’s been delivering for 20 years,” he said, despite the Flint-based lawmaker’s trophy case still bare of AgriPac Friend of Agriculture nods.
That theme continued into Committee Day conversations following the breakfast, with the county Farm Bureau’s Candidate Evaluation & Policy Development leaders engaging in far-ranging discussions about youth drivers, deer baiting and wildlife damage — then back again to politics.
“Should we be investing more time in getting to know candidates?” asked VanDriessche, suggesting long-standing evaluation procedures may benefit from updating.
Increased polarization — of both candidates and the electorate they hope to win over — has made “endorsing people based solely on their party affiliation” increasingly dangerous, he said.
“We don’t have to endorse every race,” VanDriessche added, noting that some races may best be left in the ballot box.