OSCEOLA, LAKE COUNTIES -- As the new year approaches, many reflect on some of the "big news" stories from the previous year.

Recreational adult-use marijuana sales begin

On Dec. 6, Lit Provisioning Center in Evart became northwest Michigan's first adult-use recreational marijuana retail sales establishment with a grand opening and a ribbon cutting.

More than 750 customers, from the local area and from as far away as Wisconsin, lined up to take advantage of the opportunity to purchase marijuana for recreational use, some waiting in line for hours.

Response to the opening of recreational sales was so large, the company ran out of available product for recreational use after just two days, a spokesperson for Lume Cannabis Company, owner and operator of Lit Provisioning Center, stated in a news release.

The launch of recreational marijuana sales was met with some resistance from residents in the Evart community, some of whom voiced their opinions at a city council meeting Dec. 16.

Evart Downtown Development Association members said the notices regarding the meetings to discuss marijuana did not make it clear they were talking about recreational use sales. If they had known, they would have become more involved, they said.

Other residents voiced concern over how the sale of recreational use marijuana would impact the city's image, claiming Evart was becoming known as "Pot City."

Evart Mayor John Joyce said he thought the sale of medical and recreational marijuana would have a positive impact on the city because of the additional revenue the city would be receiving.

Overtime, communities will see more and more of these types of businesses, he said.

State of emergency declaration

On July 20, heavy rainfall and flooding in Lake County damaged infrastructure and private property.

Following an assessment of the damages caused by the flooding, Lake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Howard Ludholtz declared a local state of emergency July 22, and formally requested a governor's declaration July 26.

On July 29, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Lake County. The declaration authorized the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to partner with local officials to ensure the availability of necessary resources for the recovery effort.

Lake County emergency management director Patrick Maddox said in a news release that the heavy rainfall and flooding impacted several roads and bridges due to wash-out and the total damage was estimated to be more than $3 million.

The Lake County BOC sent a request to Whitmer to authorize a grant from the State Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund to help with recovery efforts in August.

Whitmer approved disaster assistance from the state fund and opened the grant application period in November.

Lake County Administrator Tobi Lake said the Lake County Road Commission would be eligible for $250,000 in reimbursement from the fund. They have already incurred $195,000 in eligible expenses for reimbursement, and an additional $55,000 is expected to be spent on road work that will be done in the spring, he said.

Michigan Potash receives green light

Michigan Potash and Salt, LLC. received the green light to move forward with plans to establish operations in Hersey when a case brought by Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC) against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was dismissed and permits that had been held up were released.

Administrative Law Judge Daniel L. Pulter, with the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules (MOAHR), an independent and autonomous agency within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), dismissed the contested case, saying the case failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted, and there is no statutory provision or administrative rules that authorize a contested hearing case once permits have been issued.

The tribunal had no choice but to dismiss the matter, he said.

MCWC filed the contested case in August 2018, claiming the permitting process was flawed and did not follow Michigan legal requirements.

The petition claimed that the process for approval of the permits "violated public notice, participation and hearing requirements set forth in Michigan's Open Meetings Act."

MCWC president Peggy Case said MDEQ did not take into consideration the concerns of the citizens living close to the site, and there was nothing in place to protect those citizens or the environment if there were leaks, spills or ruptures.

Michigan Potash CEO Ted Pagano said in a statement that a rigorous four-year permitting process at both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy validated that the natural resources in the area would be safeguarded.

The project is expected to employ around 300 workers during the construction phase and provide 150 permanent full-time positions.

Pagona said the initial investment would be around $700 million, with an expansion later for a total investment of more than $1 billion. The project will double Osceola County's industrial tax base, he said.

North Lake Correctional Facility reopens

Inmates began arriving at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin on Oct. 1.

GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based private prison company, secured a 10-year contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house non-U.S. citizens serving federal criminal convictions.

Mark Pitcher, GEO Secure Services executive assistant, said the facility expected to receive about 80 inmates a week until they reach capacity.

The facility will house up to 1,800 low-security inmates serving federal sentences with 90 months or less remaining to serve, with deportation orders upon completion of their sentences, he said.

Officials at the facility said they are currently at one-third capacity.

Protesters braved the cold and rain to show up on opening day and express their opposition to the "detention of immigrants."

Occupy ICE, an activist group based in metro Detroit, set up in front of the facility property, while local protesters camped down the road from the facility.

Adam Nash, an Occupy ICE member from Ann Arbor, said the group is against "for-profit" prisons in general, and against detaining immigrants.

Lake County Democratic Party chairperson Mary Minnick, who led the local protests, said she understood the importance of good-paying jobs for the community but opposed the prison. She said the prison's reputation is awful and they leave the community holding the bag each time they leave without fulfilling their contract.

Protesters said they believed no one should make money off of another's misfortune, and the economic impact for the community would be minimal, with GEO Group being the main financial benefactor.

Facility administrator Don Emerson said the local wages, including benefits, would be nearly $17 million a year. In addition, the facility will purchase local goods and services for ongoing facility operations, he said.

The facility was expected to add 300 jobs locally. The facility is now fully staff, but continues to take applications. No information was available regarding the number of local residents employed.