Politics
3:27 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

New CFO in Detroit leads to new emergency manager for Highland Park Schools

There's some job switching going on today in Michigan as Highland Park Schools emergency manager Jack Martin got the nod to become the new chief financial officer for the City of Detroit.

The CFO position was created as part of the city's consent agreement with the state. Jack Martin has been the EM at Highland Park Schools since last February.

Martin is a certified public accountant and was the CFO for the U.S. Department of Education from January 2002 through December 2005.

Martin's move to Detroit left the EM position at Highland Park Schools open which will now be filled by Joyce Parker. She's the current emergency manager for the city of Ecorse. She'll continue on in that role part-time, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

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Health
1:15 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Heart patients should ask more questions

Gabriela Camerotti Flikr

Patients with heart disease should ask their doctors more questions before undergoing elective heart procedures.

That's according to a study by the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation at the University of Michigan and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
 
Marianne Udow-Phillips is Director of the Center and lead author of the study.   

She says whether or not Blue Cross/Blue Shield patients in the study underwent elective heart procedures depended more on where they received their care compared to whether or not it may have been the best option.

"We do believe that most of the use of these services is really more driven by physician preferences than patient preferences," said Udow-Phillips. "Patients do need to be more involved; they need to ask more questions of their physicians before they have a catheterization procedure.  There does need to be a better dialogue between physicians and patients."

The overall rate of these procedures have declined by 19-percent between 1997 and 2008.

Economy
1:05 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Hostess Brands says layoffs could be coming in Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Hostess Brands Inc. has notified state officials it may have to lay off about 380 Michigan workers as part of its plan to get out of bankruptcy. Possible cuts include 70 jobs in Detroit and 65 in Troy. Hostess filed for Chapter 11 protection in January.

government
12:52 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Public hearing on effort to merge Saugatuck, Douglas set for June

Tom Dailey Creative Commons

The state has rescheduled a public hearing on the proposed consolidation of the cities of Douglas and Saugatuck. The hearing was set for later this month. But the state pushed it back to next month because notice of the hearing wasn’t mailed out at least 30 days prior.

Local leaders were upset the original public meeting was scheduled at a smaller venue in the middle of a workday anyway. It's now been rescheduled for 4p.m. June 20thinside the Saugatuck High School gymnasium.

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Environment & Science
12:43 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Enbridge wants to replace 200 miles of aging pipeline in Michigan

Enbridge's 6B pipeline runs through Michigan. The smaller yellow portions on this map are being replaced this year. The longer yellow portion is near approval and will likely be replaced this year as well.
Enbridge Inc.

Enbridge Inc. has been replacing and repairing parts of line "6B" as part of its maintenance and rehabilitation program. The pipeline was built in 1969.

Now company officials want to replace 200 miles of the oil pipeline in Michigan.

The "6B" pipeline broke open near Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and spilled more that 840,000 gallons of thick tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. There are still pockets of thick oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

The 6B pipeline has been operating at reduced capacity since the spill.

Crystal Garcia of the Times Herald of Port Huron reported on Enbridge's plan today.

She writes the existing pipeline is pumping around "243,000 barrels of oil a day with the pressure restrictions." A company spokesman, Joe Martucci, said the new pipeline would produce about 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

If plans are approved, Garcia reports the existing pipeline will be taken offline and remain in place, and the new pipeline will be built about 25 feet from the existing line.

Replacing the pipeline will be done in two phases, Martucci said.

Part of the first phase — which includes two five-mile segments east of pumping stations near Griffith and LaPorte, Ind. and three five-mile segments east of Niles, Mendon and Marshall — already has been approved. The other part of the first phase — a 50-mile segment between Stockbridge and Ortonville — is near approval. Work on the first phase will be done this year, Martucci said...

Phase two includes 210 miles of pipeline from Griffith, Ind. to Marysville that was not replaced during phase one. A preliminary hearing for the phase two proposal will be at 9 a.m. June 6 in Lansing

The Times Herald reports if the plans are approved, most of the construction work would be done in 2013.

Commentary
11:42 am
Thu May 10, 2012

Commentary: Where's the outrage?

To badly paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, history will little note nor long remember Bob Dole’s presidential campaign sixteen years ago. Dole was the Republican nominee against President Bill Clinton that year.

This was before the sex scandals came to light, and Clinton breezed to reelection. Bob Dole, an authentic war hero with a hilariously caustic sense of humor, ran a bumbling race that didn’t reflect that he was actually a quite capable man. 

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Environment & Science
11:33 am
Thu May 10, 2012

Interview: Michigan DEQ on fracking

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – is a method of drilling for natural gas.  Drillers use fracking to get to the gas that’s trapped in tight shale rock formations below the water table.  Fracking pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas. (You can check out this in-depth series by Michigan Watch's Lester Graham)

In Michigan, drillers have used the fracking method for more than 50 years and the state regulates the industry.  But they’ve been drilling vertical wells.

There’s been more interest lately in horizontal fracking – that’s where companies drill horizontally along the shale rock up to a mile or more.  That makes the well site much more productive.  It has lead to a boom in gas drilling and production and more jobs in some parts of the country.

But horizontal fracking also uses much more water. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulates fracking.

I spoke with Brad Wurfel, the Communications Director for the DEQ.  You can listen to the interview above.

Q: So – let’s start with water use.  With the more traditional, vertical, fracking we’re talking about tens of thousands of gallons of water – horizontal fracking uses millions of gallons.  This is water that’s contaminated and cannot be used again. What kinds of studies are being done to ensure water supplies are adequate for horizontal fracking in Michigan?

Brad Wurfel: With horizontal fracturing, they’re tens of thousands of feet down under the ground. So it does require more water, but it also requires fewer wells. Every user who uses a lot of water has to register that use as part of their permitting process.  And if it looks like the water withdrawal proposal is going to harm the environment, that permit gets denied.  Or the company gets sent back to the drawing board to find a new way.

Q: What happens to the contaminated fracking fluid when it comes back out of the well?

A: It’s handled very carefully because in other states where the regulation hasn’t been as good, that’s been one of the key problems with hydraulic fracturing.  The amount of chemical that’s in that water is really small – it’s one half of one percent.  We require that operators use steel tanks to contain it and that it’s sent to a deep injection well for disposal.

Q: A recent article in the Battle Creek Enquirer quoted MDEQ geologist Michael Shelton, who said that 6.7 million gallons of water can be used in a single fracking well.  So – one half of one percent of 6 million gallons is still 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

A: Well, when you figure the dilution, it’s not an eminent threat to the environment. That said, when you combine it with the saline that comes back up, it does make it something that we want to handle very carefully, and we do.

Q: A 2011 Congressional report found these chemicals can range from things considered harmless like salt and citric acid to chemicals that can pose serious health risks.  Things like benzene, formaldehyde and lead.   But that report also found that many of the chemicals or the chemical mixes were listed as trade secrets. What does the DEQ require companies to disclose about the chemicals they use? 

A: We get Material Safety Data Sheets, and in the event there was ever a problem with a hydraulic fracture in the state of Michigan, every component used and its percentage would be disclosed immediately to emergency responders.  We haven’t ever had a situation where we’ve needed to use it.  That said, most of what’s in hydraulic fractures is under trade secret for the mix, not the actual chemicals.

Q: But companies can still protect the mixes of chemicals they consider trade secret, right?

A: That’s correct.

Q: So, if you suspect there’s water contamination at a well site, how will you know what chemicals to look for?

A: Well, those chemicals would be... present in the environment.  And we could obviously look at what was used there and see if it was evident in say, a water supply.  That’s a pretty big hypothetical.  We’ve been hearing a lot from folks who’ve got fears about what might happen.  And I can’t speak to what might happen.  I can speak to the fact that in 50 years and 12,000 wells around the state, we’ve never had to respond to an environmental emergency with hydraulic fracturing. It’s been done safely.

Economy
11:24 am
Thu May 10, 2012

Moving up the economic ladder in Michigan

Despite a tough state economy, people in Michigan are better able to move up the economic ladder than people in almost every other state. That's according to a report released by the Pew Research Center today.

The study found overall economic status doesn't change much over people's lives.

Erin Currier is from the Pew Center. She says the study did not look at why certain states did better than others. But she says there are some general lessons.

“Certain drivers of mobility are extremely powerful and those drivers include things like educational attainment, savings and asset building, and neighborhood poverty during childhood among others,” Currier.

The study found states with the most economic mobility are New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

News Roundup
8:38 am
Thu May 10, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Tuition Breaks for Veterans

Veterans who come to Michigan after retiring from military duty could soon get a tuition break at community colleges and universities. “A state House committee approved legislation yesterday that would waive the residency requirement for veterans to qualify for in-state or local tuition rates. State Representative Holly Hughes is one of the sponsors. Hughes says the tuition break would also encourage veterans to settle in Michigan once their service is complete. Universities and community colleges say the legislation does not make up for their lost revenue from the tuition breaks,” Rick Pluta reports.

Mandatory Sentences?

A bill in the Michigan Senate would impose tougher penalties on habitual criminals. Rina Miller reports:

A three-time felon who commits a fourth serious offense in Michigan would get a mandatory 25-year sentence under the proposal. The bill has the backing of State Attorney General Bill Schuette as well as law enforcement groups. The Attorney General's office says the mandatory sentence for fourth offenses would include assault with intent to murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and manslaughter. State Senator Steve Bieda says he'd like to refine the bill to give judges more sentencing discretion depending on the severity of the crime.

DNR Auction

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources auctioned off state-owned oil and natural gas drilling rights yesterday. More than $4 million dollars was made by leasing some 91,225 acres of land. “The money raised from these biannual auctions has been steadily increasing since 2000, hitting peaks in 2008 and 2010. In the first auction of 2008, the state leased all of the 149,000 available acres for more than $13 million. The last time the state had a 100 percent lease rate was in 1981. The first auction in 2010 had a 99.6 percent lease rate and raised an unprecedented amount: more than $178 million,” Suzanne Jacobs reports.

Auto
6:12 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Chevy Volt vs. Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf plug (left) and the Chevy Volt plug (right).

There's a lot of excitement around electric vehicles. But so far sales have not been great.

Michigan Radio’s auto beat reporter Tracy Samilton decided to get some firsthand experience driving two electric vehicles - the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.

JW: So while we are calling them electric cars there are some fundamental differences in how they work.

TS: The Leaf is a pure electric vehicle it only runs on the battery and when it runs dry you have to recharge the battery to get more out of the car. And the Volt has a battery, and you run on that as an electric car for about 35 miles, and then after that it has a generator that runs on gasoline that provides more electricity so the car can keep running. So Chevy calls it an electric car with extended range.

JW: And after spending that week with the Leaf and the Volt, what did you think?

TS: Well, they’re two totally different cars and I had two totally different experiences as you can imagine. When I got the Volt, that week that they gave it to me I actually have a vacation arranged in Pennsylvania. Well because it has the extended range I could actually take the volt to the camp sight, some 400 and some miles away. And I plugged it into my cabin, which had electricity. You know most of this was done on the gasoline but I was able to get it recharged in my cabin.

When it comes to the Leaf, it’s a different kind of vehicle, I could not have done that.

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Politics
5:35 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Detroit union asks feds to withhold transit money

A union that represents some Detroit transit workers is asking the U.S. Department of Labor to withhold federal transit money from the city. In a letter to labor secretary Hilda Solis, the union says the money should be withheld until Detroit and the state get rid of a provision in a recent consent agreement that suspends collective bargaining requirements. 

Attorney George Washington represents AFSCME Local 312. He says the Urban Mass Transit Act spells out that the preservation of transit employees' collective bargaining rights is a condition for getting federal mass transit money.

Washington says that flies in the face of the consent agreement Detroit recently entered with the state. That agreement lays out a series of conditions the city is expected to impose unilaterally by July 16.  

"Nobody has talked with the union about any of that, and there's no bargaining going on. They're just trying to issue orders and dictates," said Washington.

In a statement, Michigan Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton said this:

"It is unfortunate that, at a time when the city and state are working collaboratively to address the city’s financial crisis and delivery of key services, some are willing to take actions that promise only to further erode the city’s bus service and, perhaps more critically, its fiscal condition."

Environment & Science
4:36 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Drilling rights auction brings in more than $4 million

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources auctioned off state-owned oil and natural gas drilling rights on more than 90,000 acres yesterday.

Here’s a recap of the auction results:

  • Total acres up for auction: 108,164.70
  • Total acres leased: 91,225.42
  • Total money raised: $4,118,848.60
  • Average bid per acre: $39.90

These auctions are typically held twice per year, in May and October.

The money raised from these biannual auctions has been steadily increasing since 2000, hitting peaks in 2008 and 2010.

In the first auction of 2008, the state leased all of the 149,000 available acres for more than $13 million. The last time the state had a 100 percent lease rate was in 1981.

The first auction in 2010 had a 99.6 percent lease rate and raised an unprecedented amount: more than $178 million.

The average bid per acre for that auction was $1,507, which far exceeds the average bids at any other auctions over the last 10 years, all of which have been under $100.

-Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
3:27 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Habitual offenders could get mandatory 25-year sentence

kconnors MorgueFile

A proposed law in the Michigan Senate would impose tougher penalties on habitual criminals. 

A three-time felon who commits a fourth serious offense in Michigan would get a mandatory 25-year sentence under the proposal.

The bill has the backing of State Attorney General Bill Schuette, as well as law enforcement groups.

Robert Stevenson is Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. He says police get frustrated when criminals they put behind bars are back on the street again.

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Transportation
2:36 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Making public transit easier for Washtenaw Co. Spanish speakers

The Ride Facebook

Casa Latina, a new non-profit organization supporting Washtenaw County's Latino residents, has some interesting figures:

  • According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 30 percent of Washtenaw County community members who speak Spanish at home speak English ‘less than well’
  • Latinos make up 4 percent of Washtenaw County, yet 7.4 percent of those who use public transit are Latino
  • More than 70 percent of Spanish speakers in Washtenaw County are native-born US citizens, and 6.5 percent are naturalized citizens

With that in mind, Casa Latina has partnered with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (The Ride) to begin publishing a bus route and scheduling guide in Spanish.

In a press release, Charo Ledón, Executive Director of Casa Latina, commented, "This effort will help many of our fellow community members effectively use the bus system to get to and from work, school and the grocery store. It's a big step for Spanish-speakers to be able to fully participate in our community."

And a Spanish translation might just be the first step.

Carrie Rheingans, also with Casa Latina said, "In working with TheRide, we learned that there are folks who would like to see the Ride Guide published in other languages, too, and we applaud TheRide for trying this pilot project in Spanish first with Casa Latina." 

According to the release, The Ride's new website will allow users to find information in several languages.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. If you want to learn how to be a part of our network, click here.

Transportation
2:07 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Traffic deaths fell by 5 percent in Michigan last year

user dori wikimedia commons

Traffic deaths in Michigan fell by 5 percent last year, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

  • 937 people in Michigan were killed in 2010,
  • 889 in 2011.

Nationally, road deaths fell by almost 2-percent during 2011.

Communications manager for the Office of Highway Safety Planning Anne Readette said a decline in drunk driving and high seat belt use helped the situation.  

"Just a few years ago, Michigan had a 98 percent [seat] belt use rate... and we know that certainly has played a significant role in what we're seeing in traffic deaths," said Readette. 

Readett said her office focuses on communicating their latest safety messages to young men - the drivers most likely to drink and drive and to not wear seat belts.

Here are a few more notable items from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning's press release:

  • Cell phone-involved crashes decreased from 881 in 2010 to 821 in 2011. Cell phone-involved fatal crashes increased from four in 2010 to six in 2011. (Michigan cannot track crashes involving texting specifically.)
  • Commercial motor vehicle-involved fatalities fell 23 percent, from 95 in 2010 to 73 in 2011.
  • Motorcyclist fatalities dropped 13 percent, from 125 in 2010 to 109 in 2011.
  • Bicyclist fatalities were down 17 percent, from 29 in 2010 to 24 in 2011.
  • Pedestrian fatalities increased 6 percent, from 131 in 2010 to 140 in 2011.
  • The number of car-deer crashes declined 4 percent, from 55,867 in 2010 to 53,592 in 2011.
Developing: Detroit Police
1:15 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Detroit police station evacuated

Update 1:55 p.m.

The Detroit News reports that three police officers have been temporarily quarantined, including the officer who handled the letter and two who were in the immediate vicinity.

The News quotes Inspector Don Johnson of the Homeland Security Unit of the Detroit Police Department:

"The officer who was exposed doesn't appear to be in any pain or distress at this time. At this point, we are treating it more as a hazmat situation rather than a bomb situation."

1:15 p.m.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are responding to a situation at a Detroit Police Station.

The police station at the corner of Schaefer and Grand River was evacuated and a Hazmat team dispatched after a suspicious powder fell out of a mailed envelope.  The envelope had no return address.

Hazmat crews are still analyzing the substance.

Commentary
11:12 am
Wed May 9, 2012

Commentary: Slight increase in manufacturing jobs in Detroit

There’s a phenomenon that happens sometimes after a major stock market crash which is known by the ghastly name, “Dead Cat Bounce.”  We saw a lot of that back in the fall of 2008.

The Dow Jones averages would plunge 500 one day. The next day, they’d recover, say, 50 points, before falling even further later in the week. What was that brief rally all about? Well, it wasn’t about any real improvement in the market.

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Election 2012
9:01 am
Wed May 9, 2012

Road To The White House Goes Through Michigan

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 6:21 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

George Orwell once said that those who control the past, control the future. If you can revise history to fit your point of view, it gives you power. So, it should be no surprise that presidential candidates are struggling over some recent history - the auto bailout.

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News Roundup
8:52 am
Wed May 9, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 9th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Election Results

Voters from more than 200 communities turned out yesterday for local elections. In West Michigan, the nearly $100-million-dollar Grand Rapids Community College millage failed. Voters in other parts of the state, however, seemed more willing to spend on education. The Ann Arbor Public Schools technology bond passed with 70 percent in favor of the bond. Voters also approved a bond proposal in the Bloomfield Hills School District. In Brighton, voters narrowly approved an $88 million bond issue. A one-percent city income tax was defeated in Ypsilanti. And, voters in the Lansing area defeated a proposal that would have added a surcharge on their water bills to pay for a sludge dryer in Delhi Township.

Romney Campaigns in Lansing

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney returned to Michigan yesterday to deliver an address at Lansing Community College. Rick Pluta reports:

Romney spoke to a crowd of about 500 people. He went on the attack against President Obama’s handling of the economy. Michigan is outpacing the nation in new hiring, but Romney says the recovery is anemic, and the President mishandled the rescue of the domestic auto industry. He says the President’s rhetoric has not matched his results. The Obama campaign says the resurgence of the auto industry and hiring in the manufacturing sector are proof the president’s policies are working. The Obama and Romney campaigns say they intend to wage a battle for Michigan, which has voted with the Democratic nominee for president in the last five elections.

Snyder Signs Taser Measure

People with concealed pistol permits in Michigan will soon be able to carry Tasers. “Governor Snyder signed the bill into law yesterday. The rules will be the same as those that apply to people authorized to carry firearms in Michigan. More than a quarter-million people in Michigan have concealed pistol licenses. Michigan joins 44 other states that allow people to carry Tasers in public,” Sarah Hulett reports.

Politics
7:47 am
Wed May 9, 2012

The week in Michigan politics

The Week in State Politics, May 9th, 2012
The Toad Flickr

Every Wednesday, we take a look at the week in state politics with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. Today, we talk about what yesterday's election results mean for communities across the state and what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had to say during a campaign visit to Lansing yesterday.

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