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A sentinel team, L to R: Dave Maynard, DEQ, Brian Petroff, a plumber with UA Local 370, and Flint residents Douglas Banks and Eric Harvey.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Teams of plumbers, employees with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Flint residents have started visiting 400 homes in Flint this week. The state of Michigan calls these homes “sentinel sites.”

The state says 156 of these homes are known to have lead service lines. Other homes are places where kids have tested high for lead in their blood.

Bryce Feighner is with the MDEQ.

The 40-foot long RV was converted into a doctor's office on wheels.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Kids in Flint will soon get checkups from a doctor’s office on wheels. The 40-foot long blue RV is a new initiative from Hurley Children’s Hospital to help kids who have been exposed to lead.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, was in Flint on Friday to announce the arrival of the clinic.

“We’re talking about being able to make sure children get testing, get information about what to do in terms of nutrition, getting their regular doctor visits; any specialty care they need for themselves as well as their families,” she says.

Information freeze thaws after injunction on election law

5 hours ago
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - An information freeze for local and school officials is thawing after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on a new Michigan election law that critics called a gag order.

The injunction came as a relief to many local and school officials fearful of legal repercussions for distributing information about upcoming ballot proposals. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation into law this year.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A suburban Detroit couple is facing federal charges for “harboring undocumented immigrants for commercial gain.”

The charges come after five young men, aged 16-23, died in a fire at Roger Tam and Ada Lei’s home last month.

Officials say the men were all Mexican nationals in the U.S. illegally.

They apparently lived in the Novi home’s basement, and worked at the couple’s nearby Chinese restaurant, Kim's Garden.

They were unable to escape when a mattress caught fire there Jan. 31.

Guy Williams and Lester Graham
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Flint water crisis has brought attention to a larger issue: why do we see more contamination and pollution issues in areas where poor people and, often, people of color live?

Flint’s water is just the tip of the iceberg. Flint has been an industrial city for generations, and still suffers from the lingering pollution left behind by over a century’s worth of factories. Much of the city’s housing was built using lead-based products like paint.

Fermenta is a nonprofit group that helps women learn about and break into the brewing industry
Pauline Knighton

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the brewing and distilling industries have seen some growth in Michigan. You really don’t have to go far to find a microbrewer or distiller that’s producing some really fine ales or spirits.

Brewing has for some time been a craft mostly dominated by males, but a new group in Michigan is starting to change that.

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

After a closed search regarded by some Eastern Michigan University faculty as "too secretive," the EMU Board of Regents elected the school's 23rd president at a special meeting Friday.

James M. Smith was selected out of 81 applicants after a national search process that began in April 2015.

The pool was narrowed down by a 10-person Search Advisory Committee, made up of regents, faculty representatives and administrators.

The Michigan Ice Fest is expecting 700 attendees this year, 40% more than the festival saw last year
Aaron Peterson/Clear & Cold Cinema

Last week it was 50 degrees in many parts of the state. This week it’s freezing. But in the Upper Peninsula, freezing is a good thing for certain adventurous souls.

The sandstone cliffs in Munising, Michigan rise 200 feet above Lake Superior, and during the winter the area attracts ice climbers.

Michigan.gov

Governor Snyder just released 21,403 pages of emails about the Flint water crisis. 

The emails include documents the  The Detroit News already published Friday, in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discussed the Genesee County Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in late March 2015.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The heads of Flint's police and fire departments are out of those jobs.

Mayor Karen Weaver said Friday in a press release she's restructuring city operations and has accepted the resignations of Police Chief James Tolbert and Fire Chief David Cox Jr. She's also fired City Administrator Natasha Henderson.

“I’m doing what I told the people who voted for me that I would do," says Weaver, "My focus is moving the City of Flint forward and I feel these personnel changes are necessary to keep us on the right path.”

Flickr user Michigan Municipal League/Flickr

Governor Snyder says he now wants to testify before congress to “explain mistakes made by water quality experts that led to the current crisis, and detail the emergency response in place to help residents recover,” according to a statement released Friday.

Snyder’s office says he called the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to ask for the opportunity to testify.

Snyder Press Secretary Dave Murray says the governor will use the opportunity to call for a national conversation on infrastructure.

We are in the middle of what is officially black history month. These days, so far as I can tell, that mostly means elementary school kids have to do a report on Martin Luther King Jr., and read a few paragraphs from the famous speech.

The rest of us mainly ignore it. Which is too bad, because black history is filled with fascinating and untold stories, and I want to tell you about a riveting new book about one.


John Sellek / Courtesy photo

If you live in Flint, it can be really hard to figure out what you should and should not do with your tap water. The messages from officials, scientists and non-profit groups sometimes conflict with one another and they’ve changed over time.

The country's two most vacant cities are in Michigan

Feb 11, 2016
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report from Realty Trac says Flint is the most vacant city in the nation, and Detroit isn't far behind.

According to the report, 7.5 percent of homes in Flint are vacant. Detroit comes in second at 5.3 percent.

State Senator offers to resign seat as part of plea bargain

Feb 11, 2016
State Senator Virgil Smith, D-Detroit.
senatedems.com

Detroit Democrat Virgil Smith has offered to step down from his state Senate seat as part of a plea deal that also dismisses some charges connected to a shooting incident involving his ex-wife.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon has yet to accept the plea and scheduled a March 14 hearing to decide if the agreement is was tough enough.

As part of the plea, Smith would serve 10 months in the county jail and five years probation for malicious destruction of property. Felonious assault, using a firearm during a felony, and domestic violence charges would be dismissed.

Public Domain / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

What defines affordable housing?

According to the federal government, affordable housing means not spending more than 30% of your income on housing. In a more colloquial context, however, affordable housing means more than just a percentage of your income. For many Michigan citizens, affordable housing means stability. For so many, affordable housing can change one’s life.

flickr user woodleywonderworks / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

All over Michigan, there are cities and towns that suffer from a lack of affordable housing. The demand keeps growing, but the supply just isn't there. 

Wayne State professor George Galster has a few ideas that could help Michigan tackle the issue:

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio

A group of state House Democrats hopes the crisis in Flint will help bring attention to other issues they say threaten clean water in Michigan.

They announced bills on Thursday that would increase regulations on fracking.

Democrats say there’s an opportunity to have a serious conversation about fracking and other water quality issues.

“Now that there’s a little more attention, this gives us an opportunity to go to our colleagues and say, hey look, here’s another threat, here’s another problem,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

USDA.gov

The meat from Ann Arbor's deer cull is on its way to an area food bank.

Local charity Food Gatherers will receive the venison from the cull. Area meat processors are grinding the meat for consumption after the Department of Natural Resources conducts tests on the animals. 

The city's cull permit requires the meat be donated.  Eileen Spring, president of Food Gatherers, said her organization has no position on the cull itself, and did not solicit the donation in any way. 

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has had to swing into high gear in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

“We traditionally did about 1.6 million pounds out of the food bank, in January of 2015,” said president Bill Kerr. “This year we did over 3 million pounds.”

Kerr says water accounted for the increase, with about 1.4 million pounds of water distributed at 140 sites last month.

Now, Kerr says the food bank is tweaking its operations again.

These are examples of lead drinking water pipes. The pipe on the left had no corrosion control in place, allowing metals to flake off and get into the water. The bigger pipe on the right (white coating), had phosphate corrosion control in place.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

The people in charge of the drinking water in Flint didn't do their jobs correctly.

A state-appointed emergency manager forced the city to switch where they got their drinking water from to try to save money. The city switched water sources from Lake Huron water from Detroit, to water from the Flint River. And when they made the switch, they failed to understand that there was something Detroit was adding to the water to protect them.

Phosphates.

These phosphates create a protective layer inside drinking water pipes.

Apple with books
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A new report out today from Education Trust-Midwest says some charter school authorizers in Michigan aren't doing their jobs very well.

The report says some of the entities that open and oversee charter schools have made marginal improvements overall, but performance remains low when compared to leading education states.

Pixabay / News Service

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dropped into Flint yesterday to offer support for residents reeling from the water crisis.

Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Katie Wilson announced residents in Flint who participate in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program can have lead testing done, paid for by the program. She explains the department wants to help families get through the crisis.

www.defense.gov

When Michigan firefighters get work-related cancer, they’re supposed to be covered by the state. But that’s not happening. 

Because more than a year after lawmakers created a cancer-coverage fund for firefighters, they still haven't put any money in it. 

I doubt that anyone who is listens to or reads my commentaries would think of turning to me for dating or relationship advice, but I am going to give you some anyway.

If you are single, and want to meet someone, you probably don’t want to go to the bar with a copy of the governor’s budget request and say, “Hey, there’s some really interesting stuff in here.”

That probably wouldn’t even work in Lansing.

Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byways

The debate over fish farming in Michigan has arrived in Lansing.

Hearings are taking place at the state Capitol as environmental groups argue against a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality. That permit allows the operation of a fish hatchery operated by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm in Grayling to raise rainbow trout on a branch of the Au Sable River, which is located in the northern lower peninsula, about 50 miles east of Traverse City.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The US Environmental Protection Agency says it will conduct an inspection of Detroit’s wastewater treatment plant.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the EPA confirmed plans to do a “performance inspection audit” next month.

“Staff from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality will also be involved in this audit, to assess current lab procedures and compliance with federal requirements under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program,” the statement reads.

Gov. Rick Snyder
gophouse.com

Governor Rick Snyder had to push past a throng of protesters as he prepared to present his budget plan for the coming fiscal year. Much of the plan focuses on crises that emerged last year, including the Flint water crisis.

"Drink the water, Rick! Drink the water, Rick! Drink, the water, Rick!” was the chant of protesters just outside the doors. They could be heard inside the room throughout Governor Snyder’s budget rollout to state lawmakers.

Michigan’s second-largest county has come “roaring back” from the Great Recession.

That was longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s message at his annual state of the county speech Wednesday night.

“The state of Oakland County is strong! Amazingly strong. Vibrant,” Patterson said.

He touted the county’s unemployment rate, which soared to nearly 15% in the depths of the recession. Now, it’s dipped below 5%.

user: mariordo / Wikimedia Commons

Federal safety regulators have told Google the computer in their self-driving car can be considered the driver - in lieu of a human.

One analyst says that decision is a "launching pad" for the technology.

Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says many regulations were written long before the self-driving car was a twinkle in Google founder Larry Page's eye. So recognizing the computer as the driver helps to make the technology feasible.

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