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1:08 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it. 

The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.

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Environment
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Officials expand testing of cancer-causing chemical in Lake St. Clair

Carp in Lake St. Clair have the highest levels of PCB. Carp have levels that are 10 times what is considered safe.
User: Lebatihem Flickr

State health and environmental officials are expanding the scope of their testing for PCB in fish in Lake St. Clair.

PCB is a toxic compound that was used in electrical and industrial equipment. The chemical was banned in the 70s for its toxicity.  

Joe Bohr is with the Department for Environmental Quality. He says while the PCB found in the fish is 10 times what is considered safe, the amount of PCB in Michigan’s waters is decreasing.  

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Auto/Economy
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Chrysler to reopen part of plant in Trenton, Michigan

Increased demand for Chrysler's Pentastar V6 engine helped to reopen part of the Trenton North engine plant.
Greg Mason Flickr

Chrysler says it will invest $114 million in the Trenton North engine plant and save about 268 jobs.

From Reuters:

Chrysler will repurpose about one-fifth, or 400,000-square feet, of the Trenton North engine plant to make parts for the Pentastar engine made at the Trenton South plant.

The plant was closed last month, but the need for these parts has increased as Chrysler replaces seven V-6 engines with the new Pentastar V-6 engine, Brian Harlow, head of powertrain manufacturing said in a statement.

"This investment has also given Trenton North, which has been building engines for nearly 60 years, a new lease on life," Harlow said.

The city of Trenton gave Chrysler some tax breaks in exchange for investing in and reopening part of the Trenton North engine plant.

Crain's Detroit Business reports the tax break as a "50 percent tax abatement for Chrysler for 12 years."

Trenton Mayor, Gerald Brown, said he's happy Chrysler has given the plant a new lease on life. From the Detroit News:

Trenton Mayor Gerald Brown said the city is thrilled Chrysler is reopening the plant...

On Monday, the Trenton City Council approved a tax break for the $114 million project.

"My administration worked very hard to come to an agreement that will provide the city with long-term stability at the site, additional jobs and tax base improvements while further enhancing the relationship that Trenton and Chrysler have enjoyed since the 1950s. Trenton truly is Chrysler Town and we are proud of it," Brown said.

Politics
1:00 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan gets $3.3 million for fighting food assistance fraud

user redjar

Michigan is getting 3.3 million dollars from the federal government to continue efforts to stop errors in the Food Assistance Program. Senator Debbie Stabenow said the state is improving on ways to stop errors, but there is a lot more work to be done.

"It is really an outrage when people are cheating and defrauding the system particularly when it’s something as basic as food for families. We have people in Michigan all across Michigan who have paid taxes all of their lives who never thought in their wildest dreams that they would be in a position where they needed to get some temporary help," said Stabenow. 

The senator said Michigan is keeping better electronic records on who is using the bridge card and how often it is being used. The USDA said Michigan was the most improved state last year in fighting food assistance fraud.

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Environment
12:18 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Power plants killing millions of Great Lakes fish every year

The Bay Shore Power Plant on Maumee Bay in Lake Erie. Lake Erie Waterkeeper Sandy Binh says this power plant is "probably the largest fish-killing plant in the Great Lakes."
screen grab from YouTube video sWestern Lake Erie Waterkeepers and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

Power plants around the region are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of fish each year, according to an investigative report from the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's environmental reporter, Michael Hawthorne, looked at thousands of pages of industry reports documenting fish kills obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Hawthorne reports that the reports "highlight a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem that has largely gone unaddressed for years."

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Environment
10:55 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Lawmakers wrestling with wild hogs

Wild hogs in a breeding facility.
Photo by Peter Payette

Wild hogs have been the talk of the state legislature this week. Hunting ranches call the hogs Russian boars. They’re brown and hairy and the males have little tusks. The hogs are bred and raised to be hunted. Wild hog hunts typically go for around 500 or 600 bucks.

The Department of Natural Resources says wild hogs have gotten out of hand. The DNR says the hogs have gotten loose and are running around... doing things like tearing up the soil, destroying crops and competing with other animals for food.

The agency points out that wild hog breeding and hunting within these fenced facilities is currently unregulated. Last year, the DNR director signed an order. It will make it illegal to possess a wild hog in Michigan. The order goes into effect July 8th... unless a law is passed to regulate wild hogs on hunting ranches.

Ted Nugent is possibly the most outspoken critic of a ban on wild hogs. He owns a hunting ranch near Jackson.

“There’s this voodoo subculture out there that is misrepresenting that there are pigs loose and there are pigs out there destroying the environment and destroying family farms, when none of that is true.”

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Environment
10:42 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Climate change & Great Lakes restoration

Photo by Rebecca Williams

There’s an enormous project underway to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. It’s called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. People are doing things like cleaning up toxic hot spots... restoring wetlands... and trying to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan.

Melinda Koslow is with the National Wildlife Federation. She’s an author of a new report on how climate change might affect these projects. She says scientists are finding the climate in the Great Lakes region is already changing.

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Politics
10:30 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan gets $3M for fighting food stamp fraud

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan will get $3.3 million from the federal government for its past work toward stopping errors in state-administered portions of the food assistance program.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture award Thursday.

Stabenow says Michigan will receive the additional federal cash as a reward for improvements made during the 2010 fiscal year related to stopping payment errors.

Stabenow said the money should be used to make further improvements in the system to prevent fraud and other abuses in the food assistance program.

Stabenow also called for continued efforts at the federal level to stop fraud and abuse in the program.

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Politics
8:30 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court agrees to decide pension tax question

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take up the question of taxing pensions.
Michigan Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court has agreed to Governor Rick Snyder’s request to make an early ruling on whether the new income tax on pensions violates the Michigan Constitution.

Governor Snyder made the request to avoid what potentially could be years of litigation.

The governor is trying to preempt an expected lawsuit from state employee unions. They say the tax on pensions will illegally reduce their agreed-to compensation under collective bargaining agreements.

The Michigan Constitution says the state may not “diminish” nor “impair” the financial benefits of pension plans.

The governor wants the question settled before the pension tax takes effect next year. The law extends the state income tax for the first time to pensions of people born after 1945.

The Supreme Court ordered oral arguments to be held in the case in September. The court has a Republican majority.

Politics
8:00 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Snyder declines to sign GOP letter on Medicaid reform, Obamacare

Governor Rick Snyder is the only Republican governor in the country to decline to sign a letter outlining their goals for healthcare.

The letter included a call to reverse the new federal health care reforms.

The letter was sent by the Republican Governors Association and signed by every member of the group except for Governor Snyder. The letter calls on Congress to give states more control over the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for low-income families. But it also says reversing federal health care reforms is the top priority of Republican governors.

Governor Snyder has been circumspect on where he stands on the health care reforms.

“My role is not to be a large advocate on the national scale. My role is to be governor of Michigan," said Snyder. "We’re focused on Michigan issues.”

Governor Snyder says the state will move ahead with plans to enact the federal reforms unless they are struck down by a court.

The governor sent his own letter to congressional leaders, pointing out that Michigan has not cut Medicaid services to low-income families despite a budget crisis.

Politics
7:36 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Senate committee opens bridge hearings

Michigan Senate hearings on a new Detroit River bridge crossing began this week.
Patricia Drury Flickr

A state Senate committee opened hearings yesterday on legislation that would start the process of building a new bridge connecting Detroit to Canada.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor-Ontario.

Governor Rick Snyder would like the Legislature to approve the initial stages of the bridge project by the end of the month.

Representatives of Governor Snyder’s administration and the Canadian government were on hand to insist the new bridge is an economic necessity that would not cost Michigan taxpayers any money.

Canada has committed to pay all the construction costs with repayment coming from tolls.

Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general to Michigan, says both Michigan and Canada would benefit from expanded border access.

“There are jobs in almost every county of Michigan that depend on companies being able to move things back and forth across the frontier with Canada,” said Norton.

The new bridge would compete with the existing Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are trying to stop the project.

Matthew Moroun’s family owns the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun will testify today before the state Senate Economic Development Committee.

“We intend to show the actual statistics," said Moroun. "You know, we’ve been in the bridge business for 30-some years, and you learn a lot about the bridge business from being in the bridge business, I can tell you.”

Moroun says the state and Canada cannot credibly guarantee taxpayers’ money is not at stake in going ahead with a new bridge.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is the governor’s lead negotiator to win legislative support of the bridge. He says a new border crossing in southeastern Michigan is critical to the economic future of the entire state.

“Our biggest customer is Canada," said Calley. "We sell more to Canada than anybody else. They buy more of our goods than anybody else, and so we need more access, better access to that market if Michigan is to be successful.”

Calley and the Snyder administration face skeptics in the Legislature.

Opponents of a new bridge say traffic studies show there’s no need for a new bridge. They also say the state should not be backing a public bridge to compete with a private business.

Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they remain skeptical the deal would be good for Michigan taxpayers or that a new bridge is necessary, and they say it will take more before they’ll cast a vote in favor of it.

Culture
4:02 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Gender identity, sexual orientation laws fail to move forward at Holland City Council

Rev. Bill Freeman reads from his copy of the U.S. Constitution during a packed out public hearing on the proposed changes. Freeman first requested city council to study the issue a little over a year ago.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. today, at least 50 people file out of Holland City Hall. I hear some say, “They don’t get it, but you tried.”

A few people wearing "Holland is Ready" buttons hug one another -- some are tearing up -- after city council voted 5 to 4 against the recommendation to adopt the proposed anti-discrimination laws. The recommendation included providing homosexual and transgender persons protection from employers and landlords who discriminate against them.

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Auto/Economy
4:45 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Detroit dog day care gets go-ahead to expand

Liz Blondy will be able to expand her growing dog day care business onto land where the Birdtown garden now sits in Detroit's Cass Corridor.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

A contentious land dispute between a Detroit small business and a community garden has been resolved in the business’s favor.

The Detroit City Council voted this week to allow Canine To Five, a dog day care facility, to buy adjacent property to expand its business.

That land is currently occupied by the Birdtown Community garden.

Liz Blondy owns Canine to five. She says she’s disappointed that the dispute was framed as a “business versus gardens” issue.

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Education
4:07 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Tuition price tag causes controversy for Gov. Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder

How much does it cost to educate a child in Michigan?

The answer to that question is causing controversy for Gov. Rick Snyder.

Greenhills School -- where Gov. Snyder's daughter attends -- in Ann Arbor released a video asking for donations. In the video, officials from Greenhills claim that $20,000 per year per student isn't enough to keep the school running.

Michigan public schools receive an average of $6,846 per year per student, and that number has dropped since Gov. Snyder took office.

From the Michigan Messenger:

As the debate over deep cuts to the state’s per pupil allowance in education funding continues, Greenhills School in Ann Arbor has released a fundraising video in which school officials say the $20,000 per year tuition per student is not enough to keep the school running.

The video features students and faculty from the school, where Gov. Rick Snyder sends his daughter, reading from a script and saying that money raised from an annual auction was necessary to keep the school going. One student, who is not identified, says, “Tuition alone does not cover the costs of a Greenhills education.”

The video asks viewers to consider a donation of “$10,000, $500 or $50″ to help the school defray the school’s operational costs.

At the same time that the school to which Snyder sends his own child can’t make ends meet with funding of $20,000 per pupil, the governor recently pushed through and signed legislation that cuts per pupil public school funding by $370 per student, bringing state funding to $6,846 per student. Some schools could qualify for an additional $100 per student if they adopt what Snyder and GOP lawmakers call “best practices.” Those practices include reducing employee costs by forcing an increase in insurance cost sharing and privatizing or consolidating some services.

According to an opinion piece from the Battle Creek Examiner, academic and athletic facilities at Greenhills include Smartboard technology in all classrooms, a state-of-the-art theater, an indoor batting cage, a climbing wall, and a weather station. The average class size is 15 students and the school scores 100 percent college entrance rate for graduates.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
3:32 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Patterson: Pontiac's problems too big for county to handle

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Pontiac can have access to Oakland County’s financial and technical experts, but a merger of the two governments is out of the question. That’s the message County Executive L. Brooks Patterson delivered at a forum today on Pontiac’s deteriorating financial situation.

Pontiac’s financial manager asked Patterson to consider a merger in a letter last week. But Patterson says the county can’t afford to take on Pontiac’s problems, and isn’t equipped to deliver services at the city level. But Patterson says the threat of bankruptcy is real:

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Politics
2:44 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Lawsuit alleges Detroit Mayor Bing planned to take over council and schools

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was named in a whistleblower lawsuit today. Bing dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous.
Dave Hogg Flickr

A former executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has filed a lawsuit that alleges the mayor had plans to dissolve the Detroit City Council and the Detroit School Board by becoming the emergency manager for both.

The plaintiffs in the case are Rochelle Collins, the former executive assistant, and her husband, Oreese Collins.

Rochelle Collins and her husband are suing the city of Detroit, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and Bing's chief communications officer, Karen Dumas, on four counts:

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Environment
1:19 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Bear sighting confirmed in Washtenaw County

This young black bear, believed to be about a year old, was sighted Tuesday near Dexter. A homeowner said the animal was attracted to beehives on the property.
Courtesy Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department

Police and Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials are confirming the sighting of a black bear near Dexter this week.  

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department says there were two reports of a bear at Hudson Mills Metropark last weekend. Then on Tuesday, a nearby homeowner spotted the bear, and took  photos.

Mary Dettloff is with the DNR. She says conservation officers confirmed evidence of a bear on the property.

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Commentary
12:49 pm
Wed June 15, 2011

Fixing Our Courts

How much do you know about Michigan’s Supreme Court, and how someone gets to become a justice?

If you asked me that back when I was in high school, or even college, I probably would have said something like, “uh, I guess they select the best and wisest judges in the state, and we elect them.”

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Education
11:20 am
Wed June 15, 2011

Jeb Bush in Lansing to talk education reform

Former Governor Jeb Bush (center) is in Michigan today to discuss education reforms.
Mark Wolfe FEMA

Since he left office in 2008, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush has been heading up the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The foundation's goal is to "ignite a movement of reform, state by state, to transform education for the 21st century."

Today, Bush is in the state of Michigan.

Governor Snyder's office reports that Snyder and Bush will meet with Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, and Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan at 11:30 a.m. this morning today to discuss education reforms.

From the Associated Press:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is coming to Michigan to meet with Republican leaders and testify about how he thinks states should change how they approach education....

Bush will testify before the Senate-House Education Committee Wednesday morning. He'll also join Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, state superintendent Mike Flanagan and the House and Senate GOP leaders for a news conference to discuss education improvements.

Snyder outlined a sweeping education proposal this spring that included new rules for teacher tenure, anti-bullying legislation and new ways for students to start taking college classes as early as the ninth grade. Lawmakers are working on the changes.

Science/Health
10:57 am
Wed June 15, 2011

Fish-killing virus found in mid-Michigan lake

Bluegill fish are among those infected by VHS
Corvair Owner

A fish-killing virus has been found in Budd Lake in Clare County. The viral hemorrhagic septicema or VHS virus can infect a lot of species in the Great Lakes basin.

Gary Whelan, from Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division, says the number of fish at risk is small compared to the fish kill found in Lake Erie in 2006. 

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