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Environment
4:43 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Lake Muskegon clean up slated

Clean up will remove mercury and toxic waste from the lake
bigmikesndtech flickr

The clean-up of industrial waste in Muskegon Lake will start next month. The lake is contaminated with mercury and other pollutants that get into fish and wildlife. The Muskegon River flows through the lake on its way to Lake Michigan.

Kathy Evans is with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

“U.S EPA and the state of Michigan entered into the agreement to clean up Muskegon Lake and the community sees this as very beneficial to the local economy, to the environment to the fish and wildlife habitat and the water quality here in Muskegon Lake and to Lake Michigan.”

The clean-up is being paid for by the state and federal governments and is expected to cost twelve-million dollars.

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Politics
4:22 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

ACLU wants to know more about the genesis of Michigan's emergency financial manager law

The American Civil Liberties Union wants to know more about the creation of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager law. The legislation gives broad new powers to managers appointed by the state to run financially troubled cities and school districts. Those powers include voiding union contracts. 

Kary Moss is with the ACLU of Michigan. She says the ACLU is filing Freedom of Information requests to learn more about who wrote the law. 

“This legislation was passed and signed pretty quickly.   And all that we are trying to do right now is get some more information about ‘What prompted it?’, ‘How is it going to be implemented?’, just so the public can have more information."

Moss says they also want to know who was involved in drafting the legislation. 

"Who was really at the table…when it was drafted...andconceived and discussed.”

Governor Snyder says the law encourages cities and school districts to make financial changes, before an Emergency Financial Manager would be appointed.

The governor’s office has not commented on the ACLU request.

Economy
4:11 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Report: Need for food assistance up, even as unemployment dips

qmnonic flickr

A new report says the need for food assistance in Michigan is still on the rise, even as unemployment declines.

Judy Putnam is with the Michigan League for Human Services, which conducts the quarterly economic report. She says money for food assistance comes from the federal government, and is money well spent.

“This is money that’s spent in local grocery stores, so it doesn’t go into a black hole, it actually goes into the local economies. It’s really considered one of the most effective economic stimulants that you can find. You get a lot of bang for the buck.”

Putnam says if the state eliminates the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families, that could create more need for food assistance in the coming years. 

business
3:21 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Quicken Loans closes deal on downtown Detroit building

Courtesy Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans has completed the purchase of the 14-story Chase Tower in downtown Detroit. The deal will allow the company to move the remainder of its workforce from the suburbs to downtown Detroit.

When the move is complete, about 4,000 employees of Quicken and its related companies will work downtown.

The Chase Tower sits just south of the Compuware Building on the other side of Campus Martius Park, where Quicken moved about 1,700 of its employees last year.

The move downtown is part of Quicken founder Dan Gilbert’s plan to help turn lower Woodward Avenue into a mecca for high-tech, Internet-based businesses.

Quicken is the nation’s largest online mortgage lender.

Plans for the Chase Tower include retail space on the first floor, and room for tenants who fit into Gilbert’s plan for a downtown Detroit technology hub.

Arts/Culture
3:19 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit Symphony musicians return to stage, first time since strike

The DSO will perform 2 free, sold-out concerts this weekend
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians returned to the stage today for a rehearsal - their first since they went on strike last October.

The orchestra is rehearsing for two concerts this weekend, both of which sold out almost instantly. Leonard Slatkin, the DSO’s music director, says it helped that the tickets were free. He says "the real test is going to come next season when we try to see if we can sustain the positive energy that's been a result of this settlement."

Leonard Slatkin, who was uncharacteristically quiet during the strike, says he’s very excited to be back. He says as the DSO moves forward, it will have a bigger and stronger presence not only in Detroit, but in the suburbs, too:

"Another plus of the strike is more people that didn’t know about us, know about us! We were in the news all the time, and we need to capitalize on that. An orchestra is an institution that only appeals to a relatively small percentage of a given population in any city; now we at least have a recognizable name."

Slatkin says people will begin to the see the "hand-print" of what the new model for the orchestra will be as we move into the Spring season, and he says "no decisions will be taken without the complete consent of the orchestra."

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Politics
3:13 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Redrawing the political map of Michigan

Voters in Jackson, Michigan fill out their ballots in a recent election
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A state House panel next week will begin the process of redrawing Michigan’s political maps. The first hearing will focus on results from the 2010 U-S Census.  

Michigan lost population over the past decade, and the state will lose a seat in the U.S. House. With Republicans controlling all branches of state government, Democrats are worried that new district lines will target a vulnerable Democratic seat like that of US Congressman Gary Peters.          

The state House Redistricting and Elections Committee is chaired by Republican Representative Pete Lund. Lund led the successful GOP push to retake the Michigan House last fall. Lund said in a statement that he looks forward to the hearings and, "a fair, effective redistricting process for our state."

Government Shutdown
2:52 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

How a shutdown would affect Michigan

A federal government shutdown looms as leaders in Congress disagree on budget cuts.
user kulshrax creative commons

A shutdown of the federal government seems more likely as leaders in Congress don't seem to have a clear handle on where their disagreements lie.

The New York Times outlined the disagreement... over their disagreements...

  • Senate Majority Leader, Hary Reid (D-NV), said, "the numbers are basically there, but I am not nearly as optimistic, and that's an understatement, as I was 11 hours ago. The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology."
  • And House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)  told reporters, "there is no agreement on a number. I think we were closer to a number last night than we are this morning. We're going to have real spending cuts. I don't know what some people don't understand about this."

So, a shutdown of the federal government is getting closer.

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Environment
1:08 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

State will close some campgrounds starting in May

The state will close around 120 campsites that are under-used.
user 3rdParty flickr

The state will be closing twenty-three state forest campgrounds beginning in May. The campgrounds are not state parks. They’re camping sites along rivers, lakes or trails. Most of the sites to be closed are in the Upper Peninsula.

Mary Dettloff is with the state Department of Natural Resources.

"These are primarily rustic camping sites. There’s no electrical hook up like there is at a state park. State Forest campgrounds tend to cater to people who are into more of just a tent camping experience."

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is closing the campgrounds because they’re not heavily used and the state doesn’t have money to maintain them. Dettloff continues:

"Not only did we pick the ones that are underperforming in terms of bringing in revenue but they’re also ones that are close to other state forest campgrounds. So we’re not going to be denying the opportunity to use the state forest campgrounds to people because there will be other ones nearby that will remain open."

The trails and land around the campgrounds will still be available to visitors after the campsites are removed.

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Environment
12:42 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Isle Royale's wolves to go extinct?

Wolves on Isle Royale in Lake Superior
Photo courtesy of isleroyalewolf.org

The wolves of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior could be in trouble.

For 53 years, researchers from Michigan Tech have been studying the island’s wolf and moose populations.

This year... they found there are fewer wolves – just 16. And only a couple of females that can still have babies. Rolf Peterson has been studying the wolves for more than four decades.

He says it's not clear why some of the wolves are dying.

"In late 2009, six of the ten females we had in the population died. That was just an unusual, presumably a fluke. Only one of the females was radio collared and she died in a very unusual way, she died giving birth."

He says the outlook for the existence of wolves on Isle Royale is uncertain.

"It could be just a little hurdle they have to jump through. It also could mean the beginning of the end if those one or two females should die without giving birth to a female. And if neither of the two pups we thought we saw this year are female, then that's it. The population would go extinct because there are no females."

At this point, he doesn't think people should intervene. But he says there could come a point where the National Park Service might introduce new female wolves from the mainland. Peterson says the males on the island would readily accept new females if the existing females die.

The wolves keep the island's moose in check. The research team has found that the moose population is currently around 500 animals. If the wolves go extinct, Peterson says the moose would be in trouble too.

"They'd increase to the point where they'd starve to death catastrophically."

Peterson has spent most of every year for four decades living among the wolves and moose on the island with his wife Candy.  But he says there's still plenty to be discovered.

"Almost everything that happens there surprises me. We're almost unable to predict the short term future. I guess the resiliency of wolves in general does usually surprise me. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they pulled out of this one. But exactly how they're going to do it is what's fascinating."

You can learn more about the research team and the wildlife here.

Environment
12:15 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Blocking EPA's regulation of greenhouse gasses

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton (R)
Republican Conference Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate planet-warming greenhouse gasses... if the agency found those gasses are a threat to human health and safety. In 2009, the EPA found greenhouse gasses are a threat... and the agency started taking steps to regulate emissions from industries such as coal-burning power plants and automobiles.

For months now, many members of Congress have been trying to block the EPA from doing that. The latest people to climb on board are from Michigan: Republican Representative Fred Upton and Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Fred Upton chairs the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. He not only wants to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses... he wants to repeal the EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gasses are harmful.

Ryan Werder is the political director for the nonpartisan group Michigan League of Conservation Voters. He says since he was appointed Chair, Congressman Upton has shifted to the right politically.

“He was always a good, moderate, reliable voice. Before, when he said climate change was a reality and something we had to consider. He suddenly removed that from this website and acts as if climate change is non-existent.”

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Commentary
11:13 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Why Journalism Matters

We’re living today in a confusing and somewhat frightening time. Michigan is in trouble, economically. Trouble of a different kind than we’ve been through before. The longtime mainstay of our economy, the automotive industry, will never again be what it was.

This has plunged us from one of the nation’s richer states to one of its poorer ones. State government is finally facing a financial crisis it tried to ignore for years, and the governor is proposing changes that seem radical and sometimes hard to understand.

Beyond that, education at all levels is in crisis. We learned last month that our largest city has suffered a staggering population loss over the last decade.

There are real questions about whether Detroit and other cities, communities and school districts are going to have to be taken over by Emergency Financial Managers.

Understanding all this is vitally important in order to make key decisions for our own lives. Should we trust the public schools? Should we buy a house? Where should we live?

And even, should we leave the state?

We clearly need thoughtful, intelligent and easily accessible journalism to help make sense of these and other events - and need it possibly more than at any other time in our history.

Yet journalism is in trouble too. Journalists, if they do their jobs right, are never very popular. Much of the time, we’re bringing you bad news, and some of the time, we are obnoxious about it.

But right now, we’re having trouble doing that. Digging our news is an expensive, labor-intensive job, and the vast majority has always been done by newspapers. Yet newspapers are facing a deep crisis of their own, thanks in large part to the internet revolution, and our changing lifestyles. Newspapers have been supported historically by advertising, and much of that has melted away to cyberspace. We also don’t read newspapers as much as we used to. People read news on the internet, but internet providers produce little news.

They merely collect it - mainly from our shrinking newspapers.

That doesn’t mean some broadcast and even online publications don’t produce quality journalism. But in terms of content, it is comparatively small.

Last night I spoke at the Detroit area Society of Professional Journalists annual banquet. Michigan Radio won a number of awards, and an encouraging amount of good journalism was on display. But attendance was smaller than last year. Some people have left the profession. Some companies no longer buy tickets.

Yet there were still an impressive corps of men and women there who work long hours for usually not much pay to find out what we need to know and shape it into an interesting package.

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Economy
11:02 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Happy 'Tax Freedom Day' Michigan

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Today is Michigan’s Tax Freedom Day. It’s the day when the average Michigander will have earned enough money to pay their local, state and federal taxes for the year.  That’s three weeks earlier than it used to be mainly because people are earning less money because of the recession. 

Kail Padgitt is with the Tax Foundation, which produces the annual Tax Freedom Day list. He says Michigan’s local and state taxes are higher than most other states.

 “But when we look at federal taxes…Michigan actually paid  a little less in federal taxes due to the (state’s) high unemployment...leading to lower income taxes …federal income taxes.”

Padgitt says as the nation’s economy improves, special federal tax breaks expire and more Michiganders find work, Michigan’s tax freedom day will shift back to the end of April or maybe the beginning of May.

News Roundup
9:08 am
Thu April 7, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news, Thursday, April 7th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MI Keeping Close Eye on Federal Budget

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is keeping a close eye on the showdown over the federal budget in Washington, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Snyder's administration says it expects most state services will continue with minimal or no disruption if a brief federal government shutdown happens…

Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last…

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

Gas Prices Continue to Rise

Gasoline prices in Michigan continue to edge closer to $4 a gallon and the raising prices are affecting retailers and customers, Steve Carmody reports. The increasing fuel costs are expected to not only increase the cost of filling up gas tanks, but food prices are expected to rise by 3 to 4 percent this year. Carmody reports the biggest increases will be seen in meat, dairy and coffee products. The price of fuel is expected to continue to rise through Memorial Day.

Music from DSO to Be Heard Again

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to begin rehearsals later this morning. The DSO musicians had been on strike for six-months prior to agreeing to a new, tentative agreement with DSO management earlier this week. The first concert by DSO musicians since the strike began last October is scheduled for Saturday night.

Economy
9:01 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit home prices still slumping

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit home prices continue to slump. New data from Clear Capital show the average sale price in the first three months of the year for a home in Detroit was roughly 60,000 dollars. 

Alex Villacorta is an analyst with Clear Capital. He says foreclosed homes continue to clog Detroit’s housing market, depressing sale prices. 

“Once those saturation rates come down I do think you’ll see prices start to stabilize a little bit.   Even if the overall health improves we’ll see may a more sustained price growth looking forward.”

Home sale prices held steady in most of the nation in the first quarter of 2011, except in the western U.S. where home sale prices fell to levels not seen since 2001.

Economy
8:57 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Gas prices pinching retailers

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Gasoline prices in Michigan continue to edge closer to $4 a gallon. Rising prices are affecting retailers along with customers. Consumers are taking a double hit,  prices are rising at the pump and increasing fuel costs are expected to boost food prices by 3 to 4 percent this year, with the biggest increases in meat, dairy and coffee. 

Many of Meijer’s 101 stores in Michigan have company gas stations sitting in front. Frank Guglielmi is a Meijer’s spokesman. He says as gas prices rise the retailer is seeing customer buying patterns change. 

 "The more money they have to spend on fuel for their vehicles, the less they have potentially spend on groceries or general merchandize in a Meijer store.”

Guglielmi says Michigan consumers have become a “battle hardened” group" as a result of the double punch of recession and high gasoline prices in recent years. 

The price of fuel is expected to continue to rise through Memorial Day.

Hunting
8:52 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Future of Michigan ban on deer baiting to be discussed

The state’s Natural Resources Commission holds a discussion today on deer baiting. The commission is set to decide in June whether to lift the baiting ban in the Lower Peninsula. Wildlife biologists say feeding deer causes them to congregate unnaturally, and that it helps spread disease.

But Don Inman – a retired conservation officer – thinks some baiting is okay. He says large feed piles are a problem, but a small amount of bait is not.  

"From my experience and all of my friends too who have hunted in this area and hunted when baiting was legal, we seldom saw more than four deer. We put out a coffee can and spread it around. "

The state banned deer baiting in the Lower Peninsula in 2008 after a deer in Kent County tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

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Government Shutdown
8:46 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Federal workers protest possible government shutdown

At Social Security Offices across the nation Wednesday workers stood outside and rallied against the looming government shutdown. Workers say House Republicans’ proposal to cut nearly $2 billion in SSA funding would lead to incredible delays for people in need.

Kathy Jackson works directly with individuals making Social Security claims. She says a shutdown could harm some of the nation’s most vulnerable people who aren’t able to manage delay’s as well as others.   

“If you’re shut down for even two days, people have deadlines that they have to meet. The problem is a lot of our clients are disabled so a wait for them is not the same for you or I.”

Jackson says if people aren’t able to meet certain filing deadlines they can lose their eligibility for healthcare and housing programs that elderly, veterans, and disabled people need to survive. She says if people miss their chance because of a shutdown, they could be forced to start the process over.

Kenn Keillor  is president of the Grand Rapids local AFGE union. He says the House Republican’s proposal would mean a loss of 200-thousand jobs that both workers and people receiving services rely on.

 "I’m a lot more effective inside doing my job than I am sitting at home drawing unemployment. If you don’t want welfare, then you’ve got to pay workers enough to raise their families. It’s not going to help anybody if we’re sent home on Monday.”

Keillor says federal employees across the country plan to head to work Monday morning whether there is a shutdown or not. The AFGE union covers workers with the Social Security Administration, Veteran’s Administration, Department of Defense and more than 30 other employee groups.

Government Shutdown
7:33 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Michigan officials keeping close eye on federal budget negotiations

President Obama met late last night with Congressional leaders to try to avert a partial government shutdown
Scott_Ableman Flickr

Governor Snyder’s administration says it expects most state services will continue with little or no disruption if a partial federal government shutdown occurs, the Associated Press reports. The federal government will partially shutdown tomorrow at midnight if there is not a deal to fund the government through September. From the AP:

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Wednesday that the administration is monitoring the situation closely and seeking more information. Key factors influencing the possible effects of a shutdown would be how the federal government defines essential services and how long a shutdown might last.

The federal government faces a partial shutdown Friday at midnight if Congress doesn't take action to avoid one.

Michigan's unemployment insurance agency says it expects benefits would continue to be paid to jobless workers, including the roughly 150,000 who now receive benefits under federal programs.

Michigan has about 52,000 federal government employees, including about 22,000 postal employees.

Politics
7:19 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Snyder defends new Detroit/Ontario bridge plan

Governor Rick Snyder (R) is pushing for a second span across the Detroit River
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is defending the plan to build a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Snyder spoke to the Detroit Free Press about his support for a new international bridge over the Detroit River a day after the newspaper published comments from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun that criticized Snyder and the new bridge plan.  From the Free Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder told the Free Press on Wednesday that a TV ad campaign attacking plans for a second bridge to Canada reminds him of misleading campaign attacks on him in last year's race for governor.

"It's inaccurate," he said of the ad's claim that the public project connecting Michigan and Canada would cost state taxpayers $100 million a year.

The ad is paid for by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who said in a front-page Free Press report Wednesday that Snyder's advocacy for the public bridge would kill Michigan jobs, notably at his companies.

Moroun wants to build his own second Detroit-Windsor span, but the Canadian government won't let him build the span because of traffic, legal and environmental concerns. Snyder said two bridges would be viable…

Snyder said a new bridge, built by a private builder, would stimulate commerce. But, he said in a wide-ranging interview, his top priority is balancing the state budget and enacting tax changes he said will lead to more jobs.

Terrorism
7:05 am
Thu April 7, 2011

'Christmas Day Bomber' due in court

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up an airplane near Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 is scheduled to be in federal court today. From the Associated Press:

…Abdulmutallab is due in court Thursday with prosecutors and his standby counsel, Anthony Chambers.

Abdulmutallab is representing himself, and it's possible that Judge Nancy Edmunds again will ask if he wants that to continue.

It's a critical issue because the deadline to challenge any evidence is two months away. Trial is set for October. Abdulmutallab is not a lawyer.

He's accused of trying to ignite an explosive in his underwear as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 approached Detroit on Christmas 2009. The plane left Amsterdam with 279 passengers and a crew of 11.

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