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Environment
10:50 am
Fri April 1, 2011

$26.5 million goes to central Michigan city polluted by chemical company

St. Louis, Michigan (in central Michigan) was awarded $26.5 million for a new water supply system after a chemical company contaminated their groundwater.
Google Maps

Land and groundwater in the city of St. Louis, Michigan has been contaminated with chemicals from the Velsicol Chemical Company.

Now the city will get $26.5 million to help set up a new water supply  system.

According to the EPA, Velsicol (formerly known as the Michigan Chemical Corporation) "produced various chemical compounds and products at its fifty-four acre main plant site in St. Louis, Michigan, such as hexabromobenzene (HBB), 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethane (DDT), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (tris)."

The EPA says the company produced these chemicals from 1936 until 1978.

From the Associated Press:

ST. LOUIS, Mich. — A federal judge has approved a $26.5 million settlement for a central Michigan community whose water supply was contaminated by a chemical company in the 1950s and 1960s.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Ludington in Bay City signed an order approving the deal on Thursday.

The city of St. Louis, Mich., hopes the settlement with Rosemont, Ill.-based Velsicol Chemical Co. will help pay to replace the water system that serves the area, which is contaminated with a byproduct of the pesticide DDT.

The settlement of the 2007 lawsuit was approved this week by the City Council.

The city says money for the settlement includes $20.5 million from an insurance company for Velsicol and $6 million from a trust related to a former parent company.

The EPA lists the threats and contaminants in the community:

On-site groundwater is contaminated with DDT, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), and other chlorinated compounds. On site soil samples revealed contamination with PBBs, copper, chromium, zinc, and magnesium. The sediments of the Pine River were also contaminated with similar contaminants through direct discharges from the site; however, surface waters do not show any significant impacts. Potential risks exist for people who eat contaminated fish and wildlife in the vicinity of the site.

Commentary
9:49 am
Fri April 1, 2011

Doctors with Borders

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Joe Schwarz, one of the best-informed, multi-talented men in public life in this state. After a stint as mayor of his native Battle Creek, Schwarz spent sixteen years in the state senate, where he was immensely knowledgeable on education policy and finance.

That was, of course, back in the era before term limits. Schwarz is also one of those people whose resume could fill a box. He’s also had a career in the U.S. Navy, and as a spy in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He ran for governor once and congress twice, finally winning a single term in 2004.

Schwarz’s problem was never the general election. Every time he got to one of those, he won easily. But he had trouble in  Republican primaries. He is a fiscal conservative and a military hawk, but also believes in funding education, and that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare.” Nor does he always suffer fools gladly.

By the way, I didn’t mention his day job. He is an otolaryngologist, which we civilians call an ear, nose and throat surgeon, and is still happily practicing medicine. 

That is, when he isn’t teaching at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Schwarz understands health care issues, and I was curious about our medical school explosion.

The U of M has a medical school; Wayne State has one; Michigan State has two; Oakland University and Beaumont Hospital have started one, and Western Michigan is now starting one.

Is that too many? Will we be producing too many doctors?

That’s a good question, the good doctor told me, but not the most important one. When all these medical schools are up and running, they’ll be producing something like six hundred and ninety doctors a year, trained largely at state expense.

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Election 2012
7:00 am
Fri April 1, 2011

State Rep. Knollenberg to challenge Congressman Peters

State Representative Marty Knollenberg
Photo courtesy of www.gophouse.com

Republican state Representative Marty Knollenberg (District 41 - Troy) will run against Democratic Congressman Gary Peters in Michigan’s 9th Congressional district in 2012.

Representative Peters unseated Congressman Joe Knollenberg, Marty's father, in the November 2008 election.

As the Associated Press reports, “the younger Knollenberg said Thursday that his staff is filing candidacy papers with the Federal Election Commission. The Troy legislator says he's entering the race now so as not to fall behind the Bloomfield Township Democrat in fundraising."

Auto
6:48 am
Fri April 1, 2011

Rise in UAW membership

UAW membership has risen for the first time since 2004
Pobrecito33 Flickr

The United Auto Workers union is gaining members again after years of declines, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

In a filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union said Thursday that it had 376,612 members in 2010, up 6 percent from 355,191 in 2009. That's the first time since 2004 that the union has gained members.

UAW President Bob King said the growth was due to more hiring in the auto industry as it recovered from the recession. The union also has had some success organizing workers outside the auto industry, such as graduate students and casino dealers.

The peak of membership was in 1979 with 1.5 million union members.

Auto/Economy
11:37 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Auto worker for a day

Hundreds of auto workers will be assembling Chevy Sonics and Buick Veranos at GM's plant in Orion Township in just a few months. 

Every one of those workers will go through a simulated work environment training exercise before getting anywhere near a real car. The power tools and the bolts are real, but the cars and parts are made of wood. 

GM recently invited a group of auto journalists to take part in the exercise, to get a taste of what building a car is like.

The press is divided up into teams. Team 3's leader is Sabrina Wills, a member of UAW Local 602. She instructs us how to do the work, with each step meticulously standardized.

"Once the line starts moving, if the line moves at a normal pace, you’re gonna find yourself in the hole," she says.

Joanne Muller of Forbes asks, "So what do we do then?"

Wills:  "You’re gonna pull for help.  Pull your andon cord."

Team 3 will install the headlights, taillights, and bumpers. Wills says dropping a nut is par for the course when you’re new to the job. But the cardinal sin is dropping a part. In real life, that means it’s scrap. 

She drops a part on the cement floor to make a point. The sound reverberates through the big factory.

"You’re gonna hear the part hit the floor.  So don’t try to hide it under the line, because we don’t wanna put that broken headlight on a car."

As we wait for the line to start, Joanne Muller – who, by the way, has red hair – brings up that classic "I Love Lucy" episode. The one where Ethel and Lucy fall behind on the assembly line in a chocolate factory.

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Politics
5:31 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Snyder and Republican leaders point to progress and sticking points

Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican leadership in the State House and Senate outlined progress and sticking points.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say they have worked well together to approve many measures so far this year – including the expansion of power for emergency financial managers.

But one area they do not seem to agree on is how and where to reform taxes.

Richardville said "we actually have been disagreeing quite a bit," but he says those disagreements are fine because they are still listening to each other.

"It’s not about disagreement, it’s about passion. Everybody that got elected ran as hard as they could to get here, and is passionate about getting here," said Richardville, "but we have respect for the other passions in the room, so we’re going to get there."

Disagreement over taxing pensions

One area where they disagree is Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions.

Snyder says he stands by his plan, even after receiving a cool reception from many Republican legislators:

"For higher income people, for people who have the wherewithal to say they’re also contributing to our system – I think that’s a fair answer. Because that’s the part of it that is, people shouldn’t just look at what they’re asked to give up, but when you look at where they’re ending up. Are they being treated fairly in respect to the other citizens in our state?”

Governor Snyder often stresses that low-income people on pensions would not be subject to painful tax increases.

Some Republicans state senators say there is no pension tax they would agree to, even one that only focuses on the very wealthy.

Democrats feel left out

Democratic lawmakers say they have been left out of negotiations so far.

Democratic state Senator Bert Johnson says many of the Republican proposals are the reason why thousands of angry people have protested at the Capitol in recent weeks.

"I think we would do well – all of us here in this Legislature – to realize what it being said out on the front steps of the Capitol, what is being said out on the lawns of the Capitol. I think these are not crazy people – these are people who have elected all of us. These are people who go out, and they vote, and they vote in numbers and they’re carrying their concerns to the Capitol."

Johnson says Democratic lawmakers have been ignored in much of the work that has been done so far. He says Snyder will soon find that he needs Democratic votes as he tries to approve parts of his tax plan that are unpopular with Republicans.

Education
4:56 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Detroit could have trouble luring charter operators to take over troubled schools

Elizabeth Albert wikipedia commons

Detroit Public Schools is offering up dozens of its struggling schools to be turned into charters. And officials say they only want “superstar” operators with a proven track record of academic excellence.

But those operators might prove difficult to attract. The schools being offered up have the lowest student achievement, declining enrollment, or are located in areas that are not expected to be targeted for redevelopment.

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Environment
4:55 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Michigan Senator Stabenow seeks to delay EPA action on greenhouse gases

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (center) is seeking to delay EPA action on greenhouse gas emissions.
stabenow.senate.gov senate.gov

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow is seeking to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions for two years.

According to Grist.org, the Senator's amendment has four elements:

  • A two-year suspension of stationary source greenhouse gas regulations
  • Preventing any future California waiver for tailpipe greenhouse emissions
  • Excluding regulation of biofuel greenhouse emissions related to land-use changes, or of any greenhouse emissions from other agricultural activities
  • Allocating $5 billion to the Advanced Energy Project tax credit

Stabenow says her amendment is aimed at protecting small businesses. A written statement from Stabenow was quoted in the Kalamazoo Gazette:

"My amendment is a common-sense approach that allows protections from carbon pollution, determined by scientists and public health experts, to continue being developed while providing businesses the support and incentives they need as they reduce pollution, generate new clean energy technologies and create jobs."

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Politics
4:48 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Ballot proposal would put casinos in seven Michigan cities

Triin Q wikipedia commons

New casinos would open in seven Michigan cities, under a measure a group hopes to get onto the ballot in 2012.

Bill Thompson is a casino expert from Las Vegas who helped draft the proposed constitutional amendment, which calls for a 19% wagering tax for the casinos. He says it would raise about $400 million in tax revenues. More than half the money would fund college scholarships and a tourism ad campaign.

Thompson says much of the rest would go to the communities that host the casinos:

"This will bring money into Saginaw, Benton Harbor – two cities that are in desperate financial situations, also Lansing, Grand Rapids – two cities that need help."

The measure also calls for casinos in Mount Clemens, Detroit and Romulus, where Alan Lambert is the mayor:

"There’s so many people out of work. In my own community there’s a lot of people out of work. So to a city like Romulus this means revenue obviously, and it means a lot of jobs."

Detroit’s three existing casinos will likely put on a vigorous fight to block the measure. And since it’s a statewide vote, opponents say it takes away residents’ rights to decide whether they want a casino in their communities.

The group failed to get a similar measure onto the 2010 ballot.

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Sports
4:29 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Tigers fall to Yankees in season opener

The Detroit Tigers started off their 2011 season on a cold, dreary day in New York. The disappointing day ended in a disappointing 6 to 3 loss to the Yankees.  

The Associated Press report recounts the game's highlights:

Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead homer leading off the seventh inning and Mark Teixeira had a three-run shot off Justin Verlander, lifting New York over the Detroit Tigers 6-3 Thursday in the first regular-season game played in the Bronx in March. CC Sabathia pitched six workmanlike innings, Derek Jeter added a sacrifice fly in the seventh using his new stride-less swing and Mariano Rivera, wearing his socks high for perhaps the first time, earned his first save and 560th of his career. Newcomers Russell Martin and Rafael Soriano did their part as the Yankees got off to a quick start on a gray, blustery, 42-degree day.

Education
3:55 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

2 ex-Eastern Michigan University students may have used stolen IDs to file fradulent tax returns

Federal authorities investigate security breach at EMU
John-Morgan creative commons

Eastern Michigan University officials say two of its former student employees may have filed fake tax returns using other students’ personal information.

The two students were already under investigation for allegedly stealing 58 student records.

Walter Kraft is VP of communications for EMU. He says now six more students have come forward to say their personal information was stolen:

"Apparently what happened in this case is that the student records were used for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns in order for someone to obtain a tax return to which they were not entitled."

Kraft says EMU police and federal authorities are investigating the two former student employees, whose identities have not been released.

He says EMU already does background checks on student employees, and is looking to see what other steps can be taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

 Nearly 2,000 EMU students currently work for the university.

Education
2:32 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Top Ten 8th Grade MEAP Scores at Michigan's public schools

MEAP test scores for grades 3 through 8 were released today in Michigan
Kevin Wong Flickr

Math - 8th Grade - Top Ten Public Schools in Average MEAP Scores

  1. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Clague Middle School    - 855
  2. Troy School District - Boulan Park Middle School     - 853.4
  3. Birmingham City School District - Birmingham Covington School - 852.8
  4. Bloomfield Hills School District - Bloomfield Hills Middle School - 849.2
  5. Bloomfield Hills School District - East Hills Middle School - 847.4
  6. (TIE) Novi Community School District - Novi Middle School & Canton Charter Academy - Canton Charter Academy - 846.8
  7. Bloomfield Hills School District - West Hills Middle School - 846.4
  8. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Forsythe Middle School - 845.9
  9. Troy School District - Smith Middle School - 845.5
  10. Saginaw City School District - Saginaw Arts And Sciences Academy - 845.4

Reading - 8th Grade – Top Ten Public Schools in Average MEAP Scores

  1. (TIE) Grand Rapids Public Schools - City Middle/High School & Birmingham City School District - Birmingham Covington School - 843.3
  2. Saginaw City School District - Saginaw Arts And Sciences Academy - 843.1
  3. Troy School District - Boulan Park Middle School - 842.9
  4. Rochester Community School District - Van Hoosen Middle School - 841.8
  5. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Clague Middle School - 840.9
  6. (TIE) Okemos Public Schools - Chippewa Middle School & Leland Public School District - Leland Public School - 840.8
  7. Birmingham City School District - Derby Middle School - 840.7
  8. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Ann Arbor Open At Mack School 840.3
  9. (TIE) Rochester Community School District - Hart Middle School & Woodland School - Woodland School - 839.9
  10. Forest Hills Public Schools - Eastern Middle School – 839

Science - 8th Grade – Top Ten Public Schools in Average MEAP Scores

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Education Center Academy - 882.6
  2. David Ellis Academy West - David Ellis Academy West - 864.5
  3. Woodland School - Woodland School - 848.8
  4. Troy School District - Boulan Park Middle School - 846.5
  5. Grand Rapids Public Schools - City Middle/High School - 843.1
  6. Superior Central Schools - Superior Central School - 842.5
  7. Ann Arbor Public Schools - Ann Arbor Open At Mack School - 840.6
  8. South Lyon Community Schools - Millennium Middle School - 839.5
  9. (TIE) Hudsonville Public School District - Baldwin Street Middle School & Birmingham City School District - Birmingham Covington School - 838.8
  10. Forest Hills Public Schools - Northern Hills Middle School - 838.7
Education
1:52 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Grand Rapids Superintendent highlights good test scores, warns of state-wide drop next year

GRPS Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor Jr. discusses MEAP scores during a press conference Thursday morning.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

In Grand Rapids, school administrators are marking the 6th straight year students have done better on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. But Superintendent Bernard Taylor says that will probably not be the case next year.

“Many of the students who are proficient this year, will not be proficient next year.”

That’s because next year the state will raise the standard for what is considered a passing score on the test. State leaders say raising the scores will make sure students are prepared for college or job training after high school. Taylor is not against the change. But he says it will impact every district in Michigan, even those who haven’t really had problems meeting academic standards in the past.

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Education
1:37 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Governor Snyder denies making choice to replace Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder insists he has not chosen a replacement for Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. Bobb’s contract to oversee Detroit’s troubled school district expires in June. A Detroit TV station reported Snyder had made his choice to replace Bobb. But the governor insists he has not. 

 "We’re still looking at candidates, both locally and nationally, and we’re going through that process.  My preference would be to find somebody from southeastern Michigan that has the right skill sets and such.”

The Detroit Public School District is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and its latest MEAP test scores were mixed.

Education
12:29 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Statewide MEAP scores released today

Standardized test
Casey Serin Flickr

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released the standardized test scores for schools across the state today. Students in grades 3 through 9 took the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test last fall.

Scores improved significantly in math, but remain flat in reading. The Detroit News highlighted the improvement in math scores:

Since 2005, scores have improved markedly in mathematics...In 2005, only 59.6 percent of seventh graders were proficient in math; that number has soared to 84.6 percent.

Improvement in reading scores, however, have remained flat. From the Detroit Free Press

Even though large numbers of students passed the exam, the percentage was down in 2010 from 2009 and showed little movement over the last six years. For example, the pass rate for third-graders dipped from 90% to 87%, while the pass rate for seventh-graders declined from 82% to 79%.

Some experts caution against making too much of the reading results. Elizabeth Birr Moje, with the University of Michigan's School of Education said, “schools are not necessarily neglecting literacy instruction. If anything, I see much greater attention than ever before.” Moje told the Free Press that the dip in this year's reading results could be 'anomalous.'

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Environment
12:27 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Conservationists celebrate more than $100 million in state grants

Dunes near Saugatuck and Lake Michigan.
Norm Hoekstra Creative Commons

Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill authorizing more than $102 million in grant money for more than 100 recreation projects and land acquisitions across the state. Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith reports one of the largest grants will preserve dune-land along the Lake Michigan shore.

Peter Homeyer is executive director of The Land Conservancy of West Michigan.

“West Michigan and a lot of communities around the state are going to see projects now that are going to add to parkland and improve parks right close to home where folks can get out and enjoy nature with this new bill.

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Arts/Culture
12:26 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Prisoner art show

"Count Time" by Alan Norberg

More than three-hundred works of art are on display at the University of Michigan by artists who are incarcerated prisoners. Independent producer and U of M professor of art Stephanie Rowden visited prisons in Michigan and spoke with several incarcerated artists. She has this audio postcard about why the artists make art and what it means to be a part of the show.

The show is called The Sixteenth Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners and it is part of The Prison Creative Arts Project. The artwork is not only on display but it’s also for sale.  The show is at the Duderstadt Center Gallery at The University of Michigan until April 6th.

Environment
11:59 am
Thu March 31, 2011

State health officials down playing detection of radiation from Japanese nuclear crisis

(Tim Van Gorp)

State health officials insist the public does not have to worry that a radioactive isotope linked to the Japanese nuclear crisis has been detected in a routine air sample taken on Monday in Lansing.  

Kelly Neibel is the acting spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. 

 “There’s absolutely no reason for people to be concerned about this.  The levels detected are very minute and they pose no health threat to people.”  

The state routinely tests air samples taken near Michigan’s three nuclear reactors. The last unusual reading was recorded after the Chernobyl accident in the mid-1980s. Neibel downplays the potential health effects of the isotope from the Japanese nuclear crisis to people living in Michigan.  

"All of us are exposed to radiation every day.   Some of that’s from natural sources…to manmade sources…like medical x-rays.”

Radioactive isotopes linked to the Japanese nuclear crisis have been reported in many other U.S. states. 

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Environment
11:36 am
Thu March 31, 2011

New debate over Detroit's incinerator

The Detroit incinerator
Photo courtesy of Flickr user tEdGuY49

Detroit is home to one of the world’s largest incinerators. That facility burns around 800,000 tons of trash every year.

The issue has sparked passionate conflict in Detroit for more than 20 years. And a recent public hearing—on whether to give the incinerator’s new owners tax credits—showed that conflict is just as intense as ever.

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Commentary
11:19 am
Thu March 31, 2011

Thought Police

Several listeners have asked me why I haven’t commented on the battle over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin.  Well, there’s a good reason for that.

Which is, that we’ve got more than enough in Michigan to wrestle with to keep us all occupied. That doesn’t mean, as one of my devoted admirers e-mailed me, that I am a “gutless wonder.”

Matter of fact, I would like to get an inch or two off my gut. Seriously, I have a hard time accepting that anyone should lose their collective bargaining rights in America, no matter who their employer.

But I have an even harder time with anyone trying to suppress anybody’s freedom of expression in any way.

Which brings me to a very ominous development I first read about on the political blog Talking Points Memo, a story which involves Michigan and the Wisconsin mess.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based think tank best known for supporting free-market economics, is asking, under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, for all the emails by labor studies professors at our state’s three major public universities -- Michigan State, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State. 

All the e-mails, that is, that these professors have sent regarding the union strike in Wisconsin, that state’s governor, and, oddly enough, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Why are they asking for these e-mails? The managing editor of the Mackinac Center’s newsletter wouldn’t say. But some fear the center wants to use them to attack liberal professors for using state resources for what could be called improper political activity.

That, or cow them into not expressing their points of view.

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