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Transportation
9:57 am
Tue June 14, 2011

A slow train to Chicago, Amtrak ordered to cut speeds

Amtrak traveling between Chicago and Detroit.
user amtrak_russ Flickr

On the heels of the federal government's announcement that it plans to increase the speed of Amtrak trains traveling between Detroit and Chicago, comes a slow-down order from the freight company that owns much of the track.

Norfolk Southern railroad says Amtrak trains will have to travel at speeds of 25 m.p.h. on some parts of the line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

More from Annarbor.com's Nathan Bomey:

The decision means that travelers on Amtrak's Wolverine line may experience 90-minute delays on the trip from Kalamazoo to Dearborn, Amtrak said. Passengers need to check with Amtrak before heading to the station for their trips.

A 90-minute delay is a big deal for trains working to improve their on-time performance, which has been notoriously bad in Michigan.

Amtrak Train number 351, for instance, travels between Chicago and Grand Rapids/Port Huron/Detroit - Pontiac. In the last twelve months, it's been on-time only 17.1% of the time.

Last month, officials from the federal government announced plans to invest $196.5 million to improve the 135 miles of rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The improvement, officials from the government say, will allow trains to reach speeds of 110 m.p.h., cutting 30 minutes off the time it will take to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

The freight company who owns the line, says they won't be responsible for maintenance on the improved track. Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, was quoted in Annarbor.com:

"If they want to make the Michigan line a passenger route with higher speeds than what freight trains run, then someone other than Norfolk Southern is going to have to pay for the increased maintenance costs," Husband said. "We have been trying to work out a solution to this for a very long time now. But in the meantime we're doing what needs to be done to be responsible to our customers and our shareholders."

So before the trains speed up, they'll have to slow down.

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Education
9:25 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Grand Rapids school board meets for more than 8 hours to discuss superintendent’s future

Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor addresses the community during his annual 'State of our Schools' adress earlier this year.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Members of the Grand Rapids School board discussed their superintendent’s future with the district for more than 8 hours Monday night. The discussions were not open to the public.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor was a recent finalist for two open positions at other school districts. He says he wants to lead a school district that’s more prepared for aggressive reform to improve student achievement.

Grand Rapids resident Fred Dryg says he’d like Taylor to stay, despite the tension.

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News Roundup
7:26 am
Tue June 14, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Michigan House to release its redistricting plan

The political boundaries in Michigan are being redrawn by the party in power, and Republicans in the State House plan to release their proposed redistricting maps this Friday.

Redrawing political boundaries is required every ten years after the U.S. Census numbers are released.

It's the first time the public will see how some Republicans plan to redraw Michigan's political maps.

Republicans in the State Senate will release their plans later.

Michigan is the only state in the nation to have lost population, so the state will lose one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. From the Detroit News:

Congressional districts represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Sander Levin of Royal Oak would be merged under a plan Republicans reviewed in late May that was obtained by The Detroit News.

If both wanted to keep their seat, they'd have to run against each other in a Democratic primary. The draft plan would boost GOP majorities in a number of districts, making it easier for Republicans to hold on to their seats.

After the maps are released, the House Redistricting Committee will have hearings, according to a press release by Lund.

The latest U.S. Census numbers show that populations declined in southeast Michigan and grew in the west and other parts of the state.

State Representative Pete Lund (R - Shelby Township) chairman of the House Redistricting Committee was quoted in the News article, "the maps are going to reflect where people have moved. Whatever areas lost population will lose representation, and whatever areas gained population will gain representation."

Ford shares fall after $2 billion judgment in dealer suit An Ohio judge ruled that Ford Motor Company had to pay more than $2 billion in damages to thousands of dealerships. In the class action suit, the dealers contend they were overcharged for trucks they paid for over an 11 year period. From the Associated Press

Ford Motor Co. shares sank early Monday after an Ohio judge said the automaker had to pay nearly $2 billion in damages to thousands of dealerships who participated in a 2002 class-action lawsuit. But the shares pared their losses as several analysts downplayed the news and said Ford can absorb the damages even if loses a planned appeal.

ACLU goes after Livonia's medical marijuana ban

The ACLU will challenge Livonia's medical marijuana ban in court today.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The American Civil Liberties Union will try to convince a Wayne County judge today to strike down a Livonia ordinance that bans medical marijuana in any way, shape or form.

The ACLU of Michigan, arguing on behalf of a medical marijuana patient with multiple sclerosis, claims that the Livonia measure violates the 2008 Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which legalized medical marijuana. ACLU Attorney Andy Nickelhoff will present oral arguments at 11 a.m. before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Wendy M. Baxter.

The ACLU is representing Linda and Robert Lott of Birmingham.

Crime
5:51 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Feds take drug case week after big bust in Lenawee

The marijuana plants were grown in Lenawee County.
USFWS

ROME TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Federal authorities have filed charges and taken over the case of thousands of marijuana plants discovered in Lenawee County.

The government says more than 8,000 plants worth millions were found last week in Rome Township, 65 miles southwest of Detroit. Edwin and Linda Schmieding were charged in federal court Monday with conspiracy and growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants.

Agent Lloyd Hopkins says Linda Schmieding told police they were paid $500 a week for marijuana, and some pot was sold as medical marijuana.

The Schmiedings likely will appear this week in federal court in Detroit. They've been in the Lenawee County jail since June 6.

Economy
5:28 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Snyder meets with Wall Street to reduce cost of borrowing

Governor Rick Snyder and members of his budget team visited New York to meet with the agencies that set the state’s credit rating.

The state’s rating suffered due to the effects of the decade-long recession.

It's bond ratings are not that bad, but they could be better.

Governor Snyder traveled to Wall Street with state Treasurer Andy Dillon and Budget Director John Nixon. They made the case that Michigan deserves an upgrade because it’s overhauled its business tax and wrapped up its budget months ahead of schedule without resorting to accounting gimmicks and one-time fixes.

Sara Wurfel, the governor’s press secretary, said “one change in a state’s bond rating can actually mean millions of dollars in lower payments.”

The governor’s itinerary included meetings with Moody's, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's. The meetings only opened the discussions with Wall Street, and Wurfel says there will be further negotiations as the governor tries to reduce the cost to taxpayers when Michigan borrows money.

Politics
4:52 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Bing ups the ante in Detroit budget battle

Dave Bing
Kate Davidson Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has raised the stakes in his ongoing budget battle with the Detroit City Council.

Bing and the City Council have been sparring over how much to shave off the city’s budget. The Council wants to cut $50 million more than Bing.

Last week, the Council overrode Bing’s veto, meaning its budget is set to go into effect July 1.

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Politics
4:46 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Report: $23 million spent anonymously on Michigan political ads last year

A new report says anonymous donors have a growing influence in Michigan election campaigns.

The study by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network says independent groups that don’t have to reveal their donors spent $23 million on political ads last year.

The report shows both Governor Rick Snyder and his Democratic opponent, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, were among the candidates for statewide office who were aided by ads paid for by unknown donors to independent political committees.

The use of independent and untraceable ads is especially prevalent in state Supreme Court races, says Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Robinson says the donors may be invisible to the public, but they still want something for the money they are spending to support or oppose politicians:

"Whether it's a workplace regulation, an environmental deregulation, a budget earmark, a public works project, a tax not levied, whatever it is, and I don’t think we’re seeing half the story on the money that’s moving public policy."

Robinson says, in some cases, ads paid for by anonymous donors made up half the spending in a race, and that $70 million was spent on untraceable and independent election ads over the past decade.

"In all of these campaigns, voters have an interest in knowing who the real supporters of the candidates are," said Robinson. "It’s a mechanism for controlling quid pro quo corruption in politics."

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network is calling for a law to require independent groups that buy campaign or issue advocacy ads to identify their donors.

Politics
3:48 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Detroit Mayor Bing says council's cuts could lead more people to leave city

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing delivering his budget address last April.
City of Detroit

The city of Detroit faces a projected $155 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, so cuts are needed.

Mayor Bing's budget original budget proposal had $200 million in cuts.

Detroit city council presented a budget that went further, adding $50 million more in cuts.

Bing vetoed the council's budget, saying their cuts go too far. Here's a video of Bing, with a dramatic pause, signing the veto order:

The city council then voted 8-1 to override Bing's veto.

So that's where the city stands now.

Mayor Bing hopes council will reduce the amount of cuts by June 30th (the city's next fiscal year starts July 1).

If council doesn't compromise, Bing says drastic cuts will have to be made.

From the Associated Press:

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says $50 million in city council-approved cuts to his $3.1 billion budget proposal will force him to close two recreation centers, two swimming pools, restrooms at city parks and the beach at Belle Isle... [and] some fire stations also could close and events at downtown's Hart Plaza could be shut down.

An article in the Detroit Free Press added some more cuts to this list:

If council doesn't withdrawal the reductions by the June 30 deadline, Bing said, he'd have no choice but to shut down the People Mover, eliminate 24-hour bus services, end sponsored events at Hart Plaza, close Belle Isle beach, shutter two recreation centers and cut police who patrol the streets, among other things, on July 1.

The cuts also would dampen chances of light rail along Woodward and hamper the police department's compliance with federal requirements to end brutality and civil rights violations.

Council Pro Tem Gary Brown is quoted as saying he won't entertain any last minute deals:

"Where is the sense of urgency?" Brown said, pointing to an accumulated deficit that he says could exceed $200 million this year. "We are in a crisis. All I hear is whining and crying about what the City Council is doing, instead of working to fix the problem."a

Mayor Bing said the "unprecedented" cuts and could lead to more people leaving the city of Detroit.

*correction - an earlier post incorrectly stated the override vote as 8-9. The vote was 8-1.

Economy
3:14 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Snyder trying to improve Michigan's bond rating

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is meeting with bond rating companies in an attempt to improve Michigan's rating.

A higher or improved rating would save Michigan money because it would be cheaper for the state to borrow for new construction projects.

Snyder is expected to promote the state's improved economic outlook and fiscal restraints imposed in the recently approved state budget during Monday's meetings in New York City.

The state lost its top AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor's in 2003. Years of bad economic news  as limited Michigan's ability to improve its ranking with any of the three major agencies that rate state debt.

Michigan still has investment-grade bond ratings from the three agencies.

Environment
1:53 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Report calls for fracking ban

An environmental group is calling on Michigan lawmakers and President Obama to ban the natural gas extraction process known as “fracking.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release natural gas.

Food and Water Watch says fracking poses an “unacceptable risk” to water supplies and human health. Several recent investigations have shown that fracking contaminated groundwater in several states.

Lynna Kaucheck is with Food and Water Watch in Detroit. She says northern Michigan is a current hotspot for fracking exploration.

“The northern part of the lower Peninsula sits on the Collingwood-Utica shale which is very deep deposits of shale gas. And so right now a lot of out of-state-companies are purchasing mineral rights so they can begin horizontal fracking for natural gas.”

Kauchek says that could to lead to chemically-contaminated groundwater, and pose a risk to the state’s agricultural and tourism industries.

“We don’t believe that fracking can be done safely. Especially not the way that they’re doing it right now.”

State environmental regulators say the gas is so deep in the ground that fracking shouldn’t affect water supplies. They acknowledge some concerns, but say the practice is generally safe.

Commentary
12:59 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Saving Animals

There’s been a big controversy lately involving the Michigan Humane Society -- and by extension, every animal shelter in the state. It has to do with how many animals they have to kill.

This started a week ago, when two members of the society’s board of directors resigned because they thought the non-profit agency was euthanizing far too many animals.

“Our donors are giving us money to save lives,” one of them said, adding that she thought what was happening was an outrage.

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Economy
12:51 pm
Mon June 13, 2011

Grand Rapids LipDub creators launching PR firm

A screen shot of the Grand Rapids LipDub.
youtube.com

The creators of the Grand Rapids LipDub video are using the buzz they've created to launch what they call an "international brand awareness firm."

Rob Bliss, Jeffrey Barrett, and Scott Erickson say their new firm, Status Creative, will build upon the success they had with the Grand Rapids LipDub video (which has had more than 3 million views since its release on YouTube).

From their press release:

“We’re not going to shy away from the spotlight that the Grand Rapids LipDub is shining on us,” said Erickson, referring to the worldwide media coverage and over 3 million YouTube views the video has generated in just two weeks. “But we want people to know that our experience and capabilities go far beyond that single project.  We envision taking the same creative energy and applying it to everything from political campaigns to consumer product launches.”

They say they'll limit their work to 10 campaigns in 2011.

Environment
11:34 am
Mon June 13, 2011

Recent weather opens planting door for Michigan farmers

Crops in Michigan are going in late this year.
Maureen Reilly Flickr

The wet spring has been bad for farmers in Michigan. They've had to wait to get their crops in the ground, and those crops that were in the ground when the rains came didn't fair so well.

The warmer, drier weather in the past week has allowed some farmers to get into their fields and plant their crops.

Kris Turner of the Flint Journal filed a report yesterday on farmers who are putting in 20-hour days to get their crops in on time.

From the Flint Journal:

Jim Collom, an agricultural statistician at the Michigan branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said farmers across the state and country are hurting this year. Michigan farmers battled intense rain that flooded fields and limited the time seed could be planted. Things have improved in the past few days..

Michigan farmers typically have 92 percent of corn planted by this time of the year but only have about 67 percent of it in the ground now, Collom said. Soybeans are worse — only about 31 percent is planted. Farmers typically have about 71 percent of that crop planted by this time of the year.

One farmer, Chad Morey, said the window for planting corn safely is closing, saying he might have to plant more soybeans this year to turn a profit.

The Morning Sun reports that the late plantings and moisture will affect how much farmers are paid:

And even what's planted in the next few days and what was planted earlier this month, will likely face yield and moisture issues in the fall.

"We can expect lower yields when we're planting that late, and it will be wet," Gross said. "It's not going to have the time to dry in the field."

Farmers get less for wet grains because of the time and expense required to dry them.

Economy
10:03 am
Mon June 13, 2011

Private-sector partners give $3 million for Michigan tourism ads

A screen capture of a Pure Michigan commercial.
michigan.org

 LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The state's popular Pure Michigan tourism campaign has gotten a $3 million boost from private-sector partners to support advertising this year.

The Travel Michigan Ad Partnership Program announced Monday that the contributions from 28 communities and destinations in Michigan are double those from 2010. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is matching those contributions.

Mackinac Island, The Henry Ford in Dearborn and Traverse City are national sponsors, each contributing $500,000 toward the Pure Michigan national campaign. Travel Michigan says the money means ads will be able to run longer on cable television networks nationwide.

Pure Michigan campaigns promote the state's beaches, golf courses and other destinations to potential tourists.

News Roundup
9:11 am
Mon June 13, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Subpoena's for Detroit International bridge hearings?

State Senate hearings are scheduled to being this week over the controversial Detroit River international crossing. It's a bridge Governor Snyder and many others want built, but there have been many charges and counter-charges over the costs and the need for a second bridge crossing into Canada.

State Senator Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) is the chair of the Economic Development Committee.

Kowall says he will ask the state Senate for subpoena power, if he suspects anyone is not being truthful during the hearings.

From the Detroit Free Press:

If approved, Kowall would be empowered to compel sworn testimony -- meaning someone who lied could be charged with perjury -- about the various and contradictory claims being made about the proposed bridge and the Ambassador Bridge.

Kowall counts himself as a skeptic of the need for a second bridge crossing, but promises fair hearings.

Catholic Church to review liberal Sunday Mass for "liturgical abuses"

A retired Catholic priest presided over a mass held yesterday in Cobo Center for around 1,500 to 2,000 progressive people who are seeking to reform the church (attendees want to give women and married men the ability to be ordained as priests, among other reforms).

From the Detroit News:

The Archdiocese of Detroit is seeking a review of a Sunday Mass at a progressive Catholics' group's conference to determine if there were "serious liturgical abuses," church officials said Sunday.

"Those abuses, along with several other concerns, will now be — and must be — reviewed by the Detroit archdiocese and, potentially, by the Vatican," spokesman Ned McGrath said.

The Rev. Robert Wurm, who presided over the Mass on Sunday at the American Catholic Conference at Cobo Center, had said he didn't believe the archdiocese would take action against him.

"I felt good about this," said Wurm, 78, who conducted the nearly two-hour service.

Anuzis won't run for U.S. Senate

Former state Republican Party chair Saul Anuzis is the latest potential Republican challenger to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) to announce they will not run for the seat in 2012. Former U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land both declined to run.

Anuzis announced his decision on his blog That's Saul Folks:

After talking to hundreds if not over a thousand donors, activists and friends around the state I have decided NOT to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012...

Mine was a more personal decision. Unfortunately I have to work for a living:) I do not have the financial wherewithal to take a year off from working and run an aggressive, fulltime campaign.

Anuzis said he's confident a strong Republican contender will step forward, saying he has "personally encourage [sic] Frank Beckmann, Clark Durant and John McCulloch to run."

Politics
5:11 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

Moroun acknowledges money to bridge foe

A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit has acknowledged giving money to a group that’s working to stop the construction of a competing bridge – including plastering a neighborhood with fake eviction notices.

But Matthew Moroun says his family had nothing to do with the flyers.

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Environment
4:54 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

State reverses, will keep forest campgrounds open

N1NJ4 flickr

The state has reversed a decision to close 23 state forest campgrounds this summer.

Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Mary Dettloff says the DNR has found partners to run three of them, and is in talks with local governments and other groups for similar arrangements for the rest. But she says maintaining the campgrounds is an expense the state is less and less able to afford:

"We have to do regular environmental testing on the wells for the water, we have to have the pit toilets pumped out regularly. We have to have the trash hauled away, the grass mowed. There’s lots of maintenance and upkeep for these things that I think a lot of folks just don’t realize we have to do."

Funding for the state forest campgrounds has been cut by almost two-thirds over the last three years. There are 133 of the campgrounds across Michigan.

Dettloff says the typical state forest campground costs about $9,000 a year to operate.

Politics
4:28 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

House republicans aim to reduce fraud in food assistance program

Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The state provides food-assistance to low-income residents who qualify through the Bridge Card Program. The card operates sort of like a debit card instead of more traditional food stamps. They were adopted to make it easier for the state to run the program and reduce the stigma associated with using food stamps.

State Representative Tom Hooker is one of the bill’s sponsors.

“We’re aren’t trying to take food away from little kids and old people and people who are suffering. That’s not the goal of any of these bills.”

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Environment
4:23 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

Ban on deer-baiting lifted in much of Michigan's lower peninsula

A buck at a salt lick.
Tee Poole Flickr

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has lifted a ban on putting bait out for deer. From October 1st through January 1st the practice will again be allowed in most counties in the lower peninsula.

Baiting will not be allowed in Alcona, Alpena, Iosco, Montmorency, Oscoda, and Presque Isle counties - the state's six county area known as the  Bovine Tuberculosis Zone.

Officials at the Michigan DNR put the baiting ban in place in 2008 after biologists found the state's first case of Chronic Wasting Disease in a deer at a private deer breeding facility in Kent County.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal brain disease similar to mad cow disease, can be spread from deer to deer through saliva and blood. The disease started out west in elk and made its way into some Midwestern deer herds. Wisconsin had to cull big herds of deer to get the disease under control.

Banning a practice such as baiting, a practice that brings many deer together in one spot as they eat or lick the bait, was thought to be the best way to prevent the spread of CWD in Michigan - apparently, it worked.

From the Michigan DNR press release:

At the time, the Department followed protocol as outlined in the state's emergency response plan for CWD and immediately banned baiting and feeding of white-tailed deer in the Lower Peninsula. The NRC then passed regulations making the ban permanent, but said it would reconsider the ban in three years, giving the DNR adequate time to perform disease testing and surveillance in the state for CWD.

In the three-year period, the DNR tested thousands of white-tailed deer for CWD, but did not detect another case.

So in a 4-3 vote by the Natural Resources Commission, the three-year old ban was lifted. It will be reconsidered in 2014.

In the Grand Rapids Press, Howard Meyerson writes that hunters have been split on the issue. Around half in favor of baiting and half against it. Meyerson writes that in 2008, many hunters were glad the ban was put in place:

They said it altered deer behavior and pulled deer off their lands and onto others where people baited. That, in turn, prompted them to resort to “defensive baiting.”

On the flip side, however, others are crowing.

“The good guys won,” said Jeff DeRegnaucourt, an avid hunter from Rockford who was glad to see the ban lifted.

But the nation’s top professional wildlife biologists probably wouldn’t see it that way. Mason is one who steadfastly urged keeping the ban in place. Steve Schmitt, the DNR’s wildlife disease expert, was another.

Auto/Economy
2:36 pm
Fri June 10, 2011

Toyota expects fiscal year profit to fall 31 percent

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota says its profit for the fiscal year through March 2012 will fall 31 percent to 280 billion yen ($3.5 billion) in an outlook that underlines a robust recovery in the latter half of the fiscal year from the damage of an earthquake and tsunami.

Toyota Motor Corp. made the announcement Friday. It had not given an earnings forecast earlier because of uncertainties in its production outlook after the disasters on March 11 wiped out key parts suppliers in northeastern Japan.

Last month, it said January-March quarterly profit crumpled more than 75 percent because of the parts shortage that is hurting production.

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