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8:02 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

DSO management, striking musicians to schedule "face-to-face" talks this weekend

The DSO musicians have been on strike since Oct. 4, 2010
MaxiuB creative commons

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra board gave management and its striking musicians until today to reach an agreement in order to avoid canceling the orchestra's summer season.

But according to a DSO press release issued at 5:37 p.m. today, the two sides will continue talks through the weekend:

Conversations with the Musician's leadership via phone and email have been robust this entire week.  TheDSO agreed to get together to work through the remaining issues as soon as acceptance of terms proposed by one of our intermediaries had been acknowledged by both parties.  The DSO agreed to these terms on Monday.  The DSO learned this afternoon that the musicians have accepted this framework as well and we will be scheduling a face-to-face meeting this weekend to resolve all other remaining issues.  A decision regarding our summer season is on hold pending the outcome of these meetings. 

Earlier this afternoon we spoke to Greg Bowens, the musicians' spokesperson. He said the head of the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO have shown their support for the striking musicians:

"The longer that things delay, the more national attention and pressure is put on the DSO to settle this situation."

The current $34-million, 3-year contract under negotiation is similar to a proposal musicians rejected back in February.

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Corrections
4:48 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

Michigan's prisons keep prisoners longer, cost more

User bgb Flickr

While controversy over budget cuts lingers, new statistics show that Michigan's prison system may have some system-wide problems that actually increase cost.The Chicago Tribune/A.P. reports:

Michigan often keeps inmates long after other states would have released them for similar crimes, driving up prison costs by millions of dollars a year and eating up a quarter of the state's general fund.

Both former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder have encouraged the parole board to be more lenient when it comes to releasing prisoners who have served their minimum sentences. Yet a bill that would require that inmates serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence but no more than 120 percent failed to make it through the Legislature during the last two-year session.

That has left 8,000 inmates still behind bars who have served more than their minimum sentences, a practice that's costing Michigan taxpayers around $280 million annually.

It's likely to take years for the parole board to consider those 8,000 cases, which make up nearly a fifth of the prison population. On April 15, the parole board will shrink from 15 members to 10 under a Snyder executive order estimated to save around $500,000 a year in pay and benefits.

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Religion
3:52 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

"Leaving Islam" - Anti-Muslim group wins legal round against suburban Detroit bus system

examples of the side bus posters the American Freedom Defense Initiative has been running in other cities

An anti-Muslim group might be closer to getting its message on the sides of city buses in Detroit.  The American Freedom Defense Initiative bought 4 thousand dollars worth of  advertising on Detroit buses last April.  But the bus system objected to language used on the posters, which talked about ‘Leaving Islam’.

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On the Radio
2:49 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

In case you missed it... April Fools Edition

user cpstorm Flickr

NPR has a tradition of releasing an April Fool's Day story every year.

They're not obvious about revealing the joke, so they end up fooling a fair number of people every year.

Morning Edition goes 3-D

Here's this morning story from "Jen Sands-Windsor" about people opting for eye surgery so they can improve their 3-D movie experience:

People were definitely fooled.

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller said she was "hollering while driving about that stupid woman risking her vision for the sake of 3-D movies. Got me!"

And Facebook fan Barb said, "Boy, am I gullible! I was complaining to my husband about this crazy surgery. Guess I gotta keep my radar on today. :)"

And Jim West wrote about it on his blog - telling people to check the story out as a sign of the times:

When NPR reported this today I thought for sure they would end it with ‘April Fools!’- but they didn’t.  Which can only mean that people are getting crazier by the minute...What craziness rules these days.

Someone let Jim know it was a joke to which he responded, "i had that feeling but since they never ended with ‘april fools’ …. well, it’s npr. i trust them. im gullible."

Marketplace gets in the game

Our Facebook fan Brian W. pointed out another April Fools story from the Marketplace Morning Report.

David Brancaccio brought us this report "France's new measure of well-being: Boredom."

Brancaccio reported:

In addition to new measures of well-being in his country, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today there must be balance, calling for new, regular government surveys of public levels of "ennui," or boredom. Sarkozy said the intention is to "Keep France French" by insuring that Anglo-American-style happiness does not get out of hand.

Take a listen:

 

Here & Now producers get into the game with its Twitter Time story

The producers fooled host Robin Young with this fictitious story (it's wonderful to hear her surprise when she discovers the whole interview was a joke).

They set Young up to interview a radio station manager who was turning his airwaves over to Twitter as a way to attract a younger audience.

The Tweets, he tells Young, are converted to audio using special computer software.

Station Manager @smittyd tells Young it's "a world that is happening right now, Robin - not however many hours ago as the traditional media might report it."

From the Here & Now:

A small public radio station on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is taking social media to the next level. The station, WAFD-FM, in Pocomoke, Md. has turned over its airwaves to Twitter.

From 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on weekdays, listeners will hear a constant stream of “tweets” to the station.

I hear Pocomoke is lovely this time of year.

Listen to Tweets turned to audio here. "You gotta develop an ear for it."

You can also hear the bleeped out tweets. The offending words are replaced with "NPR News."

On Here & Now's comment section Jesse wrote:

I'm thinking, "this is the dumbest idea I have ever heard." Then, boom! Ya got me!

NPR's True Gem

While we're at it, don't forget to pick up the wonderful 40th Anniversary CD collection of NPR's best funding credits.

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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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