Lindsey Smith

West Michigan Reporter/Producer

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Lindsey has worked as a reporter at radio stations in both West and Southeast Michigan, and her work has been recognized by both the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and Michigan AP. She's a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and Specs Howard School of Media Arts.

Q&A

What has been your most memorable experience as a reporter?
Reporting from a hot air balloon was one of the scariest. Trying to bubble-wrap my recording equipment to come with me down a giant waterslide took the most preparation and ingenuity. Mostly I remember people; so many downtrodden, truthful, funny, inspiring, regular-everyday people. Nearly everyone I meet and talk to shapes how I view life in at least the slightest way.

What is your favorite program on Michigan Radio?
"Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me." It's hilarious. "On the Media" is a very, very close second.

What do you like best about working in public radio?
Mostly, I'm proud of what we do and the stories we produce.

What modern convenience would it be most difficult for you to live without?
The internet! What did anyone do without it! I mean, I remember life without it, but it's amazing how much I rely on it every day.

What is your favorite way to spend your free time?
It depends on the season. I love wakeboarding in the summer, hanging out on the beach, going on long walks with my dog Lola, grilling. In the winter I wish I could hibernate. I do enjoy snowboarding and movies and warm drinks indoors then.

What are people usually very surprised to learn about you?
If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise!

Grand Rapids Public Museum / facebook.com

The Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium is getting a major upgrade.

The planetarium is popular; pulling in about 60,000 visitors a year. But it uses technology that's almost two decades old. GRPM spokeswoman Kate Moore says the upgrade will make a huge difference.

“Right now our shows, not only are they out of date technology wise, but some of the information is not shown in the best way that’s possible. They’re not at maximum capabilities to what, especially students, but also the general public is used to seeing these days,” Moore said.

Mark Savage / Entergy

It’s been more than a month since the Palisades Nuclear Plant near South Haven shut down after an unexpected release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan.

Nuclear watchdog groups are upset there was yet another leak into the plant’s control room last week.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Two Republican congressmen from West Michigan blasted the federal intelligence community for secretly collecting the phone records of millions Americans. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Holland) discussed the program during a luncheon in Grand Rapids today.

“I think it’s outrageous,” Amash said, “I think the American people are outraged about it and it has to stop.”

The Muskegon Heights school system has been fined nearly $100,000 by the Michigan Department of Education. The department launched the investigation after Michigan Radio reported the new Muskegon Heights charter school district had about 10% of teachers working without a valid teaching certificate or permit. It’s against state law to do that.

Chart by Lucy Perkins, and Mark Brush.
Lucy Perkins, Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are working on legislation they hope will prevent another crisis like the one in the Buena Vista school district. Students there sat at home while school was closed for two weeks last month because the district couldn’t afford to pay its teachers. Buena Vista is not alone; a number of districts have had problems keeping their doors open because of financial problems this year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Juniors and seniors at Rockford High School will be able to earn up to 30 credit hours at Ferris State University for free in a pilot program announced today.

Say you’re taking calculus at Rockford High School, when you get to college, you could test out of calculus but you wouldn't get any credits.

The pilot program differs from dual enrollment programs.

If a student passes a single calculus class, it will count toward both their high school diploma and their college degree.

Grand Rapids Public Schools will have to dip into its savings account to cover a projected $7.9 million deficit next school year. That’s despite a major restructuring plan and a small increase in funding that’s expected from the state. Grand Rapids schools will still have to lay off roughly 70 employees to balance its budget next school year; 14 of them teachers.

GRPS will get an extra $11 per student next year if Governor Rick Snyder signs a school spending bill, as he's expected to.

The district’s business and finance director, Julie Davis, says that’s an improvement.

More than 10,000 people are expected at a street party in Grand Rapids Saturday to celebrate all things local.

Locals bands, local food, and of course local beer; brewed special for the party with locally produced honey. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for Local First, a non-profit that supports locally owned businesses throughout West Michigan. It's their 10th anniversary.

Executive Director Elissa Hillary says if everyone in Kent County shifted 10% of their purchases to locally owned businesses, it would create 1,600 jobs.

“It’s important for us to just be aware that our daily choices have an impact and that they can have an incredibly positive impact,” Hillary said, “So if we’re making choices to support businesses in our community we’re essentially choosing to support people who live in our community.”

Kazoo Sturgeon / kazoosturgeon.org

It’s near the end of spawning season for Michigan’s oldest and biggest fish species, the lake sturgeon. Overfishing and hydraulic dams built to power industry have wiped out many lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes.

A group of people and government agencies are trying to increase the odds the kind of sturgeon specific to the Kalamazoo River will survive.

Sturgeon have been around since the age of dinosaurs. So they’re a lot different from other fish in the Great Lakes. They don’t have a normal skeleton. Instead, they’ve got these bony plates on the outside of their bodies, called scutes. They have no fish scales.

“They’re kind of rubbery on the outside and they are extremely docile, unlike the fish with the flopping and all that,” said Ron Clark. He’s with the Kalamazoo River Sturgeon Restoration Project out of New Richmond.

“They let you move them; they let you hold them,” Clark said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update 5/29/13: This story has been corrected to reflect Wright’s rank as Specialist, not Sergeant. Wright misrepresented his rank during the formal event.  

Memorial Day was particularly special for an injured Iraqi war veteran from Allegan.

Hundreds huddled close at Oakwood Cemetery Monday morning. Some wept as Amy Wright finally pinned a Purple Heart on her husband’s uniform. He kneeled so his 7-year old daughter Torin could pin on the other one.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor’s new emergency manager says the city is on track to eliminate its structural deficit within a year. The city's finances have been under state control for more than three years.

Emergency Manager Tony Saunders started in February after the state ended the previous manager's contract at the city commission’s request.

Businesses in Hamtramck, Michigan
Ian Freimuth / creative commons

An independent review team says the city of Hamtramck is indeed dealing with a “financial emergency.” The small city takes up about two square miles within the city of Detroit.

Hamtramck just emerged from the control of an emergency financial manager six years ago. Now its deficit is $3.3 million. That’s 20 percent of the money the city expects to bring in this fiscal year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

New reports show special education students in Muskegon Heights didn’t get all the services they should have this year. The company that runs the state’s first all-charter public school district is working to correct the problems.

Problems with charter company’s handling of special ed services

Federal law and state regulations outline the rules that are supposed to make sure kids with special needs still get a fair education.

Michigan’s Department of Education found more than a dozen ways the new Muskegon Heights charter district violated those rules, affecting a couple hundred special education students.

“In my opinion this was probably the worst delivery of special education services I’ve seen in my career,” said Norm Kittleson, a former special education teacher at Muskegon Heights. He’s been teaching for 15 years.

Kittleson started teaching a small class of students with learning disabilities and emotional issues at Muskegon Heights last October.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than a hundred people, a dozen strollers and a few dogs lined up and marched about halfway around the Allied landfill site in Kalamazoo Wednesday night chanting – “What do we want? Cleanup! When do we want it? Now!”

It isn’t a typical landfill. It’s where a paper mill dumped decades-worth of waste that’s laced with cancer-causing chemicals.

Everyone here wants the pile gone. They don’t care if it’s the most expensive option and the company that owned the site went bankrupt.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Even though Palisades is temporarily shut down, the nuclear power plant last night held a public open house it had scheduled more than a month ago.

In a small conference center in South Haven Tuesday night, anti-nuclear activists mingled with federal nuclear regulators, residents, and plant workers. Palisades Site Vice President Tony Vitale says that's a good thing. He says the open house is designed for people in the community to come talk to some of the plant workers firsthand.

“We’re not hiding anything. We want to run, and will run, and I will demand we run a transparent operation,” Vitale said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Crews are still trying to figure out exactly what caused an unplanned release of slightly radioactive water from the Palisades Nuclear Plant last week. They have discovered a new crack in a water tank that’s been leaking on and off for at least two years.

The plant was shut down a little over a week ago because of the leak.

“The risk to the plant safety was very small. There really was no increased risk,” Palisades Chief Operating Officer Tim Mitchell told reporters Monday afternoon.  

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People in Kalamazoo are rallying to get rid of a major dump site that contains cancer causing waste.

Imagine decades’ worth of wood pulp and grey clay waste from the paper mill industry. There are 1.5 million cubic yards of it and it’s laced with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

Now, plop it in the middle of a neighborhood.

Sarah Hill lives a little more than a mile away from what neighbors have dubbed "Mount PCB."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

An effort to restore the rapids into the Grand River is getting a boost from a new federal partnership.

The rapids that gave Michigan’s second largest city its name are long gone. Hydraulic dams that used to power the furniture industry are major safety hazards for small boats and kayaks. They also block fish like sturgeon from spawning upstream.

Enbridge Energy

The U.S. State Department has extended the public comment period on a proposal to nearly double the amount of crude oil that's shipped in a pipeline along Lake Superior.

Enbridge Energy’s Line 67, also known as the “Alberta Clipper” pipeline, runs from the tar sands region in Canada down to Wisconsin near Lake Superior. In the US, it's more than 300 miles long and three feet in diameter.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People in Benton Harbor voted overwhelmingly to raise property taxes to support city services in Tuesday’s election.

That’s after voters rejected a similar set of proposals last November. The city is already running in the red and the millage represents around 20-percent of the city’s income.

“You just can’t see me dancing in the streets on the radio,” Mayor James Hightower said over the phone Tuesday night, “It’s a great day in Benton Harbor.”

Congressman Fred Upton
Republican Conference / Creative Commons

A powerful voice in Washington is demanding a permanent fix to the leaky water tank at the Palisades Nuclear Plant.

Congressman Fred Upton says he’s “outraged” by the unplanned release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan over the weekend. Regulators say there is no risk to public safety.

Upton chairs the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over domestic nuclear regulatory activities.

The plant is in Congressman Upton’s district. Entergy, the company that owns the plant, was one of the top contributors to his election campaign last year.

Upton is demanding accountability and a permanent fix to the tank, which has leaked on and off for at least two years.

In a written statement, Upton says he plans to personally visit the site with a Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner.

“It is my understanding that the water tank will be emptied by the end of the week with the hope that the cause of the leak can be identified shortly thereafter.  Every option must be on the table – including a full replacement of the tank – to ensure that the continuing leak will not occur again,” Upton said.

Requests for an interview were not immediately returned.

New documents show Entergy had asked regulators for an alternative fix for the leaky tank on April 25th. Those documents assumed the leaks had stabilized.

“The current leak rate is stable without an increasing trend which suggests that the current through wall flaws have self-relieved the initiating stresses, are not growing, and remain well below the calculated allowable flaw length.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is investigating why the leak rate went from one gallon per day late last week to 90 gallons a day in one 24-hour period.

In the documents, Entergy requests an alternative fix for the tank “that would add a fiberglass-reinforced vinyl ester liner to the tank bottom and to a portion of the tank wall in lieu of identifying the location of the thru-wallleak(s) and performing code compliant repairs.”

Mark Savage / Entergy

Update 4:14 p.m.

“The most important thing to understand regarding this shutdown is the health and safety of our employees and the public has never been impacted by this issue,” said Terry Young, Vice President of Nuclear Communications for Entergy.

He confirms the unplanned release of slightly radioactive water into Lake Michigan, but couldn’t say exactly how much.

“It’s really impossible to tell at this juncture what the length of this shutdown will be because we haven’t yet had a chance to identify what the issue is that we’re going to need to fix,” Young said.

This will be the third attempt to fix the leaky tank within the last year and a half.

“We have gone through pretty exhaustive measures on a couple of occasions to bring the plant offline and do just extensive testing and repairs and we’ll take a look at what’s causing the leak this time,” Young said.

I asked if it would make more sense to replace the tank instead.

“I really don’t know any background information on that in terms of what that would cost, I honestly couldn’t comment on that,” Young said.

Young notes the plant has had “a lot of success” at Palisades in the year and a half in “significantly improving performance.” The NRC recently upgraded the plant's safety rating after a series of problems in 2011 left it with one of the worst safety performance ratings in the country.

Last month Site Vice President Tony Vitale noted that a number of issues “have required repairs to be done with the plant offline and that’s unacceptable.” He says they’re reviewing their procedures to see if there’s something they should change.

“We’re diving into our programs and finding out why these issues are finding us instead of us finding them,” Vitale said in April.

“It is unfortunate that this is a recurrent issue that we are dealing with here,” Young said, “but our resolve is strong to fix this issue once and for all.”

Updated 1:11 p.m.

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimate 79 gallons of "slightly" radioactive water drained into Lake Michigan on Saturday.

NRC Spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says the agency doesn’t know exactly how radioactive the water was, but based on general knowledge of where the water came from, there is no risk to public safety.

“The unplanned release of this radioactive water is not something you want to have happen,” Mitlyng added.

The water came from a large water tank on the roof of the Palisades plant’s control room. It holds 300,000 gallons of water in case of emergencies or a planned refueling outage.

The plant is located in Covert Township, about 70 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

Fabric-Guy / Creative Commons

“This year, by far, will be the largest security force that we’ve had for a 5th/3rd River Bank run to date,” Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk told city commissioners Tuesday.

21,000 runners are registered for the race.

He’s coordinating security with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and five police forces from neighboring communities.

Belk says Michigan State Police will fly helicopters overhead and use bomb-sniffing canine units

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Nearly six months after Grand Rapids voters passed a charter amendment to decriminalize marijuana, the city is implementing the change this week. You can read the rules here.

The delay comes in part because the Kent County prosecutor sued the city when it tried to implement the change in December.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

There are plenty of adults talking about what should be done concerning education in Michigan. But an event in Grand Rapids gave students an opportunity to explain what they need from their schools.

Lynn Heemstra helped organize the event, called “KidSpeak.”

“It’s my belief that a lot of people that have legislative responsibility don’t really know the extent of what young people are dealing with in the their lives and what they’re receiving in the way of day to day educational opportunities,” Heemstra said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Thousands of people affected by a record flood of the Grand River are still coming to terms with the losses. Today the river is expected to finally dip below the flood stage in Grand Rapids.

Flood comes strong and fast

The flood got real a week ago today. On Thursday, April 18th, more than three inches of rain fell in one day, blowing away the 1939 record of a mere inch and a half.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This post was updated as we learned news related to the rising waters in West and mid-Michigan. To see how events unfolded from Friday through Sunday night, scroll down and read up.

To read about current news related to the flooding, see this new post.

Sunday, April 21st, 9:30 p.m.

At nearly 22 feet, Michigan’s longest river is very near where the National Weather Service is predicting it will crest in Grand Rapids. The Grand River’s flood stage there is 18 feet.

City officials were confident the waste water treatment plant (that serves around a dozen other neighboring communities) will make it through the night, thanks in part to a massive sandbag wall lining the perimeter.

Over the weekend the city moved around $3 million dollars in equipment that’s not needed for the emergency to drier locations, just in case.

The flooding means the plant is processing more than triple the usual amount of water. Over the last three days, the city says the plant has treated 150 million gallons of water a day, compared to an average of 42 million gallons a day.

People are still being asked to conserve water; take shorter showers, hold off on washing laundry and dishes.

“We expect to be safe through the night,” the city’s Environmental Services Manager Mike Lunn said in a written statement.

“The combined performance of our flood walls, our pumps, professional staff, and volunteers has been truly amazing. We must, however, continue to be diligent in monitoring the situation,” Lunn said.

The city is no longer calling on people to help fill and move sandbags, for now.

“I can’t possibly imagine what else we could do to react to this situation,” Mayor George Heartwell said, “We realize that things could change dramatically in the next few days with more rain or if issues associated with structures – such as buildings, walls, or bridges - arise.”

The crest will head to Grandville soon, where the city library is now taking on some water in the basement.

In Lowell, upstream from Grand Rapids, the water is already beginning to recede. There’s been very limited access into the city, with a number of bridges closed. But the barricades are predicted to move off Main Street before the Monday morning commute.

Sunday 4:30 p.m.

Electricity is being rerouted in Grand Rapids because of the flooded Grand River.

Officials from Consumers Energy said Sunday there are four high voltage distribution lines that run just under the Fulton Street bridge.

The water is high enough there's a concern that big trees or other debris floating down the river could snag the lines and cause safety concerns so they’ve de-energeized the lines. Electrical services have not been impacted because of the move.

Once the river recedes they’ll reopen the bridge. But officials couldn’t estimate how long that will be.

The Grand River is expected to crest Monday around 2 a.m. at 22.3 feet.

At a press conference Sunday afternoon Mayor George Heartwell thanked the hundreds of volunteers who’ve been filling and stockpiling 6,000 sandbags an hour over the weekend. He called for more volunteers this afternoon and evening.

“Even though we’re the most incredible volunteering city in the world, we need more,” Heartwell said, “Please help us protect our city.”

City-owned buildings have already been lined with the bags. So the 50,000 that remain are primarily for residents and business owners who need then, “or the possibility that the skies open up again this week, we get a ton of rain and we get a resurgence of these levels.”

Rain is in the forecast as early as Tuesday.

Michigan’s second largest city remains under a state of emergency because of significant property damage to a number of buildings in the downtown area.

It’s estimated that around a thousand residents in mid and west Michigan have been evacuated from their homes. Some have already been able to return.

Sunday 11:10 a.m.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

**Find updated flood coverage here.**

The Grand River in Grand Rapids is swollen after record rainfall this month. It’s expected to crest at just under 25 feet on Sunday; just nine inches shy of the 100-year flood level.

Amber Jones and Kelsey Caverly work downtown near the city’s fish ladder. They joined dozens of people who came down on their lunch break Thursday to check it out.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A venture capital fund backed by the DeVos family has invested $2.3 million dollars in start-up companies in the past year. The money went to 106 different ideas or projects.

The fund is called Start Garden. It was created nearly a year ago by Amway co-founder Richard DeVos’ grandson Rick DeVos, who’s also an entrepreneur (and founder of ArtPrize). He gave an update on the fund this morning.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Soon people living in the lakeshore cities of Saugatuck and Douglas will vote on a proposed merger of their local governments. The State Boundary Commission ruled today the question should be on the ballot in August or November.

A citizens group began the process to merge in 2011. The Consolidated Government Committee is pushing for the merger to save taxpayer money.

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