CNS Budget – April 13, 2018

April 13, 2018 – Week 12

To: CNS Editors

From: Dave Poulson & Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841;

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873;


Here’s your file:

TARTCHERRIES: Michigan is the country’s top producer of tart cherries but the industry is slammed by a sharp increase in lower-cost imports. A grower in Oceana County, the Farm Bureau and the Cherry Marketing Institute weigh in. By Kaley Fech. FOR LEELANAU, OCEANA, TRAVERSE CITY, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, PETOSKEY, BENZIE, MANISTEE, CADILLAC AND ALL POINTS.

BIKESHARE: Bike sharing is growing in popularity across the country, prompting Michigan communities to also look hard at creating such programs. Holland is considering a bike-sharing program and Grand Rapids is studying the feasibility of one. Detroit, Ann Arbor and Port Huron already have them. We also hear from the Michigan League of Bicyclists. By Crystal Chen. FOR HOLLAND, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

CITIZENSHIPQUESTION: Michigan’s share of federal funds and the size of its congressional delegation could be harmed if the next U.S. Census asks a controversial question about citizenship, critics say. We talk to the Michigan League for Public Policy and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. By Riley Murdock. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS

TOURISM: Michigan tourism had an excellent 2017, and local travel and tourism bureaus are aiming for even higher revenues for 2018. Mason and Allegan counties and the Petoskey area are among the areas that did really well. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR HOLLAND, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

CHILDCARE: President Trump has proposed increasing federal subsidies for child care for low-income parents to the tune of $70 million a year for Michigan. Child care advocates welcome the proposal but say the cost of care will still remain out of reach for many families, creating an educational disadvantage for children and an obstacle for parents who want to work. We hear from a Petoskey day care center owner and the Michigan League for Human Services. By Maxwell Evans. FOR PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

AVALANCHE: Dead isn’t always dead. A new study recounts the near-miraculous survival of a 12-year-old U.P. skier who was buried head-down and unconscious in an avalanche for at least three hours. Avalanches are rare but not unknown in Michigan. The 1939 incident in Bessemer offers an important lesson for rescuers today: “Don’t give up until the victim is warm and dead or warm and alive.” Fatalities have occurred in Negaunee and Sleeping Bear Dunes. By Eric Freedman. FOR MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS, SAULT STE. MARIE, LEELANAU, TRAVERSE CITY, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.  

PBBCONTAMINATION: PBB contamination still plagues the Gratiot County community of St. Louis decades after the closure of the chemical plant that caused it. Community activists persevere in their quest for finishing the cleanup and for addressing the health problems that some residents face. By Jack Nissen. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/PBBCONTAMINATIONPHOTO: Jane Keon. Credit: Jack Nissan

w/PBBCONTAMINATIONCOVER: Jane Keon’s book, “Tombstone Town,” chronicles an activist group working to clean a small mid-Michigan town.

w/PBBCONTAMINATIONPHOTO2: St. Louis, Michigan, became the site of persistent chemical contamination long after the producer of chemicals like PBB and DDT had left. Credit: City of St. Louis.

MUSICSTRAINS: You’ve got to be tough to play music. Stress as diverse as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and anxiety from being forced to stop doing what you love all take a toll on musicians, regardless of genre. We hear about the problem from musicians and other experts from Central Michigan University, MSU and Flint. For news and entertainment/features sections. By Khal Malik. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


Local officials agree that Michigan tourism is on the rise

By Gloria Nzeka
Capital News Service

LANSING – State and local officials’ efforts to grow the tourism industry are proving effective as someMichigan counties continue to see significant growth in the number of visitors.

Tourism is a one of the state’s leading industries, according to a recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association. It generated 232,000 direct jobs, more than twice as many as the aerospace industry, for example, the report said.

In 2017, more than 5.6 million trips were made to Michigan from outside the state, according to  SMARInsights, a marketing and research firm in Indianapolis. Those visitors spent $2.1 billion in communities and local businesses across the state.

It is a statewide success that local officials readily endorse.

In Allegan County, the amount of money that visitors spent has steadily increased every year since 2011, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. It grew 3.6 percent between 2015 and 2016.

The Petoskey area also experienced steady growth over the past 5 years. Peter Fitzsimons, the executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, attributed that growth to “our overall mix of history, architecture, natural beauty, outdoor recreation and a concerted effort by both city and county planners in preservation and restoration of our waterfronts, downtowns, parks and other public spaces.”

The Traverse Conservancy, which started in 1972, has protected more than 50,000 acres of sensitive lands such as waterfronts, wetlands and viewscapes, he said. Guests and tourists  have created a demand for boutiques, galleries, specialty shops and gourmet restaurants.

The bureau advertises on social media, billboards and print magazines to attract visitors,  Fitzsimons said. Spring, summer and fall are great and during the winter  there’s a robust downhill skiing industry.

Local officials say Mason County tourism did significantly well over the last year.

“We did some really good growth both in the spring and the fall,” said Brandy Henderson, the executive director of the Ludington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In 2017, more people attended events and visited attractions like the Ludington Sandcastles Children’s Museum and Ludington State Park. Local hotels in the city generated more than $14 million in room rental income, the highest in the county’s history and 14.1 percent higher than 2016.

Henderson said the visitors’ bureau is more strategic and innovative in how it promotes Ludington.

“We are doing a little more niche marketing in terms of not just talking about our beaches but also talking about the craft beer industry and some other attractions that people can enjoy here too, and I think that is contributing to that growth,” Henderson said.

Travel in Michigan has been rising steadily, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The agency reports that among the counties with the highest tourism growth in 2016 are Ottawa, 6.8 percent; Mackinac, 5.2 percent;  Allegan, 3.6 percent; Kent, 3.9 percent; Ionia, 3.4 percent; and Mason, 3.2 percent.

Another measure of recent Michigan tourism growth includes Mackinac Bridge crossings. They increased every month of 2017 through July, and numbered roughly 2.2 million during that period, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Michigan families get $70 million for child care

Capital News Service

LANSING — An influx of federal money is expected to put more children from Michigan’s struggling families into child care programs.

Families who meet eligibility requirements, including an income cutoff and employment or high school completion, are able to receive a state subsidy to help with the costs of child care.

Because of the positive effects that quality care can have on children, all families should have a chance to take advantage of it, said Gilda Jacobs, president of the Michigan League for Public Policy, a progressive think tank focusing on social issues.

“The costs of child care are so huge that most low-income people really cannot afford high-quality child care,” Jacobs said. “It needs to be subsidized, it needs to be available, and there needs to be transportation to it.”

Help is on the way for low-income residents. The spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in March boosted funding for child care assistance. The league estimates new  funding will approach $70 million in Michigan.

That could mean up to 3,500 more children receiving assistance to attend child care.

That’s the good news. The bad? The number of families receiving child care assistance from the state dropped dramatically for years and is only now starting to rise again, falling from nearly 70,000 in 2003 to 18,381 in 2017 according to state data.

The league is pushing the Legislature to raise the income cutoff for assistance to 200 percent of the poverty level. The current cutoff of 130 percent puts many low-income families in a bind, said Audrey Marvin, the owner of Stepping Stones Child Development Center in Petoskey.

“I know for a fact that I have lost families because they can’t afford the center but they make just enough that they don’t get government assistance,” Marvin said.

The federal funding boost could be crucial, as skyrocketing costs pose a significant barrier for parents looking to maintain a job, according to league communications director Alex Rossman.

Low-income residents are caught in a Catch-22, he said. They can risk sending much of the income from their job to a child care facility, or they can limit their income by not working and caring for the children personally.

The average annual cost of center-based infant care in Michigan — $10,281 — is nearly that of a year of mortgage payments or public college tuition, according to Child Care Aware of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit. Home-based infant care runs $7,179 annually, on average.

It’s unfortunate that high child care costs are a barrier, but given how beneficial it is to young children, the price point is necessary, Rossman said.

“It’s an area in which you don’t want to cut costs or corners,” Rossman said. “The offerings just continue to increase — the quality of food available, the field trips, the technology available.”

Rossman also said that there isn’t a huge difference in costs among child care centers and most quality centers will charge similar amounts.

“It’s not like there’s two Cadillacs of day care and then everyone else is a standard sedan — it’s all relatively high, or you drop down significantly” in quality, Rossman said.

A lack of “big-city, high-end” jobs means child care costs aren’t quite as high in rural Michigan, said Stepping Stones’ Marvin.

However, the income difference also means many parents struggle to send their children to child care in the first place, she said.

“Most of my clientele are the average blue-collar workers that possibly get laid off for four months out of the year,” Marvin said. “We are continually full, but we do have children who need to leave” due to their parents’ inconsistent employment.

Rossman, who is soon to be the father of twins, said even with his professional career child care costs would eat up a significant portion of either his or his wife’s salary.

“All our friends that are parents say that once (their children) start school, then you feel rich,” Rossman said. “Even as someone who was reading and writing a lot about the costs of child care, it didn’t really resonate until pricing it out individually.

“My first thought was like, ‘which one of us is quitting our jobs to just stay home?’” he said.

Marvin, who has four children, is no stranger to this decision. She said she chose to quit her preschool teaching job when her first child was born to focus on child-rearing.

A year later, as Marvin was pregnant with her second child, she decided to use her child development degree and open an in-home daycare center.

“I really don’t think I would’ve been able to leave my kids with somebody else,” Marvin said. “This gave me the opportunity to be with them but still work.”

Bike sharing finds a place in more Michigan cities

Capital News Service

LANSING — Some Michigan cities have joined a growing group of communities nationwide  turning to bike share programs.

In 2010 there were only four city-wide systems in the U.S. where residents could rent bicycles. That jumped to 55 systems with 42,000 bikes in 2016, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an organization of 62 major cities and 10 transit agencies.

Even though it is a home to the U.S. auto industry, Michigan is also keeping up with the tide. Detroit, Ann Arbor and Port Huron have launched bike sharing systems. Others are working to make the concept feasible.

“Bike sharing is an interesting idea,” said Amy Sasamoto, the Holland Downtown Development Authority coordinator. Her city surveyed residents  in December 2016 on its website to see if a bike share program is feasible there.

Local bike shops rent bikes to tourists and the downtown area is small, so “a bike share may not be that beneficial to downtown Holland,” Sasamoto said.

Funding is also a problem. “There were some questions as to how the funding could be obtained —  the budget could not support or effectively manage the system,” she said. “The city manager wanted the program to be free, and that made financing the idea difficult as well.”

So the program is on hold as the city looks for other ways to promote biking.

That includes making the downtown safe and accessible for bicyclists.

“Recently we underwent a road reconstruction on one of our main downtown streets, and part of the reconstruction added some bike lanes, and also the shared-lane markings. We put together on a map where those bike lanes are located throughout the city,” Sasamoto said. “We have partnered with some biking groups to do family rides and things like that.”

Meanwhile in Grand Rapids in February, the city commission approved a study to test the feasibility of a bike share program. The study estimated the start-up cost at $300,000.

“Bike share is found in many cities across the United States and is typically part of a larger effort to provide as many transportation options to people as possible,” said Kristin Bennett, the transportation planning and programs supervisor for the city.

A hybrid-type bike share system was approved by the study’s steering committee. The system combines stations and hubs with a “smart” bike that can be docked at hubs/bike racks but can also dock into stations.

“It could offer the most in terms of quality and versatility, especially as a system is initially developed and expanding,” Bennett said.

The study recommended options for single rides, a monthly pass, a student pass and a lower-income pass.

“A cash option for bike share passes would certainly be included,” Bennett said. “Equitable access to a bike share system is a major goal of the study’s steering committee.”

“The most frequent concerns we heard during our public engagement wasn’t against bike share,” she said, “but rather concerns about traffic safety while bicycling and who was responsible if something happened while riding a bike share bike, such as mechanical problems, theft and other damage.”

The Grand Rapids program won’t move forward until the city commission adopts a bicycle action plan to be completed this summer, Bennett said.

It could likely take another year or so to get the system off the ground, she said. “But that is all dependent on a number of factors, including funding, system planning and lead times from equipment providers to get equipment here and installed.

Lindsey DesArmo, the chair of League of Michigan Bicyclists, said safety is a concern for people who bicycle, walk or drive, and isn’t necessarily specific to bike sharing programs.

The league is an advocacy group representing the interests of bicyclists. It has advocated for legislation for safe distances for motorists to pass bicyclists and drivers drivers’ education training to address safety concerns about non-motor transportation.

“As the state becomes more strategic about the mobility of its people, bicycle infrastructure and bike sharing programs play an integral role in providing options for people to move from point A to point B,” DesArmo said.

New census question threatens Michigan’s federal funds, voice in Congress

Capital News Service

LANSING — If a “citizenship question” is added to the 2020 U.S. Census, an undercount of noncitizens and communities with immigrant-heavy populations might worsen the negative impacts of Michigan’s population decline, immigration experts say.

Critics of the question, announced in March by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, claim that asking if someone is a citizen means fewer people will complete the census. And that will lead to underreported local governments receiving less federal aid and other resources and could threaten the size of Michigan’s representation in Congress.

The Commerce Department said it’s adding the question to more accurately enforce the Voting Rights Act by learning more about the percentage of the population eligible to vote.

But a question about citizenship could drive some people away from the census. Undocumented immigrants or their families might fear deportation, while those with legal immigration status might worry that their status doesn’t protect them from other consequences, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows nearly eight out of every 10 travelers stopped when President Donald Trump’s travel ban was in effect were legal permanent residents.

An undercount could further reduce Michigan’s congressional delegation, Reed said. And if populations are undercounted, local governments could lose portions of $675 billion in federal funds for public programs, which is divided among communities across the nation based on census data.

“That funding is there, and the question is whether or not a community will get its fair share,” said Reed, whose center has offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. “Representation and resources really are the question, and really are at stake.”

Reed said the question was proposed during a period of harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration, which is also running the census. That context means non-citizens might not feel safe disclosing their status.

“The (citizenship) question has not been asked since the 1950s, and the reason why is because it’s been shown to depress participation by non-citizens,” Reed said.

People with legal immigration status, non-citizens and members of households that include non-citizens are reluctant to have contact with the government involving questions of their citizenship, Reed said.

Few people have a good handle on the language of citizenship, so many people don’t understand what it means to admit they’re non-citizens, Reed said.

People who would classify themselves as  “non-citizens” can be undocumented immigrants, those with a student or other temporary visa or legal permanent residents — someone with a  green card who isn’t yet a citizen, said Victoria Crouse, a senior policy fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan policy institute that focuses on social issues.

Immigrants made up 6.3 percent of Michigan’s population in 2015, compared to 5.3 percent in 2000, according to the league. Michigan had an immigrant population of 622,875 in 2015.

“That’s something to keep in mind,” Crouse said. “We’re talking about this group of non-citizens, but it’s people with all sorts of different immigration statuses.”

The state’s population growth has slowed since 1970, shrinking by roughly 55,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to census data.

The reluctance of immigrants to answer the proposed citizenship question can be magnified by a lack of a visible benefits to people responding to the survey, Reed said.

Families might disclose their citizenship to receive benefits they’re entitled to based on immigration status, but in the context of the census, it might be difficult for them to see benefits that would offset potentially negative consequences, Reed said.

“The benefits for the community of a complete count are tremendous,” Reed said. “But the benefit of an individual filling out the census form is almost impossible to detect.”

If Michigan population trends continue, the Census Bureau predicts the state will lose a congressional representative following the 2020 census, dropping from 14 to 13 seats, according to Carolina Population Center, a population research group at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Michigan has lost five House seats since the 1970 census, when it had 19.

Cherry growers worry about rising imports

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan is the nation’s top producer of tart cherries but increasing imports from foreign countries worry the state’s growers.

“Michigan grows 75 to 80 percent of the U.S. supply of tart cherries every year,” said Kevin Robson, a horticulture and industry relations specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The Michigan crop is worth $54 million, according to the Farm Bureau.

Imports have rapidly increased over the past decade. Ten years ago, the U.S. imported approximately 24 million pounds of cherry juice concentrate annually, said Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute. In 2016, the U.S. imported 200 million pounds of cherry juice concentrate.

“We can’t even come close to competing with imports coming in, especially from Turkey,” said Mike DeRuiter, a third-generation farmer from Hart in Oceana County.

The average industry price last year was around 18 cents per pound. Depending on the chemicals used to protect the trees, that can be five to 10 cents under the cost of production, he said.

Turkey sells its tart cherry juice concentrate for roughly $14 a gallon, while U.S. growers are currently at $28 a gallon. The break-even point for a U.S. grower is about $32 a gallon, DeRuiter said.

U.S. farmers have incurred increased production costs in recent years due to the introduction of the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive species that destroys fruit trees, including tart cherry trees.

“That pest has been a huge challenge for growers because it’s driven up costs,” Korson said. “The profit margins are down because the costs have gone up.”

The tart cherry industry has made a massive effort to grow the market.

“Tart cherries were traditionally a bakery ingredient,” Korson said. “In the early years of our industry, most of the cherries that were produced were produced for pies and pastries.

“We started 20 years ago investing in health benefits research. There was always folklore for cherries being good for arthritis and gout, but we had no science to support that,” he said.

After 10 years of research, quite a bit of scientific support emerged regarding health benefits, he said. The Cherry Marketing Institute doubled the assessment growers pay and hired a Chicago-based agency and a new marketing director to take that research message to the national market.

“Our focus was on juice, dried and frozen, and our goal was to reposition tart cherries from a bakery ingredient to be one of America’s superfoods,” Korson said.

The Farm Bureau’s Robson said the industry has done a remarkable job of rebranding itself as a health food product.

The effort was largely successful in increasing demand. The problem for U.S. farmers, however, is their domestic sales stayed flat while imports skyrocketed.

And grower DeRuiter said, “The U.S. consumption of tart cherries has definitely gone up since we started the promotion program. And that’s grower-funded. Every grower in the U.S. is essentially paying into this promotion program.

“Statistically we have grown the markets in the U.S. so it’s a huge positive. We just have to stop other countries from dumping in here.”

Korson said the problem stems from unfair trade. If a farmer in Michigan grows tart cherries and exports them to Turkey, the tariff is 58 percent. On the flip side, if a Turkish farmer grows tart cherries and ships them to the United States, there’s no tariff at all.

“At the end of the day, I think the U.S. government has really let us down,” Korson said. “Farmers have been put in a position where the government has allowed foreign countries to take advantage of the funding and the work that U.S. growers have done in not only growing and protecting their crop, but also in trying to market their crop by giving some other competitor duty-free access to that market.“

Even with the industry’s problems, those closest to it sound optimistic.

“Growers will tighten up their boots and weather the storm with the hope and the belief that the industry will come back around,” Robson said.

DeRuiter continues to plant trees with the hope that the market will rebound.

“In the fruit world, it’s a long term commitment,” he said. “The trees I planted today, it’ll be seven years before I take the first crop off of them, and then they’ll last for about 35 years.”

DeRuiter said growers are working hard on the issues, and he said he thinks they’ll be able to fix them.

“It’s hard to shed positive light when we’re going through a low period. It’s tough but you have to be optimistic,” he said.

Old UP avalanche teaches new lesson to rescuers

Capital News Service

LANSING – Dead isn’t always dead.

That’s the lesson learned from the near-miraculous survival of a 12-year-old Upper Peninsula skier who was buried head-down and unconscious in an avalanche for at least three hours.

Although the incident took place almost 80 years ago, a newly published study in the journal “Wilderness & Environmental Medicine” says it offers an important lesson for rescuers today.

The study, based on news coverage in the Ironwood Daily Globe, recounts the 1939 experience of Henry Takala, who suffered from hypothermia, a condition with an abnormally and dangerously low body temperature.

Avalanches in Michigan are “rare but not unknown,” according to the study.

A number involving the complete burials of victims have been reported in the Upper and Lower peninsulas, including a fatal 1924 accident that killed a rabbit hunter at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Michigan’s last known avalanche fatality occurred in 1982, also at Sleeping Bear Dunes, said Dale Atkins, a past president of the American Avalanche Association and co-author of the study. The National Park Service now warns winter visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that avalanches are possible on steep dunes.

So how is an 80-year-old Michigan avalanche relevant today? And what happened to Henry Takala?

As the boy was skiing, an overhanging snowdrift broke off, totally burying him and partially burying his companion. Henry’s father and neighbors dug him out and took him home, where the father administered artificial respiration for three hours.

Snow-blocked roads kept a doctor from arriving quickly.

“Whenever the father stopped his first aid work, his son would stop breathing and the work would have to be resumed,” the Ironwood Daily Globe reported. “It looked hopeless at the time, and so the father was told by the neighbors, but he continued until the boy recovered.”

The father, a miner, had learned first aid on the job.

“Although Henry appeared dead to his father at the time of extrication (from the avalanche), he was most likely breathing spontaneously. In hypothermic subjects, breathing may be shallow and difficult to detect,” the study said.

Two days after the accident, “The boys are no worse for their experience,” the newspaper reported. “Henry feels soreness in one of his legs.”

Michigan has the terrain and in some years the weak, soft layers of snow that are conducive to avalanches, Atkins said. While many people associate avalanches with the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada and Cascades, they can happen anywhere steep slopes are covered in snow.

Atkins described a 1954 incident that killed two 12-year-old boys who were sledding west of Marquette at an abandoned iron mine. Thomas Lecklin and Ernest Falo of Negaunee were buried in 10 feet of snow and a third boy was rescued.

The Michigan Snowmobile Safety Course acknowledges that they’re rare in the state, but advises snowmobilers to check with local officials if visiting a known avalanche area.

Such areas include slopes steeper than 30 degrees and where there are “overhanging masses of snow or ice, often found on a ridge,” according to the safety course. “Before crossing an unstable slope, look for possible escape routes should an avalanche occur.”

Atkins said, “Time is the enemy of the buried victim. Nature is not very kind. More people die than survive avalanche burials.”

Ken Zafren, the lead author of the study and an emergency physician in Anchorage, Alaska.

said someone with hypothermia “might look dead but might be alive. Don’t give up.”

That’s the lesson of the story of Henry Takala.

Rescuers “should attempt to resuscitate a hypothermia victim unless there is an obvious condition that is not compatible with life, such as decapitation or a completely obstructed airway,” the study said.

“Don’t give up until the victim is warm and dead or warm and alive.”

Citizen panel helps community recover from decades of contamination

Capital News Service

LANSING — Jane Keon has written hundreds of letters.

Letters to the state and federal environmental officials. To her local St. Louis government and to the officials of Velsicol, the chemical company that left the small Gratiot County city after it created one of the nation’s most notorious Superfund sites.

Keon is the former president of the community advisory group – commonly called the CAG – that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established to assist the cleanup of the factory site that sits on the Pine River in the middle of St. Louis, about 20 miles south of Mount Pleasant.

Most CAGs across the country let the EPA give them information and maybe ask a few questions, but that’s just about it, Keon said. “Our group took that word ‘advisory’ in a different sense. We thought it was up to us to advise the EPA on what we thought would be best for the community.”

The CAG’s oversight created friction with EPA officials charged with cleaning up the site. As Keon describes in her 2015 book chronicling the cleanup process, “Tombstone Town,” often officials ignored their input and talked straight to local leaders.

“To me, that’s the biggest challenge,” said Jim Hall, the current president of the advisory group. “When you look at it, what CAG stands for, we’re supposed to be an active conduit between us and the community.”

Velsicol manufactured chemicals that killed insects, prevented fire and supplemented cattle feed. In 1973, a packaging error mixed a fire retardant with feed that was fed to cattle all over the state. That error poisoned thousands of animals and the people who ate them.

In 1978, the plant was closed and demolition of the site began. The initial solution to keeping contaminants from leaching into the ground was to bury the site and cap it with concrete. That failed. The chemicals eventually made their way into the Pine River flowing through the city.

“It continued that way through the ‘80s and the ‘90s,” Keon said. “There was such a bad attitude in the community. By the time our group formed in 1997 and ‘98, we were bound and determined that this time around we were going to clean up.”

The initial group was made up of eight or nine people with different backgrounds. Some had experience working with the state Department of Environmental Quality while others worked at Consumers Energy. Others had experience in law and applying for grants to clean up the city.

“We’re the largest, most active cleaning advisory group that they (the EPA) have,” said Ed Lorenz, vice chair of the group and a professor at nearby Alma College. “And that’s been going on for a long time.”

Lorenz, who has also written a book on his experience with the group called “Civic Empowerment in an Age of Corporate Greed,” points to the group’s persistence as a factor in its success. It didn’t just write letters, he said. It applied for funds for more cleanups, consulted experts on how to run its own tests and collaborated with other groups.

The advisory group now goes by the name of Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force. Along with that name change has been a broadening of the area it wants cleaned.

“Even though we like to say St. Louis when we set ourselves up, we didn’t just limit ourselves just to the Velsicol site,” Hall said. “That allowed us with a mission to encompass more.”

That redefinition has translated into results. Nine separate cleanups have been completed since 1999. Improvements have been made to injection wells and creeks that lead into the Pine. The pesticide DDT was excavated from soil in athletic fields and residential yards.

And more help is on the way. Projects to fix a burn pit and a dam on the river will be completed in 2021. A larger cleanup project on the 52-acre chemical site is expected to be completed by 2036.

There are also ongoing health studies that analyze the PBB – the fire retardant that got mixed with the animal feed – and DDT contamination of residents.

Hall, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, had his blood tested in 2013. He has PBB levels seven times higher than a chemical worker’s average, and 16 times higher than farm families in the area, he said.

He lost his thyroid in 2008 to cancer. His brother died of cancer at age 24 and his daughter at age 2.

“For me, because I grew up three blocks from the site, it makes sense,” Hall said. “I spent my childhood just sucking all that stuff in.”

While his daughter never came into direct contact with those chemicals, those health studies are beginning to examine if the damage from chemicals like PBB can be passed to younger generations.

Even now Keon, who is the group’s secretary, works 40 hours a week. She doesn’t know why she still works as much as she does.

“Just speaking from a personal standpoint, I’m not a political person, I’m not a scientist, I don’t enjoy law or bureaucracy,” Keon said. “But here I am up to my eyebrows in it, and I have no explanation for why I personally stuck with it, other than it needs to be cleaned up, and somebody’s gotta do it.”

Perhaps it’s her Midwestern roots.

Former Michigan State University sociology professor Marilyn Aronoff told her years ago that Michiganders have a determined spirit, Keon said.

“The people in our area of Michigan are from pioneer stock,” Keon said. “When we run into problems, we find ways to keep going.”

Jack Nissen writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Music strains: injured performers strike sour notes

Capital News Service

LANSING —  You’ve got to be tough to play music.

Stress as diverse as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and anxiety from being forced to stop doing what you love all take a toll on musicians.

Music-related injuries are commonly associated with playing too much, according to John Hopkins University Magazine. Professional and student musicians often play four to eight hours per day, most of the time without any rest days.

An Australian survey of 377 professional orchestra performers found that 84 percent of those studied had experienced pain directly related to their profession.

Music-related injuries span genres. Members of marching bands routinely face ankle, knee and neck injuries. Rockers and other performers brave the dangers of moshing and stage-diving.

Those are dangerous enough that venues like the Flint Local 432 in downtown Flint have banned both practices.

The event coordinator of the Local, Sara Johnson, said that’s because the venue is intended to be a place where young people can explore music in a safe environment.

“Many people coming through our doors are attending their first live show,” she said. “Our attendees are equally likely to be 14 years old or 40, and we have to be a place parents feel safe bringing or potentially leaving their kids.”

University of Michigan – Flint student Michael Puro, is a huge supporter of the hardcore and punk scene in and around mid-Michigan.

Black eyes, nosebleeds and blows to the head are common at intense and rowdy shows, he said.

But generally music injuries are related to playing instruments.

Central Michigan University bass performance graduate Kosta Kapellas has experienced injury firsthand and witnessed other students dealing with the physical and mental toll of playing music.

As an upright bassist, Kapellas has dealt with numerous finger injuries. And he’s had back pain from hauling his 50-pound instrument around campus.

“My fingers have been torn apart more times than I can count,” he said. “The back thing definitely knocked me out for a few days.”

Mental stress is also a consequence of being a musician, he said.

“I tend to find burnout super-common, and that tends to pop up a ton in music schools because of the crazy amount of work and demands the school puts on the students,” Kapellas said.

Injuries to musicians need a more nuanced diagnosis and treatment than standard trauma, according to Judy Palac, a Michigan State University music professor emeritus who chairs the Musicians’ Wellness Team.

Palac established the team in 2004 as a better resource for injured students than simply visiting the school clinic, she said. “Other doctors might say, ‘Well if that hurts just don’t do it.’ That’s not always possible for musicians.”

The team is comprised of music professors, physicians, physical therapists and psychotherapists. Their mission is to consult with and refer injured students to “appropriate treatment resources available on and off campus,” according to its website. The teams also research and promote strategies to reduce the risk of injuries among musicians.

Case studies have shown that treatments such as rest are “not to be considered a safe” method for many common injuries to musicians, Palac said. That’s because taking a break from the activity doesn’t address why the injury occurred in the first place.

To combat this, she says the team holds a monthly “consult and refer clinic.”

The Wellness Team “provides no cost appointments to students who are having issues, so they can get the right care they need,” she said. “We don’t treat them or diagnose, we just try to send them in the right direction.”

While that’s helpful, there’s room for improvement, said Emily Roberts, a music therapist and doctoral student in music performance at MSU.

Many of the problems have to do with the lack of emphasis placed on health by music schools, she said.

The Musicians’ Wellness Team “is really not very accessible. Students really don’t know about it,” she said.

Even if they do, there isn’t much the team can do besides refer students to an additional physician, she said. And a musician’s health course was recently removed from the curriculum, putting students at a further disadvantage.

“The first step is education,” Roberts said. “The musician’s health course was probably the most important course of my schooling — bringing it back is an important step. Hopefully from there, there could be a physician at the College of Music that could be there for [injured] students.”

Roberts wants the public to truly understand the physical demand of being a musician. “One thing that people often forget is that we are athletes, and we train very specific muscles like athletes, so we get injured just like athletes.”

Khal Malik writes for Spartan Newsroom.