New technology would make 911 better, but at a cost

By JINGJING NIE
Capital News Service

LANSING — An improved emergency 911 system would allow Michigan residents to text police if they are held hostage by an active shooter.

Crime victims could text for help without alerting a burglar in the next room.

And police could accurately locate crime victims who use cell phones to report when they are threatened.

But lawmakers are now struggling to figure out how to pay for the expansion of the new system called Next Generation 911.

“The problem we have right now is many 911 centers around the state are only able to trace a call to a landline,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who has introduced a bill to expand the Next Generation 911 system beyond the 33 counties that have it now.  “However, most people nowadays are changing to cellphones.”

The current 911 system is almost 40 years old. Meanwhile, around 70 percent of 911 calls are made from cellphones that cannot be accurately traced, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Michigan residents now pay 19 cents a month for state 911 fees per device. Prepaid wireless users pay 1.92 percent per retail transaction.

If the bill passes, the state 911 fees would go up to 25 cents per month, and prepaid wireless users would pay 4.53 percent per retail transaction.

Without the change, even the counties that already have Next Generation 911 will lose it when their funding runs out next year, said Harriet Miller-Brown, the state 911 coordinator.

“Even though they have it, it won’t be paid for, and there is no more money for new counties to join,” Miller-Brown said.

Next Generation 911 makes it easier for dispatchers to help each other out when they are flooded with calls, said Thom Sumbler, vice president of sales and business development for Peninsula Fiber Network, which installs systems for counties.

Dispatchers are flooded with calls when accidents happen, said Sumbler. ”There might be only two or three people taking calls and they might be getting 25-30 calls at one time,”

If someone called in about an unrelated heart attack, the call might not go through with the old system, he said. With the Next Generation 911, calls can be routed to dispatch centers that are less busy.

“This is an enormous improvement,” Sumbler said.

Next Generation 911 also allows users to text to 911.

“Always call when you can, text when you can’t,” said Jason Torrey, director of Grand Traverse County Central Dispatch/911 and the president of the Michigan Communication Directors Association.

But under certain circumstances, text is the better option.

“If you’re a victim of domestic violence and the assailant is in the immediate vicinity and you don’t feel safe placing a voice call, you can use that text solution to silently notify dispatch and 911 that you need help,” Torrey said. “We’ve had that occur, right here in our own town.”

The feature is also helpful for people who are deaf or partially deaf, Torrey said.

Next Generation 911 is also more reliable.

“With the older system, one backhoe digging the line somewhere can take out multiple 911 centers,” said Torrey.

With the newer system, there is always another route so that call can be delivered, he said.

“There are so many opportunities and so much diversity that you can have with this new network,” said Torrey.

The bill was referred to Energy and Technology Committee.

Shoulder test near Ann Arbor could come to a highway near you

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — An experiment allowing Michigan drivers for the first time to legally drive on a highway shoulder could lead to similar efforts across the state.

Advocates say that the use of advanced technology could prevent accidents, ease congestion and save millions of dollars in construction costs statewide.

Drivers were recently allowed to drive on the shoulder of a stretch of U.S. 23 during rush hour, an option labeled a flex route.

It is the first of its kind in the state and is essentially an initial experiment, said Kari Arend, a media representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

“We will be watching it closely to see how it operates and hopefully eventually adding it to other locations across the state,” Arend said.

Among them is a stretch of Interstate 96 in Oakland County and U.S. 131 near Grand Rapids, places officials say have high congestion similar to U.S. 23.

Savings from the use of the highway’s existing paved shoulder instead of building larger highways can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, Arend said

The U.S. 23 flex route opens up the highway’s inside shoulders between M-14 and M-36. That’s  roughly north of Ann Arbor and through Whitmore Lake, one of the state’s most highly congested highway stretches.

The shoulder is open only 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Motorists are alerted of its availability by overhead signs.

Green arrows mean the shoulder is open. A red “X” marks its closure. Yellow arrows alert drivers to merge to avoid traffic accidents. Other signals alert drivers of speed limits.

The flex route also opens during traffic accidents to allow traffic to more easily bypass them.  

Virginia and Minnesota have similar systems that have been successful, Arend said. MDOT looked at these states to see what could be feasible in Michigan.

Police say they hope they improve safety.

“We’re hoping there’s going to be less crashes because traffic is going to flow better,” said State Police Lt. Mario Gonzales of the Brighton post.

Stop-and-go traffic at these times leads to more rear-end collisions, especially when it slows down quickly during rush hour, Gonzales said.

“With these flex lanes, when they’re open, traffic is not going to have those choke points and that’s going to flow better and hopefully reduce those rear end collisions,” Gonzales said.

That would be helpful.

Almost 30 percent of all Michigan crashes occur on state and federal highways, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning. And there were slightly more than 83,000 rear-end collisions in the state last year, according to the crash data.

Why not keep the shoulders open all the time?

It has to do with the definition of a shoulder, Arends said, because it’s not a “true lane.”,” Arend said.

To add a third lane, the state would have to widen the road and add a shoulder too, costing millions more.

The flex route is part of a $92-million update of roads and bridges along U.S. 23. Without it, the cost of improvements would be close to $200 million, Arend said.

The biggest concern for police is educating people on the rules of the lane.

Drivers could still drive in the flex route at all times, though Gonzales said police would be monitoring the route more heavily. Drivers who pull into the shoulder during noon rush hour times could be at risk if another driver were to use the shoulder illegally.

Illegal use of the route falls under illegal lane use and would put two points on a driver’s record and a $135 ticket if the driver is caught.

New ways with wood open up building opportunities

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Steel and concrete would be the classic choices for building a large new laboratory planned at Michigan State University.

But experts in the university’s forestry department are asking, “Why not wood?”

They’re not the only ones with that question as builders nationwide push to build high rises, college laboratories and other large buildings with a construction material typically seen in houses. It’s a trend that could bring new markets for Michigan trees, fight climate change and produce new jobs, experts say.

“We have a tremendous amount of resources here,” said Jon Fosgitt, a member of the Forest Stewards Guild in Michigan. “The challenge is understanding the construction style, but also creating the infrastructure here in the state. We’ve got the resources here and that’s a Michigan-made story.”

Building with wood isn’t new. But a hot new construction technique called cross-laminated timber—CLT, for short—makes it possible to build large buildings out of wood. It’s constructed by bonding several layers of wood panels in alternating directions. The result is a material strong enough to build skyscrapers.

It’s fire resistant as well, said David Neumann, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest marketing specialist. “It has the same strength as concrete, when designed properly.”

Michigan has the trees. But there’s more to it than that to put them to work.

“Here’s the challenge with cross-laminated timber- there’s only two plants in the U.S. that construct it and they are both on the western side of the country,” Fosgitt said. It doesn’t make sense to construct the materials, then ship them across the country when we have all of those resources right here, he said.

One solution is to build a plant here, but even as interest in using cross laminated timber construction grows, it’ll take time for the industry to grow with it.

“I think it’s been taken up quite quickly, considering that there wasn’t even manufacturing in the US recently,” said Jennifer Cover, the president of WoodWorks. “We’re actually seeing it take off at an exponential rate. It’s quite incredible.”

WoodWorks is a nonprofit organization funded by the wood industry and  offers free education and design assistance related to non-residential and multi-family wood buildings.

Even so, the only large construction project considering the use of cross-laminated timber in the state is on Michigan State’s campus.

While the technique is recognized by the 2015 International Building Code, a model that addresses safety and health concerns of buildings, it’s still not the industry standard.

Fosgitt does anticipates a stronger emphasis on training people to build with wood, especially in Michigan.

In fact, one of the strongest drivers for more wood buildings is an environmental one. Wood products store atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet. Concrete and steel do not. According to the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, substituting wood could prevent 14 to 31 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

“Obviously the environmental benefits are good because climate change is real,” Fosgitt said. “This is part of a natural solution to climate change.”

Fears of a fire hazard may make wood a less popular choice. But cross-laminated timber doesn’t burn like normal wood because it’s so dense. It also has a faster installation process than concrete or steel, Cover said.

It’s particularly popular on the West Coast due to its flexibility and ability to withstand earthquakes, Fosgitt said. The first all-wood high rise was approved in Portland, Oregon, last June.

While Michigan has no structures built from cross-laminated timber, it does have the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, the largest wooden dome in the world. Construction started in 1989 and used large laminated beams, said the university’s associate athletic director, Carl Bammert. It opened in 1991.

The DNR has teamed up with WoodWorks to help train more Michigan builders and architects.

The organization also offers assistance on other wood-building techniques that have been around for longer, like timber that’s put together with nails and glue.

It hosted training sessions for architects and engineers in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor in September. The next step is to get more cros- laminated timber for Michigan builders to work with.

“In the long run, what we’d like to get is a facility to make some of these products out of Michigan wood,” said Richard Bowman, the director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy in Michigan.

Fosquitt said that iIf the mass timber industry were to make its way to Michigan, it would put more pressure on the forest resource. But, because Michigan harvests only a fraction of its annual growth, the industry can be managed sustainably.

“And when a building is made from natural products, it smells great too.”

Meanwhile, the newest wall covered by ivy at MSU may not necessarily be brick or concrete.

“MSU has been considering using CLT and other engineered wood products for the new building that is planned,” Richard Kobe, the chair of the university’s forestry department, wrote in an email.

Bill would let some counties veto state land purchases

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Counties with lots of public land are looking to take some control over state land purchases.

A pending bill would grant local governments more power when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) buys land, while also making sure the state pays its tax bill on time.

The proposed change is in response to the local governments that are upset the state has too much control over northern Michigan land, said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, a cosponsor of the bill.

“I always hear the reason the state wants to own the land is so you and I can enjoy the land,” he said. “Yet in my area, far too often, land was gated up or fenced off and access was cut off.”

Critics say the bill restricts statewide land management decisions.

Casperson worries it’s too difficult for people to buy land from the state. The Michigan Association of Counties, which supports the bill, wants counties to be able to veto state purchases. And groups like the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance take issue with how the DNR allocates land.

“If conservation is the wise use of resources that benefits the most people for the longest time, then that’s not what is happening,” said Dale McNamee, the former president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Parts of the bill guarantee sportsmen they will have land where to hunt.”

McNamee says the DNR often doesn’t take advantage of public land by prohibiting mining, fishing and hunting. The alliance promotes recreational experiences and encourages conservation of natural resources in the area, he said.

Under the bill, counties with more than 40 percent of their land owned by the state would have approval power over any additional state land purchase in their county. As of 2016, six counties fit that description: Cheboygan, Crawford, Dickinson, Kalkaska, Luce and Roscommon. Of the almost 4.6 million acres the DNR owns, 85 percent is north of the Mason-Arenac line, an invisible line that stretches across counties north of the Thumb.  

The Michigan Environmental Council opposes several parts of the bill.

“Our issue with that is these are statewide land management decisions that are supported by a lot of people,” said Sean Hammond, the council’s deputy policy director. “This would allow a single county to hold up a statewide land management decision. We think that’s not the appropriate way to make these decisions.”

The council disagrees with restricting the DNR’s purchasing power if the state isn’t current on payments it makes in lieu of taxes. When the state buys land, not only is the county getting money for the initial purchase, but to offset the property taxes it isn’t receiving, the state pays what are called Payments In Lieu of Taxes or PILT.

If the state fell behind on these payments, the bill would allow a cap on how much land the DNR could purchase would go into effect. The council disagrees with this because, while the DNR purchases land, the payments are appropriated by the Legislature, not the department itself.

“We’re questioning why we need to tie those together when they are completely separate entities,” Hammond said.

While payments have been late in the past, the DNR says the state doesn’t usually miss PILT payments.

Both the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs oppose the bill.

Sponsors hope to improve local business opportunities impeded by public land ownership, Casperson said. In 2014, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, a big money-maker for Luce County, was looking to purchase land held by the DNR.

Instead, the business had to buy 160 acres the state wanted, then swap it for the land it preferred, which took years, Casperson said. More than half the county is owned by the state.

“When we can’t even help little businesses like this and there is so much economic turmoil in the region, it’s really unfortunate,” Casperson said. “There may be benefits to the state owning public land, but not through the local economy.”

That’s where the environmental council sees it differently.

The philosophy behind these bills is the state has too much public land and that doesn’t help the economy, Hammond said.

“Well, we see it the other way. We see tourism and recreation growing at huge rates. Trail running, mountain biking, birding, these are all industries that are growing, and where’s the best place to do them? On the state’s public land.”

The DNR says the  legislationl wouldn’t have much effect on the way it does business, because it  already uses many of the practices the bill mandates.

“We recognize there was justifiable concern that the DNR was making decisions about local land ownership without fully considering the interests or needs of local government officials,” said Ed Golder, the DNR’s public information officer. “So we’ve changed that engagement model.”

When a new land strategy was developed in 2013, DNR director Keith Creagh met with many northern county officials to gauge how they felt about how the government uses public land.

Since then, it’s become standard practice to seek approval from local governments and to seek agreement on the footprint of state-managed public land, Golder said.

It’s a practice that officials with the Michigan Association of Counties say they appreciate.

“We support the bill and we support the DNR working with counties,” said Deena Bosworth, the director of governmental affairs at the association.  “This bill codifies the relationship they have been working on for years now.”

The bill passed the Senate in mid-October and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Snowmobile sales rebound but less snow, fewer riders slow recovery

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Warmer weather and a cool state economy have teamed up to mean fewer snowmobile riders on state trails — and less money in the pockets of those who rely on them.

A snowy winter at the peak of the snowmobile era could pump nearly $1 billion into economy of the state, with its nearly 300,000 registered snowmobiles and thousands of miles of snowmobile trails.

But snow hasn’t always been a sure thing in Michigan’s winter wonderland recently.

And, according to the Secretary of State’s office, registrations have been falling over the past decade.

In October, 283,884 snowmobiles were registered in Michigan, said Laura Lehman, a communications representative for the Secretary of State. That’s down from October 2007, when 390,168 snowmobiles were registered..

A three-year registration costs $30, the Secretary of State says.

Snowmobilers need an annual state-issued trail permit sticker to ride on public roads “where authorized,” and on public lands and trails, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

An annual trail permit is $48. Snowmobile trails i officially open Dec. 1 and close March 31.

During the 2016-17 winter season, about 130,000 trail permit stickers were issued, said Paul Gaberdiel, a trails specialist with the DNR in Newberry. That’s down from about 200,000  issued in the 2006-07 season, Gaberdiel said.

He said he blames the downturn on the cost of snowmobiling, inconsistent temperatures and snow, and the Great Recession of 2007-09, which hit Michigan especially hard.

“It just hasn’t rebounded from there,” Gaberdiel said.

Bill Manson, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, says snowmobiling depends on disposable income, and there has been less of that since the recession.

But he is optimistic about the future of snowmobiling in Michigan.

“We’ll come back,” said Manson, whose 17,000-member organization is based in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

In the late 1990s, sales of new snowmobiles in Michigan reached about 20,000 a year, he said. By 2008, sales had plunged to about 3,000 units a year, he said, but rebounded to about 6,000 last year.

“There’s a good feeling among hard-core snowmobilers that this is going to be a good winter,” said Manson, who counts himself among those hard-core riders.

“We’ve stabilized. If we have a good winter, I think we’ll see permits, sales, registrations all go up,” he said.

Back in 2007, before the recession hit, snowmobiling was a $1-billion-a-year industry in the state, he said. These days, the industry has slipped but still contributes about $800 million a year to the state’s economy, he said.

Sales, permits and registrations account for much of that impact. In addition, the average snowmobiler out on  winter trails will spend about $150 a day for gas, food, lodging and other expenses, he said.

State officials don’t break down how much is spent on snowmobiling but do know how much vacationers spend overall in the state in the winter months.

Last winter, leisure travelers in Michigan spent nearly $3.9 billion, out of $15.3 billion for the entire year, said Michelle Grinnell, director of media and public relations for the state’s Economic Development Corp. Travel Michigan program.

At Copper Country Rentals in Calumet, about 10 miles north of Houghton and Hancock, snowmobile rentals have been on the rise, said owner Susan Bushong.

“I see that trend toward renting” and away from buying snowmobiles, Bushong said.

With renting, she said, snowmobilers avoid a lot of expenses, but still “get a new sled every year.”

Bushong, who has 30 snowmobiles available for rent, said it already is snowing in the Upper Peninsula, but she expects business to pick up by late December as the snow starts piling up.

In Michigan, wetter-than-average weather is expected in the coming months, according to the most recent winter outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).That same report said Michigan has an equal chance of being warmer or colder than normal this winter.

Blame the uncertainty on La Niña, which is “potentially emerging for the second year in a row as the biggest wildcard in how this year’s winter will shape up,” NOAA said in its  report. During La Niña, parts of the Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal, affecting the weather in North America.

The 2018 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a warmer than normal winter, with slightly above normal precipitation in most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the tip of the Lower Peninsula, the almanac says, winter will be warmer than normal, while precipitation and snowfall will be below normal.

The Pure Michigan website says Michigan’s more than 6,500 miles of groomed snowmobiling trails “are one of the most extensive interconnected snowmobile trail systems in the nation, made even better by the state’s abundant and dependable snow.”

About 3,000 miles of the trails are in the remote, rugged and typically snowier Upper Peninsula.

According to the Otsego County Historical Society, the first U. S. patent for a snow machine, the predecessor of the modern snowmobile, was awarded in 1916 to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, which is south of Gaylord.

Help is out there for people whose homes are cold, drafty

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING– Old Man Winter is an expensive guest in a home that hasn’t been weatherized.      

“The first time they think about having to turn the furnace on, people start to panic,” said Steve Taylor, home improvement programs manager at the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency in Traverse City.

One way low-income families can reduce their energy costs is through weatherization, the process that makes homes more energy-efficient.

Michigan’s Weatherization Assistance Program provides free home energy conservation services to low income residents. These services reduce energy use, which helps to lower utility bills.

“A weatherization service provider can come into your home and see how energy efficient your home is,” said Bob Wheaton, public information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services. “They can assist you with things like air sealing, improving the ventilation and adding installation.”

Weatherization in cold states can reduce heating costs an average of 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Up here in northern Michigan, it’s a lot colder than other places,” said Valerie Williams, the housing and client services director at the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency in Alpena. “If you’re spending over six months of the year running your furnace, it should be efficient, and you should be able to keep that heat inside instead of it leaving through the cracks in your home.”

More than 1,500 Michigan homes have benefited from the Weatherization Assistance Program, Wheaton said. More than 300,000 homes have been weatherized since the program began in 1976.

The  Health and Human Services partners with community action ggencies to provide weatherization services across the state.

The Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency serves 10 counties in the Lower Peninsula, including Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Emmet, Wexford, Missaukee and Charlevoix counties.

In our region, with high rental rates, higher home prices and a predominance of propane as the source of home heating fuel, our program is extremely important for maintaining and creating affordable housing for people,” Taylor said.

This year it has the budget to weatherize 68 homes in 10 counties and have completed 18, Taylor said.

The Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency weatherizes roughly the same number of homes, between 65 and 75, across the 11 counties it serves.

Taylor said more requests for weatherization come in each day. In some counties, there is a four-year waiting list.

“In some of our counties we have probably 70-80 people waiting,” Taylor said. “Overall we probably have roughly 300 people on waiting lists throughout the 10 counties.”

Counties served by the agency have long waitlists too, Williams said.

In Ottawa County, 96 people are waiting to have their homes weatherized, said Michelle Brothers, weatherization coordinator at the Ottawa County Community Action Agency.

Wheaton said the department is working on reducing the waiting lists to help create more realistic expectations for customers.

Brothers said the number of houses the agency is able to weatherize each year fluctuates. Last year itcompleted 50, but she said because of a reduction in funding, this year it will do between 35 and 40.

Williams said the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency spends an average of $6,000 per home. Some of the work that goes into this cost include replacing the furnace, putting in wall, attic and foundation insulation, sealing windows and doors and replacing appliances such as  refrigerators.

Michigan’s Weatherization Assistance Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Funding varies from one agency to another. To be eligible for the program, a household income must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of four, that means their annual income must be under $49,200.

The program is not an emergency repair service, Taylor said. The process can take up two months.

The earlier a request is made, the better, he said. Homes can be weatherized all year long, and if it is done before temperatures drop, the homes will be more energy efficient when the cold weather hits and people begin to turn on their heat.

Wheaton said a weatherized home can save families up to $450 each year in energy costs.

These savings can prevent a family from having to turn to the Department of Health and Human Services for assistance in paying their energy bills.

“Our department often has to assist people in situations where they have fallen behind on their heating bills, have had their utilities shut off or are at risk of having their utilities shut off,” Wheaton said. “Weatherization can keep people from reaching that point.”

Taylor said he has experienced this in the counties he serves.

“We have numerous stories from people who used to require assistance paying their heating bills, are now proud of the fact they can pay their own bills,” he said. “People who used to seal off part of their home in the winter because they couldn’t afford to heat them can now use their homes.”

Most Michigan kids lag national average in well-being; African-American students at the bottom

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — African-American children in Michigan score the lowest in the nation in a complex measure of their well-being, a new report shows.

“The data really shows that African-American kids here in Michigan are faring much more poorly compared to African-American kids in every other state in the country,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The Race for Results report, produced by the Kids Count project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, measures the well-being children of all races. It takes into account 12 indicators, including education, work experience, family support and neighborhood conditions. It looks at how children progress in education, health, economic security and other spheres.

The scores are based on a scale of one to 1,000.

African-American children in Michigan scored 260, far below the national score for African-American children, which is 369.

“Kids of color fare worse on most indicators compared to their white peers,” Guevara Warren said. “We have a lot of work to do around racial disparity.”

Latino children in Michigan fared better than their national counterparts. They had an index score of 446, which is above 429, the national score. Native American children in Michigan scored 511; the national score for that group is 413.

That said, both the state and national index scores for these minorities come up far short of the national index score for white children. The national score for African-American children is 369. For white children, it is 713.

White children in Michigan, while better off than their minority counterparts in the state, scored 667, below the 713 national average for white children.

Asian/Pacific Islander children in the state scored 804, which was better than the national score of 783.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Education declined to be interviewed about the report. Instead, department communications oficer William DiSessa, emailed this  statement:

“We need to work harder at getting every child to be successful in school, including children of color who have to overcome risk factors like poverty, undernutrition and lack of educational resources. Michigan has begun investing more heavily in early childhood education and programs to help at-risk students in our schools, and providing free nutrient-rich school meals for kids. When Michigan becomes a Top 10 education state in 10 years, it will be the result of these additional resources and greater focus on meeting the needs of our at-risk students.”

Guevara Warren said the League for Public Policy said it’s concerned that the Michigan fourth-grade reading level is low in all racial and ethnic groups. “The biggest and most troubling statistic is the rate of reading for African-American fourth graders in Michigan, which is the lowest rate of reading proficiency for African-Americans in the country.”

The Michigan Education Association says there is hope for the future, especially with the recent passage of a new law that requires school districts to assess the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade three times a year and requires districts to develop individual reading plans for deficient students.

“The new third=grade reading law will help make sure students are proficient in reading by the time they reach fourth grade,” said David Crim, a communications consultant at the MEA, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel. “It will take some time, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Guevara Warren said the report looks at 12 indicators because children are impacted by where they live, how much they eat, their families, their education, health care and a variety of other influences.  

“If you’re hungry, you’re not going to read well,” she said. “If you’re stressed out because you live in an area of concentrated poverty with high crime rates, you’re going to have a harder time in school. There are all these things that are interconnected that are important to addressing the whole child.”

Crim said social conditions are huge determinants of success.

“Where a child starts doesn’t have to determine where they end up,” he said. “We need to address social issues that impede student success.”

COs encounter oddball situations in the field

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Excuses, excuses.

Sgt. Mike Feagan and Conservation Officer Chad Baldwin were on night patrol along the Boyne River when they saw bright lights coming down the river. Several people were walking in the water trying to net fish, with an accomplice on shore as the lookout.

The subjects “initially denied attempting to net fish,” a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Division field report of the incident said. But when the two COs “explained they had been watching them for about an hour and could recount all of their movements, the subjects confessed.”

It is a scenario Michigan conservation are only too familiar with. They catch someone breaking the law and then the stories begin.

When CO Kyle Publiski approached two anglers trying to snag salmon on the south branch of the Pere Marquette River, the duo claimed they were “just about to call him because they had just chased away” would-be snaggers.

“Publiski began to laugh, and one of the subjects asked why he was laughing,” a field report said. The Mason County-based CO said he’d watched them “running up and down the river trying to snag the fish.” Asked “if he felt pretty foolish telling that sort of lie,” one of the suspects replied, “Yes, sir.”

Those incidents are among recent law enforcement reports from the state’s conservation officers. With Michigan’s archery deer-hunting season now underway and with firearm season set to open Nov. 15, public attention tends to focus on fall game law enforcement, but DNR’s 212 conservation officers are busy year-round, said Assistant Chief Dean Molnar of the agency’s Law Enforcement Division.

Fall tends to be the busiest time of year for COs, he said.

COs issue more than twice as many warnings as tickets, Molnar said. In 2015, officers had more than 364,000 contacts with the public. About 10,000 resulted in arrests or other enforcement actions such as tickets, and almost 24,000 led to warnings, Molnar said. Many of the other contacts involved education.

Many investigations start with a tip, Molnar said, often a phone call or text to the DNR’s 24/7 Report All Poaching hotline: 800-292-7800.

DNR field reports from a two-week stretch in September show diverse violations such as chasing bear without a license, fishing with too many lines, illegal baiting, careless operation of an off-road vehicle, carrying uncased firearms, exceeding bag limits, late-night shining, unlicensed fishing, illegal burning and kayaking without life preservers.

The reports show lots of folks lie to COs.

For example, in investigating a report of a dead bear that had squeezed its head into a small hole cut in the side of a barrel filled with bait, Marquette County-based COs Brett DeLonge and Mark Leadman staked out the spot. Two off-road vehicle-riding suspects arrived, one carrying “open intoxicants” and hauling a trailer loaded with another bait barrel, according to a field report.

“The subjects denied having the illegal bait that killed the bear until confronted with overwhelming evidence placing them at the scene,” the field report said.

Then there was a man with a bait pile next to his camper. He had no bear tag and told DeLonge and Leadman that his wife, who did have a bear tag, was in town shopping.

“The COs found the story hard to believe since town was many miles away and the subject’s vehicle was still parked in front of the campsite,” a field report said. DeLonge returned that night and found the man hunting. “The subject denied that he would shoot a bear and said his wife would be back shortly.”

In reality the wife was at home 200 miles away, and the man was ticketed. So was his wife for loaning him her license.

In Osceola County, two hunters suspected of shooting a deer on a neighbor’s property sprinkled blood in a different location to throw off COs Steve Lockwood of Gladwin County and Ethan Gainforth of Clare County. “But it didn’t work. The blood evidence told a completely different story,” a field report said.

And along a Grand River bayou in Ottawa County, several anglers started throwing fish back into the water when they saw CO Justin Ulberg approach.

“Unfortunately for the anglers, they were not able to throw enough fish over the bridge. One angler was 17 bluegill over his legal limit and the other was one fish over,” a field report said.

COs encounter oddball situations in the field.

Some conservation officers find just plain odd situations when answering a call.

In Benzie County, for example, CO Rebecca Hopkins checked out complaints of illegal netting of fish below the Homestead Dam in Benzie County. She filmed a man holding a net in the spillway.

“The subject was impervious to people watching and filming him and continued the illegal activity even after spotting the CO and giving her a head nod,” a field report said.

In Oceana County, CO Ben Shively watched two suspects empty their pockets of wallets and cell phones and jump into Ruby Creek as they tried to catch a salmon by hand.

And CO Josiah Killingbeck, based in Lake County, saw a man urinating near no-trespassing signs on private property along the Pere Marquette River,

“Killingbeck asked the subject if he thought it was a good idea to urinate in front of other people floating by while using the river,” a field report said. “The subject agreed that it probably was not his best decision.”

Then there are the trash cases.

Acting on a tip, Chippewa County-based CO Tom Oberg inspected several trash bags dumped on Drummond Island. He identified the suspect by tracking down a partly obliterated name on a pill bottle in one of the bags.

On patrol in the Western Upper Peninsula, COs Nathan Sink and Ethen Mapes spotted trash bags dumped on public land. Unfortunately for the litterer, there were names attached to the trash and a suspect “quickly confessed.”

And CO Andrea Eratt found trash bags and building demolition materials dumped alongside a road in Charlevoix County. Receipts from a credit union and Home Depot led to the dumper.

Outstate health officials prepare for hepatitis A cases

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of hepatitis A cases related to a Detroit-area outbreak is closing in on 400, prompting some outstate health officials to monitor its spread across Michigan.

It’s not a matter of if it will spread, but when it will spread, said Bay County health officer Joel Strasz.

“We’re talking about a specific strain down there that seems to be more virulent than typical cases of hepatitis A,” Strasz said. “We live in a mobile society and people travel.

“We just anticipate that this is going to come here in some form or fashion,” he said.

Hepatitis A is viral liver disease that can cause yellowing of the skin or eyes, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain and fatigue.It’s often spread through person-to-person contact and consumption of infected food or water.

Of the 397 cases tied to the Detroit-area outbreak, 320 resulted in hospitalizations and 15 people died. The outbreak dates to Aug. 1, 2016, and has predominantly affected the Metro Detroit area, including Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Wayne and St. Clair counties.

Ottawa County, which has had two cases of hepatitis A, is monitoring the situation in Detroit and trying to stay vigilant in case the disease were to spread, Kristina Wieghmink, a communications specialist for Ottawa County, said.

Primarily, the county is looking at strands of the disease when cases arise and checking to see if it matches the Detroit-area outbreak. So far, it hasn’t, Wieghmink said.

But since people travel, there is always concern it could spread, Wieghmink said.

Strasz said Bay County is focused on prevention and vaccination,

“Hopefully, it’s not going to come in as great of numbers as what’s happening in Southeast Michigan,” he said. “But we’d like to anticipate that to get as many folks vaccinated as possible.”

People most vulnerable to the disease are heavy drug users, the homeless and males who have sex with males.

Recently, Bay County held an event to vaccinate homeless people.

“They’re a particularly vulnerable population that needs to be targeted,” Strasz said. “Obviously, No. 1, they don’t have homes and in a lot of cases they don’t have a free and adequate supply of sanitary facilities.”

High-stress living conditions of many of the homeless weaken their immune system, leaving them more vulnerable to the disease, he said.

“Those with history of injection and non-injection drug use, homelessness or transient housing, and incarceration are thought to be at greater risk,”Angela Minicuci, the communications director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in an email.

“No common sources of food, beverages, or drugs have been identified as a potential source of infection associated with this outbreak,” she said.

An additional 42 cases of hepatitis A unrelated to the outbreak have been reported so far in 2017 across multiple counties. Apart from the Detroit-area outbreak, Kent County and Sanilac County reported the most cases with five each. Saginaw, Ingham and Washtenaw counties each registered four cases.

Calhoun, Genesee, Isabella, Lapeer, Livingston and St. Joseph counties all registered three cases. Berrien, Hillsdale, Lake and Ottawa counties all registered two cases.

Only one case was reported in Barry, Bay, Charlevoix, Clare, Clinton, Delta, Eaton, Grand Traverse, Huron, Ionia, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Montcalm and Van Buren counties.

While those cases are not linked to the Detroit outbreak, there is a possibility that strain of the disease will move.

“Diseases do not know boundaries,” Minicuci saidw.

The latest Michigan Disease Surveillance System report shows cases in 34 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

The current tally of all hepatitis A cases in 2017 stands at 439, an increase of 307 from all of 2016.

The  Department of Health and Human Services is targeting potential sources.

“Working with community partners, vaccination efforts are being implemented in targeted locations such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehabilitation facilities,” Minicuci wrote. “Partnerships are also being developed with area emergency departments, county jails and state prisons.”