State expected to catch Zika mosquitoes in nets and it did

Capital News Service

Lansing — While Michigan health officials had a plan for combating the Asian tiger mosquito, it was untested.

At least, until mid-August when they caught a few in Wayne County.

Now that the mosquitoes, known for carrying the Zika virus, have been found in Michigan,  health departments are taking more measures to fight their arrival.

“We’re probably going to be ramping up surveillance as well as monitoring Ohio and Indiana,” said Meghan Swain, executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, a nonprofit lobbyist for local health departments.

After the mosquito was found, an increased surveillance of the area in Wayne County was done twice in search for more.

“We’re in some ways, more prepared for this because of the funding we had at the beginning of the year,” said Erik Foster, a medical entomologist with the Department of Health and Human Services. “We had more preparation and understanding of the mosquito as a vector.”

The Wayne County Health Department spotted the mosquito in one of the traps put up every week in Livonia. They were breeding near a business location on I-96 in a shipment of containers, Foster said.

“They did a nice job,” said Eden Wells, the chief medical executive with the Department of Health and Human Services. “They have responded very well and I was very impressed with the way leadership of the Wayne County Health Department and the city of Livonia partnered with our state health folks to address this.”

Officials were on high alert after receiving notice a month earlier that the same species of mosquito was found in Toledo, Ohio—just across the border from Michigan.

“We weren’t that desperate, because everybody understood that Zika was going to be a problem and started preparing about two years ago,” Wells said.

This doesn’t mean the disease itself hasn’t shown up in Michigan. In 2016, there were 67 reported cases of Zika imported by people into the state.

The Zika virus, a disease that causes birth defects in children, entered the national spotlight after travelers to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were warned about the outbreak. While they don’t travel very far on their own, they tend to make big hops in containers holding tires, Foster said.

While the Asian tiger mosquito isn’t in Kent County, mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus are — and that’s prompting officials there to take similar measures. A warning was put out mid-September concerning five new cases of the disease.

“The reason we think that warning is important is because people need to know that West Nile is very present in the community,” said Steve Kelso, the marketing and communications manager for the Kent County Health Department. “People need to know this is active and need to be careful and take precautions.”

The tests Kent County does for mosquitoes that can carry West Nile are similar to the tests that counties use for Asian tiger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has partnered with 25 county health departments to set up traps to attract mosquitoes.

“We fully anticipated that we would need to be ready for when Zika showed up in the state a while ago,” Wells said.

That meant educating travelers about potential diseases and ways to avoid getting sick, while using a system in Michigan that she calls “enhanced surveillance” to look out for cases of the mosquitoes.

The health department has also identified airports and shipping ports where the disease could come in, increasing the number of tests for mosquitoes and making more efforts to remove places where breeding takes place.

Now that the species is here, the Department of Health and Human Services has been talking with the CDC about controlling and eliminating the species.

“These mosquitoes love standing water,” Wells said. “It’s important to try to control these mosquito pools to get rid of anything that might incite them.”

Sewer and drainage areas are popular places where water accumulates. Because a lot of Michigan’s industry is built around cars, Wells worries about old tire yards, which are considered an active surveillance site.

There is a connection between the Livonia spotting and tire pits, said Edward Walker, a Michigan State University entomologist.

“It is associated with the pile of tires that is accumulating in Livonia,” Walker said. “It’s not surprising to me because the tire trade is so common in Michigan, as well as the moderating of temperatures.”

As of 2015, the Department of Environmental Quality estimated more than 275,000 tons of tires were recycled or repurposed in Michigan..

About the same amount will be collected this year, said Aaron Hiday, an environmental quality analyst.

Scrap tire recyclers must treat them for mosquitoes,  Hiday said. “Some set traps while others will spray a type of pesticide or cut holes in the tires.”

Many scientists are calling the growing trend of tropical viruses further north a result of climate change.

“We’re seeing the same trend with allergens and an increase in pollen count,” said Katie Parrish, the communications officer with the Michigan Environmental Council. “We’re seeing this as an indicator that climate change is real and we’re seeing those manifestations in our everyday life.”

With the warming of summer months, a shrinking of winter months and increased precipitation, Walker says we should see an increase in mosquito-borne illnesses as time goes on.

“We’re going to have to have the public and political will to intercept the problem before it gets worse.”

Decline in boat registrations creating a lack of funding for marine patrols

Capital News Service

LANSING — Over the past decade, state funding for the marine divisions of sheriffs’ offices in Michigan has dwindled with the decline in the number of registered boats.

At the same time, the number of unregistered canoes and kayaks has increased, leading to calls for the owners of those craft to also be required to pay the registration fees that support rescues and other boating programs

“We’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in funding,” said Mackinac County Sheriff Scott Strait. “It’s roughly one-third of what it was 10 years ago.”  

Marine divisions offer boater safety classes, patrol waterways and conduct search-and- rescue missions on the water, including areas of the Great Lakes.

The  Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers Marine Safety grants to county sheriff departments for marine patrol divisions. The grant money comes from boat registration fees.

However, a decline in registered boats has led to a decrease in the grant money vailable, and sheriffs’ offices across the state are feeling the effects, said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

In 2007, there were 827,869 registered boats in Michigan. By 2012, there were only 800,793. Last year that number dropped to 790,425, according to the DNR.

The amount available for Marine Safety grants is decreasing with the decline in registered boats. In 2007, it  was about $3.5 million. In 2012, it fell to about $2.8 million.  In 2016, it was about $2.2 million, according to the DNR.

“Funding here is roughly half of what it was when I first started,” said Sgt. Eric Decker, from the Marquette County special operations division. “Ten to 15 years ago, grant money was somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000. It’s now down to between $17,000 and $20,000.”

In the past, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office used funds from the DNR grant to purchase new equipment, but he said the lack of funding is now forcing the county to make some tough decisions.

“We haven’t been able to replace equipment,” Decker said. “We have an aging boat, but we haven’t been able to replace it because grant money has gone down. It’s now looking like the county will purchase the boat and will put off getting a new patrol car for another year.”

An increasing problem counties are seeing is the number of calls they receive from canoers and kayakers in distress.

“We’re seeing major issues with kayaks,” said Kelly Hanson, the Huron County dheriff. “We’ve been called out over 70 times this year for kayak rescues.”

In Michigan, canoes and kayaks do not have to be registered. When users call for help, they are using marine division resources without contributing to the funding, Strait said.

Strait said his office is receiving a growing number of calls from kayakers, especially in the Straits of Mackinac. Deckersaid Marquette County is also getting more calls involving kayakers in trouble.

All three sheriffs say that  requiring canoes and kayaks to be registered would improve the funding situation.

They’re not alone.

“This is something we’ve wanted to see happen for years,” said Mark Miltner, vice president of Michigan Association of Paddlesport Providers and owner of Pine River Paddlesports Center in Wellston, about halfway between Manistee and Cadillac.

“The number of people who own personal crafts is increasing, and they’re not always experienced,” he said. “Sheriff marine divisions are getting called out more and more to do search and rescues.”

Decker said the drop in funding  means fewer deputies on the water.

It’s a concern that Hanson shares.

“At one time we had a marine patrol seven days a week,” he said. “Now we just have a weekend patrol.”

Michigan police, civil rights groups at odds over military equipment for cops

Capital News Service

LANSING — County sheriff departments eager to acquire more aircraft, observation helicopters, camouflage and other military equipment can look forward to more opportunity to acquire them after a federal ban on some surplus was lifted.

“President Trump’s actions enable law enforcement to provide tools and equipment that comes through the federal government at little to no cost that we cannot afford on a local basis,” said Tim Parker, the sheriff of Hillsdale County.

While this reverses the federal government’s position and allows police more access to such equipment, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights says it is a step away from improving police-community relations.

“For the Trump administration to lift the ban really sends the wrong message to law enforcement that they more or less have a free hand to engage militarized tactics in civilian populations,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, a coalition board member.

The new plan announced Aug. 28 rolls back a 2015 Obama administration restriction issued in response to criticism over police use of military-style gear by police during the Ferguson, Missouri, riots more than three years ago.

The new order eases restrictions on giving police equipment like tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and other military-grade supplies.

Police say the discussion about using military equipment has focused on need rather than the advantages it could bring in special cases, and they say it needs a shift in perspective.

“The whole issue, we think from a law enforcement’s perspective, has been framed incorrectly,” said Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “Yes, it’s surplus equipment the military has that they’re giving to police departments. But anyone can buy this stuff on the market.”

And most of the equipment isn’t used the same way it was by the military.

Police use bayonets as cutting tools in medical kits and for ceremonial purposes, Stevenson said. Grenade launchers are used to disperse unruly crowds with tear gas. And a lot of what is acquired is cold- and warm-weather clothing, at a time, when “police department budgets were decimated,” Stevenson said.

“Most of this stuff won’t ever be used, but it’s an insurance policy,” he said.

In September 2012, the West Bloomfield Police Department used military armored vehicles and robots in a firefight with a barricaded gunman.

“An officer was killed by a barricaded gunman, who was shooting an automatic weapon, striking neighbors homes,” said Mike Bouchard, the Oakland County sheriff.

Armored vehicles and robots assisted in the safe evacuation of neighbors during the firefight.

“The fact of the matter is, these are life-saving equipment. Now we hope we never have to use them, but in our business, that’s not a strategy. Preparation is,” Bouchard said.

In 1997, Congress authorized the Department of Defense to repurpose tax-funded military equipment for police to use at no charge.

“That has already been paid for once. So the question is, ‘do you want to have the taxpayer pay for it twice, or repurpose it and use it in the domestic market?’” said the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Blaine Koops.

Bouchard said Oakland County spent $350,000 on a new armored vehicle after losing its vehicle donated by the military after Obama’s executive order in January 2016,.

Hillsdale County may not be getting armored vehicles anytime soon, but Parker, the sheriff, said it’s good the opportunity is available.

“It is an extreme asset to local communities to have these tools are available,” he said.

In Marquette County,  with fewer than 70,000 people, some police chiefs do not see the need for military equipment.

“We don’t take advantage of that program too much,” Marquette County Sheriff Gregory Zyburt said. “I think the department received some rifles a while back, but not a lot since. There aren’t a lot of situations up here where that kind of equipment is needed.”

The Federal Defense Logistics Agency reports that Michigan has received more than $43 million of military surplus since 2006. That includes equipment as diverse as vehicles that resist mines, helicopters, bandage kits and flashlights.

An online database, run by Caspio, a software company, lists all surplus donated to law enforcement in Michigan by county. Information about the name, value and quantity of the supplies that was provided is available.

Even with lifting the ban, Koops of the Sheriffs’ Association doesn’t anticipate the equipment getting any more use than before.

“As far as the ban and the release of the ban, it’s really not going to change a lot of our procedures and processing. It’s special use, and that’s what it’s for. It’s for situations that the public may not see,” he said.

Past pay should not affect women’s income, Dems say


Capital News Service

LANSING — Many women were forced to take pay cuts to do work they were overqualified for during the economic recession, Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said.

And now they’re being penalized for it, Greig said.  

As women seek new positions, their future salaries or hourly wages are often based on previous compensation — even though their skills and experience would suggest higher pay. This, among other factors, creates a disparity between men and women’s pay known as the “gender wage gap.”

In Michigan, women earned an average of 74 percent of what men made in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers in 2015, according to the American Association of University Women. That’s worse than the national average of 80 percent. Continue reading

State works to help localities with significant public lands


Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in its percentage of land owned by the public, and state officials are working to make sure that property does not burden local governments.

State- and federal-owned land offers opportunities for tourism, recreation and resource extraction such as mining. But in some counties, particularly in the North, the land also limits local tax revenue and development potential.

“In a county that is 50 percent state-owned and we manage it, they have a hard time standing up fire, police and schools because they don’t get full tax off that, though they get great recreational outdoor activity,” Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh said. “For them it’s very difficult to drive some long-term economic sustainability or community sustainability.” Continue reading

Care centers may see more regulations for reporting injuries


Capital News Service

LANSING — Day care centers, adult care centers and foster homes would have to meet higher standards for reporting injuries on an online database, under bills introduced in the state House.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who sponsored the bills, said the increased record-keeping will make it easier for people to evaluate centers when choosing one.

Although those institutions already face state reporting requirements, Lucido said his bills would ensure that patterns of more minor incidents would not be overlooked.

Lucido said, “I don’t think a registry or database is so wrong when dealing with loved ones, people we’re trying to protect.” Continue reading

Deadline for state money to test beaches approaching


Capital News Service

LANSING —The state is offering $200,000 to help local agencies monitor water quality in inland lakes this summer.

Localities and nonprofit groups have until Feb. 28 to apply for Department of Environmental Quality grants to measure levels of E.coli — a bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea, severe anemia or kidney failure — off inland beaches, according to Shannon Briggs, a program director in DEQ’s Water Resources Division.

Michigan is currently keeping watch on about 380 inland lakes, about half of the state’s total. Water quality data helps officials determine if a lake is safe for swimming. It is reported to the website Michigan Beach Guard, part of the DEQ site, and compiled in a statewide report.

State law gives the authority for monitoring and testing public beaches to local health departments and their partners, Briggs said. Continue reading

State groups dispute how downtowns spend special millages


LANSING– A dispute between the state groups representing counties and downtowns has erupted over the way tax money is spent.

Michigan Association of County officials say some special millage tax dollars that could be spent on senior citizens, veterans and other causes get diverted into a popular tax strategy for helping downtowns.

A five-bill package was recently introduced in the House of Representatives to improve the oversight and transparency of groups capturing this tax revenue. Cosponsors are Reps. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Lana Theis,R- Brighton; Amanda Price; R-Park Township; Pat Somerville R-New Boston; and David Mature, R- Vicksburg.

The issue is over Tax Increment Financing, called TIF for short.

“Downtowns support the bulk of economic development, so this is a powerful tool to provide a way for the county as a whole to give back to downtowns that sustain their communities,” said Kent Wood, director of government relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. “And there’s not a lot of tools we’ve got left in the toolbox.” Continue reading

Michigan government purchasing scores high in national survey

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan ranked ninth in a recent national survey assessing how well each state government buys stuff.

The report in Governing, a news organization that reports on state and local government, found that Michigan ranked first in performance measures and fourth in how well it administers contracts.

Those are good marks, according to Liz Farmer, author of the study on state procurement.

Government procurement is a process to maximize efficiency in large-scale transactions involving a public agency. It’s important that it’s done well because it’s how the government spends taxpayers’ money, Farmer said.
Continue reading

State boosts migrant housing inspections with new staff

Capital News Service

LANSING — A doubling of state inspectors the past two years has improved housing conditions for Michigan’s migrant workers, according to state officials and worker advocates.

That is a major change from 2009, when a $3 million budget cut shrank the Department of Agriculture’s migrant housing inspection staff from seven to three inspectors.

As a result the department conducted only a couple dozen in-season occupancy inspections during 2009 and 2010.
Continue reading