Organic food markets: here to stay

Whole Foods Market in Meridian Township. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Whole Foods Market in Meridian Township. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

OKEMOS — Two weeks ago, Meridian Township welcomed a new organic food market. On April 13, Whole Foods Market opened its doors for the first time, making it the first Lansing-area Whole Foods, and their seventh Michigan store. With the growing criticism of processed foods, organic food markets are well on their way to becoming a main-stay trend.

“[Organic food shopping] definitely will become a lot more popular, it’s a lot healthier,” Barb Vuillemot, a shopper at Foods for Living in Meridian Township, said. “Right now, it’s still not mainstream, so it makes it harder for people to find. They have to go out their way.”

Since its opening, Whole Foods Market, located at 2750 E. Grand River Ave., has welcomed over thousands of customers, some who are avid organic shoppers, and some who are simply coming to check out what everyone is talking about.

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Existing as a person of color in dominantly white Meridian Township

Graph by Erica Marra

Eighty percent of Meridian Township residents identify as white alone. That is more than any of the other reported percentages of racial groups combined. Graph by Erica Marra, information courtesy of the United States Census Bureau.

By Erica Marra
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

“Do you know anything about the Nokomis Learning Center?”

“No.”

“Could you possibly make a guess as to what the center is used for?”

“Um… learning? I’m sorry, I really don’t know.”

Photo by Erica Marra

Native American artifacts are displayed in nearly every corner of the Nokomis Learning Center. Victoria Voges, educational director of the center, said she is disheartened by Meridian Township’s general lack of interest in her culture. Photo by Erica Marra

This sort of response does not come as a surprise to Victoria Voges, educational director of the Nokomis Learning Center, a non-profit institution located in Meridian Township dedicated to the preservation and education of Native American art, history, and culture.

In fact, she said she finds the lack of awareness to be a general consequence of existing as a cultural establishment in a dominantly caucasian township such as Meridian.

“I think we’re Meridian Township’s best kept secret,” Voges said. “I think if people aren’t searching for the native community for one reason or another, they can miss us completely. Michigan is nothing but native history, and I think that makes us an asset to the community. Now are people interested? Not necessarily.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, 80 percent of Meridian Township’s population identifies as white. To some cultural leaders residing in the township, this uneven representation within the population makes it more difficult to flourish as a person of color.

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Controversy in Meridian Township due to CATA’s proposed BRT system

A map of where the BRT system will be on Grand River Avenue and Michigan Avenue. Courtesy of: Laurie Robison, director of marketing for CATA

A map of the proposed BRT system bus stops on Grand River Avenue and Michigan Avenue. Courtesy of: CATA

By Riley James
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

CATA plans on adding two designated bus lanes right down the center of the Grand River Avenue corridor for the Route 1 bus. The bus rapid transit (BRT) system is expected to improve certain aspects of Grand River Avenue including traffic congestion, safety, and attractiveness.

“CATA is not changing the entire system to a BRT system. CATA is proposing to change Route 1 to a Bus Rapid Transit line to improve travel for all modes along the corridor,” said Debbie Alexander, the assistant executive director of CATA.

An example of the proposed BRT lanes on Michigan Avenue. Courtesy of: CATA

An example of the proposed BRT lanes on Michigan Avenue. Courtesy of: CATA

“When buses operate in their own lanes and use stations for boarding, the speed of travel for the bus rider is improved by up to 13 minutes, and the flow of auto traffic is improved because buses are not stopping frequently to drop off and pick up passengers along the 8.5-mile corridor,” said Alexander..

With the BRT system, the buses will be coming to stops every five to six minutes instead of every 9 to 16 minutes, and the buses will be getting from the Meridian Mall to the Capitol building about 15 minutes faster than they do today.

“When you give the buses their own dedicated lane, you allow the remaining traffic lanes, the car lanes, to have a much better traffic flow, because they are not stopping and starting behind the bus. So the buses themselves kind of mess up the traffic for everyone else, because they have to stop at the stops,” said Julie Brixie, Meridian Township treasurer and CATA board member.

Part of the reason the buses will be moving faster is because there were be fewer stops along the Grand River corridor, which raises some concern.

Controversy has risen in Meridian Township because some residents do not agree that the BRT system will improve Meridian Township.

“[The BRT system] will disrupt traffic flow, it will affect business, it will affect riders on the BRT because, right now, they may only have to walk a couple of blocks to get to a pick-up area, and now they may have to walk a half a mile to get to a pick-up station,” said Shirley Decker, co-owner of Mert’s Specialty Meats.

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Schools of choice option gains popularity in Michigan, benefits Meridian

Information courtesy of The Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

Information courtesy of The Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

By Katie Dudlets
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

In Michigan, the number of students in schools of choice increased from 66,560 in 2005-06 to 115,209 in 2012-13, an upsurge of 73 percent. Schools of choice enrollment also made up a larger percentage of the state’s overall student population, rising from 3.7 percent of 1.8 million students in 2005-06, to 7.1 percent of 1.6 million students in 2012-13.

Administrators in Meridian Township are seeing a similar trend.

“We do have many students that are interested and go ahead and make applications for schools of choice for Haslett [High School], and not only Haslett, but for Haslett Public Schools,” said Haslett High School Principal Bart Wegenke. “I think we’re probably about 18 to 20 percent schools of choice [students] for this district.”

According to Joshua Cowen, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University, this increase in the program’s popularity is not only a trend in Michigan, but in the nation as well.

Sarah Reckhow, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at MSU, said the schools of choice program basically gives families more of a choice when deciding where their children will attend school.

“In the state of Michigan, when you’re going to enroll your child in a public school, you’re not limited to the school district where you live,” said Reckhow. “In many places, surrounding school districts accept children who are not residents of that district. The parent can actually enroll the child without paying any additional fee.”

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Low crime rates contribute to Meridian’s quality of life

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

By Chris Hung
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

Despite having slightly above average violent crime rates compared to townships of similar population, Meridian Township residents report above average living conditions and quality of life.

In the 2015 National Citizen Survey on Meridian Township, in which 331 residents were polled, 98 percent of respondents reported feeling safe in the neighborhoods. In downtown or commercial areas, 96 percent of residents felt safe. 92 percent of residents responded that their overall security was rated positively.

An integral part to the township’s safety and security are the 39 sworn officers that make up both Meridian’s police force. It is the duty of the force’s uniform division to receive and respond to emergency calls in both Meridian and Williamston Township.

“The patrol shift responds to a variety of emergency calls,” said Police Capt. Greg Frenger. “The most common would be medical emergencies, personal injury accidents, and crimes in progress.”

According to the 524 calls for police services in March 2016, the most common is roadside accidents, at 74 incidents. According to Frenger, the aforementioned personal injury accidents also include motor vehicle accidents.

In the month of March 2016 alone, only 21 police calls were made in response to assaults and just 59 calls since the beginning of the year until the end of March.

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Meridian Township is trying to fix failing infrastructure with limited resources

By Kelly Sheridan
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

In 2016, Meridian Township has several infrastructure projects planned, including road construction, sanitary sewer projects and drain maintenance. Working in tandem with the Ingham County Road Department, and the Ingham County Drain Commissioner, the Public Works Department is trying to improve failing infrastructure with the limited resources it has.

Construction on the Marsh Road Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Construction on the Marsh Road Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Since Meridian Township is a township, it is not responsible for the operations and maintenance of their road and drain system. The government works with the Ingham County Road Department and the Ingham County Drain Commissioner when projects become too big for the township to handle. However, the township is often the first place residents call to get their issues fixed, Chief Engineer Younes Ishraidi said.

“Typically, we are the first contact and we decide from there if it is a township code issue or if it is a major infrastructure issue,” Ishraidi said.

Usually, the most noticeable projects have to do with transportation and roads, which is also where the biggest lack of funds is.

Michigan’s roads are funded through the Act 51 formula, which means there is a fuel tax that goes to the state of Michigan, and is then distributed to different road agencies. However, since Meridian Township isn’t one of those agencies they don’t get those dollars directly. There is a small portion that goes to the township, but it is not enough to fund the roads completely, Assistant Township Manager/Director of Public Works & Engineering, Derek Perry said.

“The local roads get a very small portion of [the dollars]–it’s about $115,000, which does not go very far in any road system,” Perry said.”We also have a road millage, which is about a quarter million, and we tax our folks through the property tax. That helps a little.”

Each year, the Ingham County Road Department will rate the roads through the PASAR system.

“Each road gets driven and is rated with a number,” Perry said. “Unfortunately about 41 percent of our roads are about 1-3, which means poor or fatal. So, we have a lot of candidates for road work in the township.”

A picture of Meridian Township according to the PASAR ratings. The red indicates roads at 1-3 which means they are failing. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

A picture of Meridian Township according to the PASAR ratings. The red indicates roads at 1-3 which means they are failing. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

According to Perry, the Meridian Township Government will sit down with the Ingham County Road Department and will give them their list of candidates, and the amount of money they have from their general fund as well. They will then decide which is the most beneficial reconstruction plan for the largest number of people.

“We’re trying to be equitable to everyone in the township,” Perry said. “We’re trying to spread this small little pot of money the best we can and we look at how we can impact the largest number of people with the dollars available.”

Janie Calpin, a former resident of the area and Meridian Mall visitor, believes the best thing to do would be to invest in new technologies to prevent these issues from happening so often.

“Winter really tears [the roads] apart and I don’t know if there’s enough funding to fix them in the spring and summer,” Calpin said. “They should be using different material so you don’t have to keep repairing it every time.”

Perry believes the new technology is the best solution for the roads. However, it is hard to implement these plans when they are still in the process of trying to fix so many roads.

“Ideally what you want to do is more of the preservation type work, and that’s what we’re moving towards. The problem is when your road system is 40 percent failed, there is a lot of pressure with people saying ‘you need to renovate this road because it is literally falling apart.’ It’s a difficult balancing act,” Perry said. “The only way you can really do that is to try and get some more resources to be able to split that pot and spend the money on both the preservation type treatments and also trying to rejuvenate those roads.”

Lack of funds is not the only problem infrastructure projects face. Often times, there is the issue of traffic and time. One of the projects chosen for 2016 is the reconstruction of the Marsh Road Bridge. This has not only caused a problem for drivers, but for the workers as well, project superintendent Shawn Polacek said.

“It’s a little hard because it’s such a highly populated area. With the school and the mall right there, they wouldn’t let us shut down both sides of the road,” Polacek said. “We have to do it in two phases for both sides of the road.”

The Marsh Road Bridge project is expected to be completed by Labor Day, the Ingham County Road Department said. Other road projects planned for 2016 include reconstruction on Tihart Road, repairs to the Southbound Okemos Bridge Outer Lane, resurfacing of Park Lake Road and the improvement of the intersection at Jolly Road and Okemos Road.

Construction on the Okemos Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Construction on the Okemos Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

While road reconstruction is most often the most notable, there are many other aspects and projects that are included with a city or township’s infrastructure.

“[Road reconstruction] is the infrastructure people notice, but the reality is we have miles of sanitary sewers that we’re responsible for,” Perry said. “There are also storm sewers that the Ingham County Drain Commissioner is responsible for.”

Meridian Township works with the Ingham County Drain Commissioner for their drain and storm water issues. Ishraidi said there are some issues they deal with, but most go to the drain office.

“In Meridian Township we don’t have jurisdictions over the public drain systems, however, we do are involved with folks dumping storm water or sump pumps on their neighbors,” Ishraidi said. “We work in constant with the drain office to decide whether this is a code issue or a drain issue, so yes we do get involved in those but a lot of the issues go back to the drain office.”

The Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann says they go out and inspect their drains every three years.

“Sometimes we find things that are a little wrong with it, sometimes there are big issues so we try to put touches on it to know where we are with the drains,” Lindemann said.

While the minor issues are often fixed at Lindemann’s discretion, the major fixes are brought forth through a petition process. The government entity, in this case Meridian Township’s local government, can petition the Drain Commissioner to fix the drains, some of which cost a lot more money. The processes are different, and depending on the situation, sometimes they will decide to not go the petition rate and simply slowly improve the drain each year, Lindemann says.

“Our main fixes are usually storm water, even though we do get into other areas as well.” Lindemann says. “This time of the year we’re paying attention to most of the ditches. We have to keep them clean and maintained after the winter.”

With Meridian Township, there are several projects in motion, Lindemann says. One of the projects is Daniel’s Drain which has been a major topic of discussion with the Township Board and steps to move forward with this project will be decided at a future Township Board Meeting. Another project is Smith Drain at Jolly Road. Lindemann says they receive the petition last fall and will be in construction in August.

“If you think of it like a car—when you don’t change the oil, your engine is going to burn out—drains are no different,” Lindemann said. “If you don’t care for them, in the end you’re going to have huge costs because the problems compound.”

According to Lindemann, you can’t have a place where a lot of people live without four types of infrastructure: toilet water, drinking water, storm water, and transportation.  One of the major Meridian Township Infrastructure projects for 2016 is the implementation of township sewer to Kansas Road in Okemos. This project was initiated through a petition process.

“The way this project specifically was initiated was there were residents out on Kansas Road who said ‘we want to have township sewer,’” Project Engineer Nyal Nunn said. “The process for them was to collect signatures from other property owners along Kansas for what would be defined as the project limits. Once they have enough signatures, they can submit that to the Township Board, and assuming everything is in order, which it was, the board orders the Special Assessment District to get set up and move through the whole process to lead us to get pipe in the ground.”

Road construction from the sewer replacement on Kansas Road. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Road construction from the sewer replacement on Kansas Road. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Nunn says the cost of the project will then be assessed back to the property owners. Once the construction is complete, and the full cost is known, there will be a series of hearings where people are  allowed to voice any objections. Once the hearings are complete, the cost will added to the tax roll as a ‘special assessment’. According to Nunn, the process usually takes nine to twelve months.

The township follows Act 188 with their petition process. In the case of the sanitary sewer, 50 percent of land owners have to agree with the project. However, on Kansas Road 13 families said no to the new sewer system.

“The way state law is written, if the majority of the homeowners protest it the project doesn’t move forward,” Nunn said. “If it doesn’t go through, it’s on the homeowner to fix it.”

There was a counter-petition put forth for Kansas Road, however, those in favor of the project won because they owned a quarter of an acre more than those who were against it.The sewer main has already been installed on Kansas Road, and they are currently working on road construction. Nunn says the price for this project is estimated around $150,000.

Nunn says these sanitary sewer projects don’t happen as often as road construction, because most of it is done by the residents. The last project was done in 2010.

While most people are annoyed with infrastructure and the burdens it may cause, Perry hopes people will understand the government is doing the best they can with the resources they have.

“People really only think about infrastructure, whether the roads or the water systems, when it doesn’t work or its failing,” Perry said. “We need to do a better job of educating the residents and saying ‘here’s what your paying in roads, heres what it is really able to do.’”

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As Earth Day nears, Meridian Township has ‘higher awareness of the environment’

By Ally Hamzey
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

Environmental sustainability is an issue recognized and supported by many Meridian Township residents, but on April 22, recognized as Earth Day, it is celebrated with even more enthusiasm.

A squirrel poses in the Harris Nature Center. Photo by Ally Hamzey.

A squirrel poses in the Harris Nature Center. Photo by Ally Hamzey.

The township provides multiple events that promote environmental experiences and education to residents of all ages throughout the entire year, not only Earth Day.

Love-A-Park Day, on April 23, hosted by Meridian Township Parks and Recreation Department is a park, land, and public space public space clean-up event. Events such as Love-A-Park Day, Earth Friends Campfire, and Chipmunk Story Time are all events that push for environmental awareness and sustainability.

These events each have deeper, more resonating ripples in the Meridian Township community than just simple, entertaining events would ensue, as Senior Park Naturalist and Nature Center Coordinator of the Harris Nature Center, Kit Rich said.

“The main thing we strive to do is to find as many ways as possible to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature,” Rich said. “Through that enjoyment, through the experience of participating in an outdoor activity, they start to make a connection with nature. Then, they start finding themselves wanting to help protect nature and the natural habitat.”

Rich said she “would guess [Meridian Township has] a high percentage of people who are aware of the environment’s need for our help and the things we can do for it.”

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