From the Headlines – Week of March 8, 2021

Duggan’s priorities: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan addressed a few environmental concerns in his yearly State of the City address, saying that the city has renovated 148 parks in the last five years and that 80 new busses have been added to help Detroiters get to them. Duggan made the interesting choice of highlighting a commitment by the Moroun family–who owns the Ambassador Bridge and controls the Port Authority–to hire Detroiters first. One commenter said this wouldn’t win many votes in Southwest Detroit, where the bridge company is often seen as a threat to public health. But that bridge money. (Free Press)

Demolition issues part 1,000: Four demolition contractors were alleged to have used unapproved dirt as backfill at five Detroit sites in 2018. According to a report by the city’s Office of Inspector General, the dirt came from an I-94 construction site, raising concerns that it wasn’t tested for contaminants. One of the companies, Rickman Enterprise Group, was among those recently approved for demolitions under Proposal N, the city’s anti-blight initiative. A Free Press investigation from 2019 found previous instances of demolition companies using contaminated backfill. (Crain’s, Detroit News, Freep, via Detour Detroit)

Bird-unfriendly: Tall buildings, light pollution, and location within a major migratory pathway are combining to make Detroit the 13th-worst city in the country for bird collisions during spring migration and the 15th most dangerous in the fall. Building lights disorient migratory birds that use the moon and stars for navigation. “They circle the buildings repeatedly and either die of exhaustion or colliding with the illuminated building,” the Detroit Audubon Society says on its website. Building owners and tenants can help reduce fatalities by turning off lights on unused and unoccupied floors as well as exterior lights during spring and fall migration. New forms of glass are also being used to reduce collisions that incorporate patterns that are visible to birds so that windows don’t look like the surrounding sky and vegetation. (Cornell, Crain’s)

Corporate citizenship: The Moroun-owned Ammex Inc. duty-free gas station was in federal court this week, arguing that summer fuel laws don’t apply to its business because its customers are leaving the country. It also argued that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection considers its facility to be outside of the U.S. border. Summer grades of gasoline are designed to vaporize less easily to reduce smog and respiratory issuesElizabeth Morrisseau, an attorney for Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, argued that gasoline was “different from every other product Ammex sells” because it’s not in a sealed container and is used by customers in the United States. “The gas takes them to Canada; they do not take the gas to Canada,” she said. (Courthouse News Service, Car and Driver)

City of sidewalks: Certified arborist Dean Simionescu wonders why Highland Park–which is known as the city of “City of Trees”– is planning to cut down trees that he feels just need a trimming. Neighborhoods with a good urban canopy can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than areas that lack trees. But a study from Michigan State found that one in four Detroiters did not want a tree when it was offered to them by the Greening of Detroit. (WDET)

Strong words: “The operation of Line 5 is non-negotiable,” Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s natural resources minister, said in comments to the House of Commons committee on Canadian-U.S. relations. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had ordered the Canadian business Enbridge to stop operating this pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac by May, an order which the company has said it will defy. Canadian officials said that the pipeline–which runs through Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas–is crucial for the provinces of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, while also transporting petroleum to Michigan and Ohio. Five Michigan members of congress have also sent a letter to President Biden asking him to stop the shutdown of Line 5. (Freep, MLive)

Line 5 worries: Meanwhile, members of Michigan tribal nations are raising concerns that construction for the new Line 5 tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac could lead to an uptick in sexual violence and other crimes. The establishment of “man camps” to house a mostly male workforce for pipeline projects has correlated with an increase in sex trafficking and violence that can put a strain on police and social services in primarily rural areas. “I can see that happening to us, no doubt. I think it’s already happening here in northern Michigan,” Stacey Ettawageshik, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians who is lead advocate for the tribe’s Survivor Outreach Services, said. “As far as sex trafficking goes, as Indigenous people we are way more at risk than the general population. And although we don’t make up a lot of the population here … there are definitely high rates of violence, sexual violence, especially against Native women.” (Michigan Advance)

The lawyers’ cut: Attorneys are asking for nearly a third of the $641 civil settlement related to the Flint water crisis, which exposed city residents to lead-tainted drinking water and a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Michael Pitt, co-lead counsel in the case, said the amount is “consistent” with other civil settlements in the state. “It is offensive and immoral that the attorneys in the Flint water settlement want 32% of the settlement for themselves,” said State Rep.Cynthia Neeley. “Flint families took 100% of the harm, Flint families should not have a third of the settlement taken from them.” (Michigan Radio)

Un-fouling the water: Ohio, Michigan and Indiana have until 2025 to meet a self-imposed deadline to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie by 40% compared to 2008 levels. But success looks doubtful despite the states throwing billions of dollars at programs to keep nutrients in fertilizer and manure from entering the lake. These strategies include paying farmers to plant buffer strips of vegetation to trap nutrients or grow cover crops to sequester them in place. High nutrient levels in the lake have contributed to toxic algae blooms, like the one that shut down Toledo’s drinking water system in 2014. Meanwhile, Toledo residents have faced 13 percent rate increases for water service in each of the last five years, in part to pay for upgrades that make toxic water drinkable. (Michigan Radio)

Farmworker lawsuit: Workers at an asparagus processing facility have filed a federal lawsuit against Todd Greiner Farms in Hart, Michigan, alleging long shifts and exposure to chemical odors that made their eyes water and throats itch as well as causing headaches. One worker says she was so overwhelmed by the chemicals that she passed out and had to be hospitalized. “The workers were describing just really bad work conditions, where everyone was complaining,” said Diana Marin, supervising attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the workers. “And it wasn’t the kind of case that we sometimes hear where people didn’t want to complain to the bosses. They really did. And yet they were still ignored.” (Michigan Radio)

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