From the Headlines – November 1-5, 2021

Odor hotline: Stellantis continues to collect air quality violations like they’re tickets coming out of a skee-ball machine. This week, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) hit the car-maker—formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—with violations for its Warren Truck Assembly Plant and Detroit Assembly Complex. The Detroit plant was ticketed for “persistent and objectionable paint/solvent odors of moderate to strong intensity.” It’s the third violation this facility has received in the last two months. Luckily, EGLE has a new webpage just to track the violations from various Stellantis facilities. Residents who notice strong odors or other possible pollution can call the EGLE hotline at 1-800-292-4706. Stellantis has also set up its own odor hotline at 833-310-2313. (Crain’s) 

EPA takes on Benton Harbor: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is increasing its engagement with the lead drinking water crisis in Benton Harbor, outlining numerous problems with the city’s water treatment and ordering technical changes to operations. The EPA directed the city to improve its water treatment, enhance monitoring, repair filters at its water plant, and find a third-party contractor to evaluate long-term water system management alternatives. The agency also told the city to notify customers when it detects lead above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). This year, homes in the city tested as high as 889, 605, 469, 109, and 107 ppb. (MLive)

Lead everywhere: Benton Harbor isn’t the only Michigan town with a lead  water service line problem. This year, nine water systems across the state have found lead in their water that exceeded the federal action level of 15 ppb. These include Hamtramck, the city of Wayne, and Manchester in Washtenaw County. St. Clair Shores and Saginaw uncovered lead levels right at the limit of 15 ppb. EGLE says the exceedances stem from new testing procedures implemented in 2019 that increase the likelihood of finding lead. Experts emphasize that there is no safe level for lead, which can damage the brain and nervous systems, slow growth, and impair development. (MLive)

Governor’s orders: In response to the state’s pervasive lead problems, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive calling for regulators to thoroughly review the state’s drinking water rules and suggest changes that could better protect residents. She also called for an inventory of the state’s lead pipes as part of a new Geographic Information System (GIS) database of drinking water infrastructure. The administration also posted 11,000 documents related to the Benton Harbor drinking water crisis online this week. These moves come after state Republicans and activists accused the administration of failing to address the crisis in Benton Harbor. (MLive, Detroit News)

Technology to the rescue? Meanwhile, Detroit will partner with the Ann Arbor analytics company Blue Conduit to predict the location of lead service lines that need to be replaced. The city estimates that the mapping could save $165 million because they won’t need to dig up 300,000 stop boxes connected to the service lines. Instead, the city hopes it could dig up just 384 stop boxes and use this data and other information to map the locations of probable lead service lines citywide. Elin Betanzo, a water engineer who helped uncover the Flint water crisis, says the approach could help the city prioritize where to send resources. It also has other advantages. “Excavation shakes up lead service lines. So, if you’re doing it just to inventory your service lines, you just made that lead service line more dangerous if you’re not replacing it right away,” she said. (Freep)

Conflicts of interest: As lawmakers and state appointees look into the power outages that left around a million utility customers without power this summer, Michigan’s two largest utilities are busy raising money for  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and members of the Michigan House Energy Committee. DTE Energy sponsored a fundraiser for Whitmer last month that brought in $49,850. And Rep. Joe Bellino—the chair of the House Energy committee, which is holding hearings over the outages—received $5,000 from Consumers Energy’s PAC and $2,500 from DTE Energy’s PAC. “We have a problem when our elected officials are allowed to accept donations from the corporations they are tasked with holding accountable,” said Bridget Vial, energy democracy organizer for the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. “This last year DTE took millions in federal ‘relief’ funds while we faced long power outages, flooded basements and the continued threat of shutoffs.” (Detroit News)

Off the island: On Wednesday, Detroit City Council approved a plan to move the Detroit Grand Prix from Belle Isle to downtown in 2023. The new route will form a loop around the Renaissance Center on Jefferson and Atwater streets and be visible to the public without a ticket. For years, the race had faced criticism for limiting access to Belle Isle Park during Detroit’s short summers. (Crain’s, Metro Times)

Nope: Detroit City Council voted down a land transfer that may have allowed the billionaire Moroun family to build a second span for the Ambassador Bridge. Approval would have finalized a 2015 agreement in which the city was given five acres of land for Riverside Park and $5 million in park improvements in exchange for a three-acre piece of the park. Nearly 500 residents signed a petition against the transfer, and some raised concerns about the lack of community benefits in the original deal. By voting no, the council turned down $2 million in park development funds. Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia warned that the city could be sued for breach of contract for failing to finalize the transaction. (Freep)

Food aid: Low-income residents of Macomb and Oakland counties whose homes were flooded this summer are eligible to receive food assistance from Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The agency offers benefits of $430 for a household of two or $782 for a family of four, provided they meet specific requirements. Applicants will need to apply for benefits in person. More information on the application process can be found here. (Detroit News)

COVID money for parks: Michigan parks–heavily used during the COVID pandemic–may get a little help filling potholes, building new restrooms and making other improvements. Republican state lawmakers introduced three bills that collectively would send $968 million in unspent COVID relief money to local and state parks. One bill would put $250 million towards Michigan state parks’ $264 million maintenance backlog. Another would spend $508 million to help the State Park Endowment Fund meet its $800 million cap, creating a long-term funding source for the park system. But it’s unclear if it’s a legally allowable use of COVID relief funds since states must spend the money by 2026. Still, Ron Olson, head of the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation division, praised the legislation. “It’s a legacy-builder,” he said. “This is a way to create that up-to-date atmosphere so people can enjoy themselves in a clean, safe park.” (Bridge)

This week’s featured image was taken in Royal Oak’s Tenhave Park


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