From the headlines- April 11 -15

Waiting for help: Many Detroiters continue to wait on financial assistance to help them recover from last summer’s devastating floods. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent money to roughly 39,000 families, but 8,204 households are still waiting for aid and 14,163 have had their claims denied. Local utilities may not provide relief either. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and Great Lakes Water Authority are conducting investigations into the flooding. However, DWSD suggested that rain, not system failures, was the primary cause of the flooding, meaning victims are unlikely to receive compensation from the agency. Nonprofits have provided some assistance with cleanup and replacing appliances and some residents have turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration for disaster recovery loans. “Part of the challenge is that this wasn’t just a flood; this was a flood combined with folks that are economically challenged, sort of multigenerational concentrated poverty, and then layer a natural disaster on top,” said Josh Elling, CEO of the nonprofit Jefferson East Inc. “It’s all of the challenges we face in helping residents navigate home repair resources exacerbated by a natural disaster. So it’s going to take a while to recover from that.” (Outlier/Freep)

Energy burden: DTE Energy continues to shut off power to Metro Detroiters at a higher rate than other regional utilities. Between 2013 and 2019, DTE shut performed 47% more disconnections than Consumers Energy, Michigan’s second-largest investor-owned utility. The average energy burden, or household income spent on energy bills, is 3.8% for the metro area but 10.2% for low-income residents. A quarter of low-income residents spend more than 19% of their household income on energy. In response to these issues and the ongoing hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Detroit City Council asked DTE for a utility shutoff moratorium for the next year. (Outlier/ProPublica, Detroit Documenters, Bridge Detroit)

New day for health: The Salina Elementary School in a heavily polluted section of Dearborn served as the backdrop for Mayor Abdullah Hammoud’s recent discussion of the city’s new health department, intended to address environmental problems and other injustices. It’s an unusual move because the Michigan Public Health Code only recognizes departments established by counties and cities with more than 750,000 people, while Dearborn has 110,000 residents. Many residents are likely to continue accessing Wayne County’s health department services. But the Dearborn department could act on specific inequities like the lack of research relating to Arab Americans, who make up most of the city’s population. Recent research shows that Arab American men die at a higher rate than white men for six common diseases and both men and women have a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts. (Bridge)

Restorative justice: After Detroit police officers shut down an Indigenous sugar bush ceremony in Rouge Park and threatened participants with arrest, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Indigenous Peoples Alliance are asking for the police to engage in a restorative justice process. “It happened because of ignorance and cultural arrogance, a presumption that because a community chooses to worship the creator in a way that may differ from how police officers might understand worship, or may differ from their particular faith traditions, that somehow it is less valid, it is somehow less legitimate and somehow not protected by the law,” said Mark Fancher, an ACLU attorney. Detroit police spokesperson Rudy Harper defended the officers who interrupted the ceremony, saying organizers lacked proper permits. However, ceremony organizers say they have a memorandum of understanding with the city to operate in the park. The Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance asks the police department to honor Indigenous treaty rights, recognize and help the Sugarbush Project and have the officers who broke up the ceremony apologize and be held accountable. (Freep)

Stepping out: Detroit native Ian Solomon is on a mission to help more Black people find community exploring the outdoors. His group Amplify Outside is intended to address the lack of representation many African Americans feel in outdoor spaces and address the economic and distance barriers that some face. Amplify Outside uses a TikTok account to show what’s involved in traveling to different parts of the state for outdoor excursions, along with the cost of doing so.“Michigan overall is an extremely Black state; there are so many Black communities all about,” Solomon said. “We look at this as an opportunity to not just get people outside, but to connect Michigan’s Black communities.” (MLive)

Groundbreaking: Assorted dignitaries struck dirt at the groundbreaking for the Southwest Greenway, which will connect the Detroit RiverWalk along Jefferson Avenue to Bagley St. The half-mile spur is expected to cost $8 million and will run along the historic May Creek, a corridor where there was once a rail line. The greenway will be part of the Iron Belle Trail, running from Belle Isle Park to Ironwood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (Freep)

Wastewater ‘treatment’: In a bit of head-scratcher, wastewater leaving treatment plants appears to have higher concentrations of toxic PFAS compounds than the water going in. Plants are not required to treat these substances, and high levels of PFAS have been observed near the wastewater plants at the mouth of the Rouge RiverMatt Reeves, associate professor at Western Michigan University and lead author of the study, does not think plants are introducing more PFAS, but toxic chemicals are transforming into detectable types of PFAS during treatment. “We are still trying to understand the transformations — whether there are microbes or not involved; something to do with oxygen or the lack thereof,” he said. “Temperature can facilitate some of these reactions as well, along with changes in pH.” The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics recently adopted a new definition for PFAS chemicals that excludes some fluorinated compounds that break down into toxic PFOA and PFOS. (Freep, Detroit News, Guardian)

Golden anniversary: April 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The agreement has allowed the two countries to collaborate on addressing phosphorus pollution, ecosystem restoration, and the cleanup of pollution hot spots. “Not only is the agreement an international model of transboundary cooperation to protect shared natural resources, but it has been flexible and evolved to address emerging issues over time,” said John Gannon, emeritus scientist with the International Joint Commission, which reviews and makes recommendations on projects related to the agreement. Activists and experts praise the agreement for helping to build a binational constituency for Great Lakes issues while also expressing concern that without meaningful citizen oversight and involvement, the agreement could fail to rise to the challenges of climate change and ongoing pollution issues. (Great Lakes Now)


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