From the Headlines- April 4 – 8

Flood pain: The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s determination that much of Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood is a flood zone could make it harder for local groups to get federal funding. The designation could prevent developers from securing Community Development Block Grants and Home Investment Partnership funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and low-income housing tax credits issued by the state. And residents in the newly designated flood plain will need to purchase expensive flood insurance, which could displace low-income homeowners. Josh Elling, CEO of the nonprofit Jefferson East Inc., says his group relies on HUD funding to attract developers to the area.  “I was like, ‘Well, OK, say goodbye to any substantive economic development in JC (Jefferson Chalmers) and Marina District until they can get these neighborhoods out of the floodplain,” he said. Removing the flood zone designation could require massive amounts of money to build sea walls or install other defenses. The city is currently investigating whether HUD funds could still be used in the neighborhood and exploring other funding mechanisms like Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund. (Crain’s)

A growing problem: Asthma is an increasing problem in Detroit, where the adult asthma rate was 16.2% between 2017 and 2019 compared to 11.1% statewide. Several factors contribute to this, including industrial pollution and older homes. Detroit also lacks asthma doctors. Detroit children with asthma who Medicaid covers are 50% more likely to use the emergency room for asthma treatment. “It’s usually your long-term doctor, whether that’s a primary care doctor or maybe an asthma specialist, to (help you) prevent these attacks,” said Dr. Edward Zoratti, head of the Henry Ford Health System’s allergy and immunology division.”The main thrust in the emergency room is ‘Let’s get these people well so they can leave the emergency room.’ They take care of the emergency part but there’s less emphasis on the long-term care of the patient.” The Little Lungs program, run by the Detroit nonprofit Kids Health Connections, is helping families minimize asthma risks in their homes and identify the signs of an asthma attack. And the environmental nonprofit Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision is working on getting diesel truck fleets to upgrade their engines and install new exhaust systems to reduce pollution. (Planet Detroit, Detroit News) 

Smoke and mirrors: Michigan’s new Michigan Environmental Justice Mapping and Screening Tool gives census tract-level detail on pollution, health problems, income levels, racial makeup, etc. And yet, the pollution continues in places like the north side of Flint, with Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) recently issuing a permit for an asphalt plant in neighboring Genesee Township. Jill Greenberg, a spokesperson for EGLE, says there are currently no plans to use the mapping tool to incorporate the tool’s data into the permitting process. “It’s smoke and mirrors to pacify us and respond to the complaints they have been receiving on environmental justice issues,” said Flint City Councilmember Quincy Murphy. “I’m not convinced that this tool will resolve these issues or stop communities like us from fighting against these permits.” However, Raquel Garcia, executive director of Southwest Detroit Environmental Visions, believes the app could be a first step towards reforming the permitting process by helping visualize the cumulative impacts of pollution. (Bridge)

Suburbs v. Highland Park: Several communities in Macomb County are withholding a portion of their water bills to the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) in protest over covering part of Highland Park’s water debt. And 18 communities in western Wayne County have already withheld payments related to this debt, placing them in escrow. Meanwhile, Highland Park says it was overcharged by the utility, leading to $54 million in arrearages for the city. Officials in Oakland and Macomb counties are encouraging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to facilitate a resolution between the utility and the city, while Highland Park officials are looking to revive the city’s independent water system to secure cheaper water and regain local control. However, the problems in Highland Park are not unique to the city. From Flint to Birmingham, Alabama, majority-Black cities often struggle to finance their water utilities. Federal funding for water and wastewater utilities fell from $16.8 billion a year in the mid-1970s to $4.4 billion in 2014. (Detroit News)

Upgrades: The GLWA is upgrading the electrical systems at the Blue Hill and Freud pumping stations on Detroit’s east side, installing five transformers, and switching the power supply from the city’s lighting department to DTE Energy. The Freud and Conner Creek pumping stations experienced electrical problems during June’s catastrophic flooding, limiting the number of pumps operating. (Freep)Why not garden? According to a new study from University of Michigan researchers, land ownership issues are likely limiting the number of gardens in Detroit. “It’s hard to justify putting in a lot of infrastructure if you don’t know if you’re going to have that lot to use five years down the road,” said Joshua Newell, an urban geographer at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability and lead author on the study. The study recommends that the local government do more to resolve land ownership issues and finds that numerous small gardens scattered throughout a neighborhood benefit residents more than a single, centralized growing space. Detroit’s urban garden movement is experimenting with building ownership in garden plots. The crowdfunded Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund is one example.  Residents interviewed for the study said that building community and reducing blight were more significant motivations for gardening than food production. (Michigan Radio, Planet Detroit)

Ukraine, potash, and Michigan’s water: Water advocates are concerned that a proposed phosphate mine in Osceola County could contaminate groundwater or even cause wells to run dry. Potash is rich in potassium, a common ingredient in fertilizer, and the Michigan mine could become the country’s largest nutrient source. The war in Ukraine has added urgency to the project because Russia and Belarus produce a large amount of the world’s potash and the conflict has driven up prices. Gov. Whitmer recently signed a $5 billion bipartisan spending deal that includes $50 million for the Michigan Potash and Salt Company, which would be operating the mine. The company’s plans involved injecting pressurized saltwater underground to dissolve salt beds and then pumping the brine above ground to be dried and separated into potash and table salt. The operation will require 725 million gallons of groundwater each year to perform this potash alchemy, although they claim much of the water can be recycled. Yet, residents fear that massive water withdrawals could tap out the aquifer in this remote area or that the pressurized wastewater the company plans to store underground could leak into nearby wells. (Grist, Bridge)


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