- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

The Mining Journal (Marquette). Aug. 17.

Take state’s advice: Fill propane tank, make plans early

In recent days, state officials have been urging propane customers to start thinking about the upcoming heating season now.

They say filling propane tanks early, locking in a price for the winter and inquiring about potentially available budget payment plans can help consumers avoid being stung by higher prices or restricted deliveries should another propane shortage materialize this winter.

We agree this is good advice. Last winter’s bone-chilling, pipe-cracking misery was only made worse by the propane shortage circumstances which impacted many people in the Upper Peninsula.



However bad the upcoming winter turns out to be, anything that can be done to lessen the suffering of local residents - like preparing for another potential propane emergency ahead of time - should definitely be pursued.

Last winter, a series of circumstances converged to create a widespread propane shortage across a large section of the Midwest and east. More than 30 states, including Michigan, declared propane emergencies.

Numerous customer complaints were received about drivers limiting the amount of propane being provided to consumers and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate allegations of price gouging by two suppliers.

The Michigan Public Service Commission has created a new website (www.michigan.gov/propane) to help propane customers. The commission has also developed a tip sheet with several good suggestions for consumers.

The tip sheet includes information on fixed versus variable pricing plans, fees and other charges, delivery options, renting or owning propane tanks, switching propane retailers and comparison questions to ask retail marketers.

The commission also suggested low-income residents who think they may be unable to afford heating costs this winter to call 2-1-1 after Oct. 1 to learn more about state and federal funding available for assistance.

State officials say there are some factors on the horizon which could potentially result in creation of another propane shortage this winter, with its spiked prices and limited deliveries.

Planning now to avoid future problems is indeed good advice that should be heeded.

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The Holland Sentinel. Aug. 17.

Toledo’s water crisis has lessons for W. Michigan

Who would have thought that in 2014 a major American city, located in the midst of the world’s largest freshwater resource, could lose its drinking water due to a contamination scare? Yet that’s just what happened earlier this month in Toledo, Ohio, where 400,000 people served by the city’s water system had to go without municipal water for two days due to the presence of a toxin produced by algae in Lake Erie. It’s almost impossible that such a scenario could play out in Lake Michigan, but the Toledo crisis offers some environmental lessons we, in West Michigan, should keep in mind.

The kind of algae blooms that affect Lake Erie don’t occur in Lake Michigan for several reasons - our lake is colder, much deeper and gets less agricultural runoff than Lake Erie. Erie is more like a certain inland lake we know here, says Alan Steinman, director of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute: “Lake Erie is like Lake Macatawa on steroids.” Algae blooms occur in Lake Mac and other river-mouth lakes up and down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan (fortunately these lakes are not drinking water sources), and the substance that fed the Lake Erie algae bloom and Toledo contamination scare is the same one responsible for the murkiness of our Lake Mac - excessive phosphorus, most of it from farm runoff.

A lot of progress has been made in recent years in getting phosphorus out of consumer products such as detergents and lawn fertilizer, however, as the folks in Ohio have learned, reducing the amount of phosphorus that comes from agricultural runoff has been difficult. Farm runoff is not the only source of phosphorus in our lakes - runoff from urban yards and streets and sewage plant overflows also contribute - but it’s the biggest culprit and we can’t make our lakes cleaner without addressing it. Reducing agricultural runoff is one of the major goals of Project Clarity, the Lake Mac cleanup effort of the Macatawa Watershed Project and the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council. We hope the Project Clarity plan succeeds in this area where previous educational efforts haven’t, since we’d much rather see the problem of farm runoff addressed through voluntary means than through government regulation.

Another concern for the health of our lakes, says Steinman, is the effect of climate change. Algae flourish in warm water, Steinman says, and also like the calm conditions that tend to occur as lake temperatures rise (Lake Erie is the warmest of the Great Lakes). One general prediction of a warming atmosphere is less overall precipitation but more intense rainstorms - the kind of storms that flush large volumes of runoff into lakes and overwhelm sewage treatment systems.

In general, the Toledo crisis should remind us that we in the Great Lakes are not invulnerable when it comes to water problems. We may not face the issue of algae-produced toxins in Lake Michigan, but given the threats of invasive species and climate change it’s impossible to predict what future environmental challenges we may face. And our inland lakes are already suffering from the same conditions that caused fear and disruption along Lake Erie. The Toledo crisis shows us we can’t take anything for granted when it comes to a resource as precious as fresh water

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The Grand Rapids Press. Aug. 15.

More prevention needed to curb a tragic trend of youth violence

This summer has had a bleakness. Not just coolness of the thermometer, but a heartbreaking chill that accompanies seeing images of parents mourning the loss of a child. A season that is supposed to be a carefree time for kids has been punctured by violence against youth. And many of these horrific acts have been at the hands of the young, as well.

There are no easy answers to reducing youth violence, but this summer is more proof why prevention efforts must be strengthened. Programs and strategies that have already proven effective in the area should be bolstered, as others are explored. Curbing the cycle of violence requires renewed focus by community leaders, city and school officials and the faith community and more vigilance on the part of parents, neighbors and the police.

We struggle to comprehend the despair that could drive a 12-year-old to go to a playground to attack a child he didn’t know in hopes his own life would then be taken. In the same week this unfathomable act sent shock waves through West Michigan and beyond, other young lives were cut short. A Grand Rapids 17-year-old died after he was shot accidentally by a teenage friend, and two teens were stabbed in the Holland area, with only one surviving. Muskegon, our neighbor to the north, continues to grieve the loss of a high school basketball player, reportedly singled out at random by a shooter barely out of his teens.

While the rates of youth homicide have dropped dramatically in the United States since the mid-1990s, homicide remains a leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Violence is also a major cause of nonfatal injuries among youth. The CDC’s research identifies key risk factors that can lead to violence, including untreated mental health problems, abuse, gang involvement, and the lack of parental support.

There are many issues at play here, both economic and social. Many children in our community do not grow up in safe and secure homes. One in five children in Kent County lives in poverty. The number of children living in homes investigated for abuse or neglect has doubled in recent years.

Our community hasn’t turned a blind eye to this violence, but it’s time to take another look at how we can prevent more deaths. We commend the efforts already underway to provide positive intervention and develop relationships with young people, but we must continue to explore and consider other solutions to address a problem that has no single root cause.

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The Detroit Free Press. Aug. 18.

With great police firepower comes great responsibility

Dundee police have a mine-resistant ambush vehicle. Barry County has not one, but five, grenade launchers.

Since 2006, 128,000 military surplus items worth about $43 million have been transferred to Michigan police departments since 2006, Christina Hall reported in Sunday’s Free Press, through a federal program that started in 1997.

Hall uncovered just how much military-grade equipment has found a home in Michigan. Included in the tally are17 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs), 1,795 M16 rifles, 696 M14 rifles, 530 bayonet and scabbards and nine grenade launchers.

“Police say they need military-grade weapons to counter heavily armed drug dealers, mass shooters and terrorists,” Hall wrote. “Armored vehicles can be used against barricaded gunmen, to evacuate citizens in emergencies or to quell riots, while high-powered, automatic rifles keep police from being outgunned by bad guys.”

But to make that case for civilian use of equipment designed for war, law enforcement agencies owe residents answers:

- How much training in the use of such equipment are officers given?

- In what situations are these items used? Who authorizes deployment of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team? How is that decision made?

- How were such operations executed prior to the acquisition of military equipment? Has the number of officer deaths or injuries changed since military equipment became part of the department?

- How has the number of civilian injuries or fatalities, whether justified or not, changed?

- What about lawsuits or settlements - bills paid by taxpayers - for police misconduct stemming from use of this equipment?

It’s a reasonable set of questions, and one that police departments around the state should be prepared to answer.

The militarization of American police has become the subject of intense debate as unrest continues in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a police officer more than a week ago. Ferguson residents took to the streets, and were confronted by police in armored vehicles, clad in camouflage and body armor, and armed with high-powered rifles. The use of such equipment, that kind of escalation of force, has been widely perceived as an exacerbating factor in the ongoing violence in Ferguson, a town of 21,000.

An American Civil Liberties Union report about the militarization of American police, focusing on SWAT team deployment, found that information and record-keeping was spotty. Departments didn’t display any kind of uniform standards for tracking when and how SWAT teams (often users of military equipment) were deployed, and only one state - Maryland - requires that kind of oversight. Records delivered to the ACLU by police departments indicated that among departments nationally that responded to the organization’s records request, 79% of SWAT team deployments were for search warrants.

There’s no question that a SWAT deployment is sometimes the appropriate response, or that use of military-style equipment keeps officers safe. Large police agencies (such as Detroit’s) conduct the kind of raids and enforcement that require special weapons and equipment and highly trained SWAT personnel. But it’s hard to make the case that small cities or townships need armored vehicles, M16 rifles or grenade launchers (which could be used to fire tear gas).

In the absence of information showing the benefit of such tactics, and how and why they’re used, it’s hard not to feel that departments who have acquired such equipment are answering a question that might not exist.

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