The Detroit News. May 31, 2020.

Outside panel should probe dam failures

For any investigation to have credibility, those doing the investigating should have no stake in the outcome. That’s why Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should change course and appoint an independent panel to probe the failure of two Midland-area dams.

The governor launched an investigation last week, saying she is seeking recommendations to prevent similar catastrophes.

That’s a laudable goal. But she also should want to know whether the dam collapses could have been prevented, and whether neglect by state agencies or individuals charged with protecting the public contributed to the disaster.

That information is less likely to be produced by the governor’s approach.

Instead of naming an independent panel to figure out what happened and why, the governor put responsibility for the investigation under the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

EGLE had responsibility for inspecting the Edenville and Sanford dams on the Tittabawassee River. The failure of the dams led to widespread flooding, displacement and property damage.

The department says it will work with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and outside experts.

But EGLE in effect will be investigating itself. While an analysis four months ago found the dam to be out of compliance with state regulations, questions must be asked about what the department did in the aftermath of that finding to protect citizens.

If evidence suggests EGLE could have taken additional protective steps, will its own staff make that case?

EGLE is named as a defendant in some of the lawsuits that have been filed since the flooding, and that compromises its position as a disinterested investigator.

Also, the state was engaged in litigation with dam owner Boyce Hydro over lake levels. The state was concerned that lowering the water behind the dams would endanger delicate aquatic life.

Did that lawsuit contribute to disaster? That’s not a question EGLE will be eager to answer.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has oversight of the Sanford dam, has already asked the owner to appoint their own investigator.

And Michigan has no shortage of civil engineers and other experts who could be tapped for an investigative team motivated only by figuring out what happened and holding those responsible accountable, no matter who they are. The state’s universities also could be called on to help.

Whitmer should form that panel and instruct it to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation without regard to whether the findings prove embarrassing to her administration.

That’s the only way to assure credibility and accountability, and to produce a report that would help prevent a repeat of the Midland dam collapses.

__ The Alpena News. May 29, 2020.

Unemployment figures staggering

The number of unemployed in Michigan because of COVID-19 has reached historical levels.

So reported the Michigan Information and Research Center in a recent weekly bulletin.

In April, the state’s unemployment rate rose to 22.7%, which is definitely the highest rate since 1976, said Jason Palmer, director of the state’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. He said that likely was an “all-time” high in Michigan.

April numbers reflected the first full month of the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders.

As a means of comparison, the March unemployment number was 4.3%, while February’s number was 3.6%.

“Job losses were widespread across all industry sectors, with especially large employment reductions in leisure and hospitality and manufacturing,” said Palmer.

MIRS reported the total number of unemployed in April –1.048 million — was an all-time high, surpassing the previous record of 725,000 during June 2009.

As we’ve said many times, COVID-19 not only has created a health pandemic from which we all are reeling, but also an economic one that is running parallel to the other.

Unfortunately, the list of businesses that never again will reopen keeps growing daily. With each closure comes the reality that their employees suddenly find their jobs eliminated.

It’s hard to believe how all aspects of our lives have been affected by a virus.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 28, 2020.

Northwest Lower Mich. became a pandemic relief valve

We won’t know for days, maybe weeks, whether Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s regional approach to lifting her stay at home order was a success.

The surge of vacationers into our backyard was somewhat predictable, effectively turning northern Michigan into a spillway for pent-up energy accrued during two months of lockdown orders. The holiday weekend felt like a partial shift toward normal — slow when compared to typical Memorial Day weekends, but an exponential increase in visitors compared to a week ago.

Beachgoers, bicyclists, boaters. Downtown walkers, woodland wanderers, wake riders.

The sights and sounds were a welcome reprieve from the eerie quiet that cinched around our home for the past few months.

Yet, our optimism was dashed by a dose or important reality in the midst of the sun-soaked euphoria so many of us felt during the summer kickoff weekend.

News of two out-of-state travelers who carried with them active COVID-19 infections broke midday Monday.

The incident is a caricature of warnings public health officials lobbed in the days before the big weekend reopen. Now, at least six other people will undergo 14-day self quarantine.

It’s a predictable — maybe expected — occurrence as our state and nation begin to relax restrictions on our movement. We all probably hoped for an uneventful weekend, a bit of a return to normal. But our expectations can’t be unrealistic considering the Grand Traverse region’s the noticeable surge of visitors into our backyard.

We continue to hear from business owners and public officials who find themselves a little frustrated at flippant visitors who bucked the guidelines meant to help tamp down the chances of a regional outbreak of the coronavirus.

They’re correctly worried that lax behavior now could result in reinstitution of the more oppressive measures included in the stay at home order still in place in more than half of Michigan.

Meanwhile efforts to increase the number of COVID-19 tests administered in the area likely will push up positive test result tallies as health officials cast a wider net in search of the disease.

The taste of normal we experienced last weekend was pretty darn refreshing.

So please join us in redoubling our efforts to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus in the Grand Traverse region.

After all, we don’t want to lose the freedom we worked so hard to regain.

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