Batter up

November 14, 2011
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Environmental groups across the state are up in arms after the Michigan Senate and House last week voted to “strip the authority of Michigan’s governor to protect the Great Lakes and other natural resources that inspired the Pure Michigan campaign,” said a coalition of groups opposed to the bill. They said it would render the health of the Great Lakes vulnerable to special interests promoting gridlock at the legislative level.

HB 4326 and SB 272 essentially prohibit the state’s governor from adopting any rule stricter than a federal standard unless authorized by the legislature. Gov. Rick Snyder must still sign the bill into law.

“Federal water quality standards are designed to be the floor below which states are not allowed to drop,” said James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. “This law assumes that rules written in Washington for waters in other states are good enough to protect our Great Lakes. They are not.”

“This legislation was not written by people who feel a stewardship responsibility to the Great Lakes, which contain almost 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water,” added Alexis Blizman of the Ecology Center. “We believe Michigan’s waters are best managed by Michigan — not by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”

Since Snyder, as the sitting guv, actually has a say in the matter, groups are appealing directly to him and encouraging letter-writing campaigns.

“The Great Lakes literally define Michigan and make up an essential part of our identity,” said Nicholas Occhipinti of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. “Any legislative action that decreases Michiganders’ ability to protect our cherished resources is an affront to our shared heritage and should be decisively rejected.”

Health marketplace

At least the Michigan Business and Professional Association is happy — and healthy. MBPA hailed the passage of SB 693, which authorizes the establishment of the MIHealth Marketplace, a virtual, medical insurance clearinghouse where individuals and small businesses can compare policies and premiums, and buy insurance on a competitive basis.

Jennifer Kluge, MBPA president and CEO, pointed out that if Michigan had not initiated its own information exchange program, the state would have been forced into a federally mandated program, with a resulting loss of control. “It is important that Michigan retains power over what happens with our health care, from providers to agents, so we can better assist Michigan’s small business owners in providing health care for their employees.”

Seems no one trusts Washington these days.

Feeding frenzy

Grand Rapids loves to eat. Early returns from the second annual Restaurant Week, where patrons are offered a three-course meal for $25 (or two for $25, in some cases), were largely positive.

“Early indications for Restaurant Week Grand Rapids 2011 show that the Grand Rapids community had room for ‘seconds,’” said Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids. “We’ve heard from most individual restaurateurs that they’ve had solid business through the first half of the event, and this is encouraging.”

Many restaurants reported significant gains in clientele during the event, which ended yesterday.

“We have definitely seen an increase in our traffic, with approximately 25 percent new customers enjoying the Watermark Grille, Fire Rock Grille and Rush Creek Bistro at our three clubs,” said Craig Smith, manager of Watermark Properties. “We’ve also sold 350 Restaurant Week meals so far, which is a great start for us.”

Other early “winners” included Bull’s Head Tavern (400 meals), The Heritage (250), Flat River Grill (175) and Brann’s on Leonard (140). In fact, business at some of the restaurants, such as Grove, Amore Trattoria Italiana and Cygnus 27, was so positive they were booked for the entire extended week, with many diners on a waiting list.

Hop on the bus, Gus

The Rapid reported it set a new ridership record this year with 10.8 million trips. That’s a jump of 10.7 percent from last year.

“Our transit system is busier than ever,” said CEO Peter Varga. “More and more people are choosing to ride The Rapid because it’s easy, reliable and affordable, as well as better for the environment.”

Fixed-route buses completed nearly 7 million of those trips, while contracted services did almost 3.4 million. The biggest day-part gain came from weekday evening service, which rose by 14.5 percent. “The ridership data helps us continually measure and monitor our progress,” said Varga. “The data also tells us a growing number of citizens depend on and value our service.”

Play ball!

Who says the baseball season is over? Not West Michigan Sports Commission Executive Director Mike Guswiler. For him, Wednesday could be considered opening day. Guswiler will gather with a few other notable players Wednesday morning at the JW Marriott to pitch the public portion of the Everyone Wins Campaign.

The purpose of the 10 a.m. event is to let residents, parents of athletes, baseball fans and everyone else know about the importance of building a 12-field, championship-caliber baseball and softball complex in Plainfield Township that would draw amateur tournaments and help boost the hospitality industry.

Joining Guswiler in the lineup will be campaign co-chairs Dan DeVos, GR Griffins boss, and Arend (Don) Lubbers, former GVSU president. Dan Dickerson, radio play-by-play voice of the Detroit Tigers, will call the action and lend his support to the campaign.

Bright idea

The CityFlats hotels in Grand Rapids and Holland have set up drop-off centers for used light bulbs and batteries as part of America Recycles Day, which is Nov. 15. Sarah Lilly, marketing director, said CityFlats will accept both through Sunday and then safely dispose of the items. Individuals who drop off items at the Holland hotel will receive a discount coupon for CityVu Bistro, the hotel’s restaurant.

Lilly included a half-dozen sobering reasons the hotels are involved with the nationwide event. For instance, about 600 million fluorescent light bulbs containing 30,000 pounds of mercury are discarded each year in landfills. The mercury from one bulb can pollute 6,000 gallons of water, and a single teaspoon of mercury can permanently contaminate a 20-acre lake.

Here’s another reason. Three billon batteries are sold in the nation each year, and each one contains heavy metals like lead and cadmium, and all are a hazard to human health. When these batteries are tossed into a landfill, the metals can ooze into the soil and pollute lakes and streams. More info is available at

Full ride

A manufacturing employee from Grand Rapids recently made an elite list: He was one of only 20 nationwide to win a full-tuition scholarship from The Manufacturing Institute and the University of Phoenix. Eric Pelak, who works at PorterCorp in Holland, will use his scholarship to earn an MBA from Phoenix.

“As demand increases and decreases, and as products change, adaption will be crucial for both individual and business survival. As manufacturing changes, I will continue seeking out opportunities to make sure I remain educated and trained so I am prepared for what the future in business may bring,” said Pelak.

“Manufacturers’ ability to compete globally depends on an educated and skilled work force,” said Emily DeRocco, president of The Manufacturing Institute. “These individuals represent the work force that will lead the innovation that is critical to our U.S. manufacturing base.”

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