Friday, December 21, 2012

Scott Dianda, sworn in as 110th District State Rep, outlines priorities

By Michele Bourdieu

Hancock Mayor Bill Laitila, left, administers the oath of office to newly elected 110th District State Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), accompanied by his wife, Debbie, during a Dec. 8, 2012, ceremony and celebration at Michigan Tech University. (Photos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- While his official term does not begin until the Michigan House of Representatives meets in January, newly elected Michigan 110th District Rep. Scott Dianda has wasted no time since his election in November to the House seat held by Republican Matt Huuki for the past two years. Dianda has been meeting with constituents, listening to their concerns and presenting his own priorities for the future of Michigan -- and especially for the future of the seven counties he represents in the Western Upper Peninsula.*

Dianda recently spoke to two very different audiences. On Dec. 6, 2012, he addressed members of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce and on Dec. 8 he was officially sworn in as a state representative during a ceremony attended mostly by his Democratic supporters. Jack LaSalle, Dianda's campaign manager, introduced Dianda, his wife Debbie and Hancock Mayor Bill Laitila, who administered the oath of office.

Here is a video clip of the swearing-in ceremony, held at Michigan Tech University:

Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), newly elected State Representative for Michigan's 110th District, accompanied by his wife, Debbie, is sworn in to his office in a ceremony at Michigan Technological University on Dec. 8, 2012. William Laitila, Mayor of Hancock, Mich., administers the oath of office. Dianda thanks the audience of supporters for their work during the campaign and mentions education as his top priority for the future of Michigan and his district. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Dianda outlines priorities for business growth at Chamber of Commerce meeting

"We have to do it together," Dianda told Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce members at their Dec. 6 "Eggs and Issues" breakfast meeting, outlining his hopes for the future through education, technology, agriculture and improved transportation to attract new business and industry to the Western Upper Peninsula.

In this video clip Dianda speaks about his Calumet family roots and his confidence in this area's potential for future growth:

Scott Dianda, newly elected Michigan 110th District State Representative, addresses members of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce at their "Eggs and Issues" breakfast meeting on Dec. 6, 2012. Dianda outlines his priorities and ideas for attracting new business to the seven counties he represents in the Western Upper Peninsula.

Dianda mentioned the need for dredging the Keweenaw Waterway (aka Portage Ship Canal) to facilitate commercial transport by water.

The Keweenaw Waterway was last dredged in 1994. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers Web site, it is due for dredging soon, but this work has been backlogged for lack of funding.**

Keweenaw Now asked Noel Urban, director of Michigan Tech's Center for Water and Society and professor of environmental engineering, about the environmental impacts of dredging the Keweenaw Waterway, especially since several public beaches are located on it. In his research, Urban specializes in water quality, including sediment contamination.

"There are mine tailings throughout the whole of the waterway, and dredging will re-suspend those fine, copper-rich particles," Urban explained.

Urban said the water would be turbid for a while after the dredge but he wasn't sure whether that would impact the beaches.

"Just from the copper there aren't really health issues for humans," Urban added. "There may be some implications for wildlife. It's primarily the aquatic invertebrates that would be affected."

One issue in the Ripley area is a plume of hydrocarbons at the bottom of the canal, he said

"The EPA and DEQ are now trying to figure out how best to clean it up," Urban said. "If one were to dredge that and stir that up over a large area it could spread the problem."

These are oil-related products, denser than water, that have a relatively small impact while on the bottom; but they are probably carcinogenic and toxic to aquatic organisms that come in contact with them, Urban explained.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers Web site, "The Keweenaw Waterway Confined Disposal Facility has adequate capacity for at least the next 25 years of dredging."**

Dianda told Keweenaw Now the Keweenaw Waterway is presently only used by the Ranger (the passenger boat that takes visitors to Isle Royale), pleasure craft and a once-a-year delivery of salt for the roads; and it has potential for shipping manufactured products, which would attract business and create jobs.

"I want to be sure we're sticking to the federal schedule for dredging the canal, making sure that's a viable waterway," Dianda said, "but I also want to make sure that we're doing things correctly and not hurting anything."

Dianda noted he plans to work with US Senators Levin and Stabenow and Congressman Dan Benishek on the dredging issue.

During the Chamber meeting, Dianda also spoke about local government control and government efficiency:

At the Dec. 6, 2012, meeting of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce, Scott Dianda, recently elected Michigan State Representative for the 110th District, speaks about local government control and his own experience traveling in various parts of the state.

During a question and answer session, Steve Karpiak, Osceola Township supervisor, asked about property taxes for small local units of government and about road issues. Dianda, who has worked for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) said he was aware of the urgent need for funding maintenance of roads and bridges. He also expressed concern about the impacts of salt on the roads in the U.P.

Following his presentation, Representative Elect Scott Dianda fields questions from members of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce. In this video clip he discusses the problems with roads in the U.P., the need for rail to take some of the burden off the roads and the need for funding. Steve Karpiak, Osceola Township supervisor, expresses concerns about the stamp sand used on the roads and the fact that the DEQ no longer allows re-use of it because of toxicity.

Others in the audience asked Dianda for his views on welfare fraud, funding "Pure Michigan" for tourism, and the latest legislation on ATVs.

Glenn Anderson, Hancock city manager, asked Dianda what his position is on allowing ATVs to use major trunk lines, including crossing bridges such as the Portage Lift Bridge.

The pending Senate Bill 1020 would allow ORV/ATV ("4-wheeler") vehicles to cross the bridge on the roadway.***

According to Anderson, the City of Houghton recently passed an ordinance to allow ATVs to cross the bridge from the Houghton side. The Hancock City Council has not taken any official position but they are supportive of the bill.

"I'm hoping the bill passes," Anderson told Keweenaw Now.

The ATV trails end on each side of the bridge, so there is a gap. At present, ATVs can cross the bridge from the Hancock side only with an escort. Anderson pointed out that ATVs can now go the same speed as the traffic on the bridge and might actually cause more of a hazard with an escort, requiring them to go more slowly than the 25 m.p.h. speed limit.

Scott Dianda answers questions from members of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce at their Dec. 6 meeting in Houghton. Glenn Anderson, Hancock city manager, third from left at table in background, asked about new pending legislation on ATVs and on the mining severance tax.

Dianda said he is supportive of allowing ATVs to cross the bridge.

"As far as the bridge crossing goes, I think they should be able in the summertime to go across there with a 4-wheeler (if they have a 5- or 6-foot red flag on the back)," Dianda said. "We can't have a tourism area where they can't cross and get on this island."

Dianda also fielded questions on the current legislation for a mining severance tax and on eliminating personal property taxes. Here is an excerpt from the discussion on taxes:

Scott Dianda answers questions on the mining severance tax and personal property taxes. Gov. Snyder signed recent legislation on both of these yesterday, Dec. 20, 2012.

Dianda said he was in favor of the original severance tax that gave 100 percent of revenue to the local units of government, schools, etc.-- who would normally benefit from the property taxes that the severance tax would replace -- but he is concerned now that the tax is 65 percent local revenue and 35 percent to a state fund. He said he hoped the Governor would be fair since the UP has only four votes (in the House) compared to 106 for the Lower Peninsula.****

In his talk with Chamber of Commerce members, Dianda expressed his wish to stay in communication with them. He has publicly posted his cell phone number and invited constituents to contact him. While his official State House of Representatives Web site will not be available until the January session, Dianda can be reached at (906) 369-3338 or by email at sjdianda@gmail.com.

Notes:

* The 110th District includes these counties: Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Marquette (partial), and Ontonagon.

** Click here to see the US Army Corps of Engineers Web page on the Keweenaw Waterway.

*** Click here for SB 1020.

****The mining severance tax (HB 6007-6012) was passed by both houses of the Michigan Legislature this month and was approved by Gov. Snyder on Dec. 20, 2012. Click here to access these bills, now referred to as PA 410 of 2012. Click here for an article on Gov. Snyder's approval of this severance tax legislation and also the personal property tax bill. Click here for the Michigan.gov article on bills Gov. Snyder signed on Dec. 20, 2012.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rozsa Center family Christmas celebration to include "Ana's Angels" Benefit for Olsson family

The Rozsa Center, brightly decorated for the holidays, will be the scene of a special Christmas celebration and Ana Olsson Benefit Friday, Dec. 21. (Photo courtesy Rozsa Center)

HOUGHTON -- Let’s get 1000 people to the Rozsa Center on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, in support of the Olsson family, for a very special community Christmas celebration -- a family holiday event and Ana Olsson Benefit.

Evening highlights include an original presentation of "The Night Before Christmas" by the students of the Michigan Tech Youth Dance Program along with select members of the Michigan Tech Dance Team and Tech Cheer Team, followed by a screening of the Walt Disney Studio's 1983 film, Mickey's Christmas Carol, in the Rozsa theater. The dance and movie will begin at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $8.

An Ana Olsson Benefit Bake Sale and Silent Auction will be ongoing in the Lobby, from 7 p.m. - 10 p.m. And why do we need to meet the goal of 1000 tickets sold? Because most exciting of all, a major contribution by the Brule Family Foundation has created a "challenge donation" that will match a $5 donation to the Ana Olsson benefit for every ticket sold to this event!

A narrator will read the beloved Christmas story, "A Night Before Christmas," as the young dancers, "asleep in their beds," become "visions of sugar plums." And while "nothing was stirring, not even a mouse," little tumbling toddlers will bound around a Christmas tree on stage! Speaking of little mice, following this endearing performance by our local budding dancers, guests will be treated to a beloved animated movie featuring every child’s favorite character, Mickey Mouse! Mickey stars as the over-worked, underpaid employee of Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol. Mickey is joined by such Disney notables as Scrooge McDuck as miserly Scrooge, Donald Duck as Scrooge’s affable nephew, Goofy as a clumsy version of Marley’s Ghost, and Jiminy Cricket, Willie The Giant, and Pete -- and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Enjoy a heartwarming evening in the beautiful Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts as we show our support for the Olssons as they deal with Ana’s illness. Free hot chocolate and child-friendly beverages will be provided. For details on how to donate to the bake sale or silent auction, please contact benefit organizer Joyce Smith, (906) 281-1042. (Please note this corrected phone number.)

Tickets for the entire evening are $8. To purchase tickets, please call (906) 487-2073, go online at rozsa.mtu.edu, or visit Ticketing Operations at Michigan Tech’s Student Development Complex (SDC), 600 MacInnes Drive, in Houghton.

Performance tickets are not required for participation in the bake sale or silent auction portion of the benefit, although ticket sales will directly result in donations to the Ana Olsson benefit. SDC box office hours are 8 a.m. - 9 p.m., Monday-Friday. Please note the Rozsa Box Office is closed during regular business hours, and will only open two hours prior to show times.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Detroit Free Press: "Snyder vetoes concealed weapons bill"

LANSING -- At 3:54 p.m. today the Detroit Free Press posted this update: "Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill this afternoon that would have allowed gun owners with extra training to carry their concealed weapons in schools, day care centers, churches and stadiums.

"In his veto letter sent to the Legislature shortly before 4 p.m., Snyder said the bill had a fatal loophole that didn’t allow for those institutions to opt out of the new legislation and prohibit weapons from their buildings," the article states.

Earlier today, the Free Press posted an article noting religious leaders and other concerned citizens were writing to the Governor, asking him to veto the legislation, and were planning a vigil outside his office for 4 p.m. today.

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin also urged Snyder to veto the "flawed" legislation.*

The Free Press noted, "The veto comes just four days after a horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which a heavily armed 20-year-old muscled his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six adults."**

*See "Sen. Levin urges Gov. Snyder to veto concealed-weapons bill passed by Michigan Legislature."

** Click here to read the Detroit Free Press article on the veto.

Dec. 18 is deadline for comments on Orvana's wetlands, inland lakes and streams permit for Copperwood Mine

LANSING -- Today, Dec. 18, 2012, is the deadline for public comments on Orvana Corporation's revised application for the wetlands, inland lakes and streams permit needed to construct the Copperwood Mine north of Wakefield in Gogebic County.

In response to comments from the public, Native American tribes, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), the applicant made numerous improvements to its original submittal. The withdrawal and resubmittal of this application allows regulators to consider a single permit application instead of the original application with multiple corrected documents, and was necessary because of a pending deadline for resolving EPA concerns with the original application.

According to the DEQ, the revised application includes the following major improvements:
  • An improved analysis of alternatives for reducing environmental impact, including a detailed review of the feasibility of placing tailings back in the mine.
  • Utilizing natural channel design (versus ditches) for channels diverting existing streams around the proposed tailings basin. The new design incorporates wetland creation in the floodplain of the new stream channels.
  • Raising the height of the tailings basin to reduce its footprint.
  • Modifications of facilities to slightly reduce wetland impacts.
  • Adding two preservation tracts totaling 820 acres to the wetland mitigation plan.
  • Improving the stream mitigation plan by the creation of 10,500 feet of natural stream channel and replacement of a culvert on Two Mile Creek that is blocking brook trout passage on a tributary to the Wild and Scenic Cisco Branch of the Ontonagon River.
  • More accurately characterizing the length of streams impacted by the tailings basin.
The application can be reviewed at www.deq.state.mi.us/ciwpis and enter file number 12-27-0050-P. Comments can be submitted electronically from this site.  Or CLICK HERE to go directly to the comment form.

Editor's Note: 
See our two July 2012 articles on the June 28, 2012, MDEQ public hearing on the Orvana project:  "MDEQ hearing on Orvana Copperwood air, water quality permits: Part 1, Questions"  and "MDEQ public hearing on Orvana Copperwood mine: Part 2."

Portage Library offers Food for Fines program throughout the Holidays

HOUGHTON -- The Portage Lake District Library is offering its Food for Fines program during the months of December and January. Patrons can pay up to $10 in overdue fines by bringing non-perishable food items to the library. The food will be donated to local food pantries.

Patrons are encouraged to bring small, individual sized portions for recipients of Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly programs. Large family size packages and canned goods will be donated to the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. Foods that have reached the expiration date or are close to it will not be accepted.

The Food for Fines program is for overdue fines only and does not include money owed to the library for lost or damaged materials. Those who wish to contribute food yet have no library fines are welcome to do so. All donations will be immensely appreciated.

The library staff thanks everyone who is participating in the Food for Fines program and wishes everyone a Happy Holiday season.

Sen. Levin urges Gov. Snyder to veto concealed-weapons bill passed by Michigan Legislature

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Monday, Dec. 17, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., urged Governor Snyder to veto the concealed-weapons bill approved by a lame-duck session of the Michigan Legislature last week.  Levin’s statement follows:

"Governor Snyder is considering whether to sign a flawed concealed-weapons bill passed in a lame-duck vote of the Michigan Legislature. The arguments in favor of this bill were flawed before last Friday. Now, it is unthinkable that Michigan would make it easier to bring weapons closer to our children in their schools."

Editor's Notes:
The bill in question, Senate Bill 59, was passed by Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature on Thursday, Dec. 13, during the lame-duck session, the day before the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Click here to read an analysis of the bill.

See also this Detroit Free Press article, posted today, Dec. 18, 2012: "Some fear gun bill on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's desk could put public schools at risk." 
The article points out errors in the bill that fail to protect schools. It also notes several religious leaders have written to Snyder stating their opposition to the bill and religious groups plan a vigil outside his office at 4 p.m. today.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board recommends recreation projects, land acquisitions totaling $23,538,700

LANSING -- The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) board of trustees recently recommended to the Michigan Legislature that 76 recreation development projects and land acquisitions totaling $23,538,700 be funded in 2013. The board this year considered a total of 142 applications seeking $37,880,200 in funding. In a competitive process, all eligible applications were evaluated based on scoring criteria developed by the MNRTF board.

Local Upper Peninsula projects recommended include the following:
  • Baraga County: Village of Baraga, Marina Peninsula Boardwalk Project -- $50,000
    Development to include a boardwalk at the Baraga Marina Peninsula.
  • Gogebic County: City of Ironwood, Michigan’s Western Gateway Trail Improvements -- $225,000
    Development to include multi-use non-motorized paved recreational trail starting at Ironwood and connecting to Hurley, Wisconsin, at the western end. It will traverse easterly through cities of Bessemer and Wakefield.
  • Iron County: City of Iron River, Nelson Field Accessibility Improvements -- $49,900
    Development to include ADA-accessible pathways, connector path, viewing platform, new entrance ticket booth/storage shed, and grandstand back railing extension.
  • Keweenaw County: Grant Township, Grant Township Park/Copper Harbor Playground Renovation -- $49,000
    Development to include replacing playground equipment and surfacing in Grant Township Park.
  • Marquette County: City of Marquette, McCarty’s Cove Permanent Restrooms -- $88,800
    Development to include permanent restrooms at McCarty's Cove.
  • Marquette County: Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority, Iron Ore Heritage Trail-Tilden Township Section Development -- $281,000
    Development to include a 4.8-mile interpretive heritage trail from Winthrop Junction to Ely Township, providing a continuous trail from Kawbawgam Junction to Chocolay Township to Ely Township (approximately 32 miles). 
"Michigan’s natural resources and recreation opportunities are a big part of what is driving our state’s reinvention," said Gov. Rick Snyder. "I applaud the Trust Fund board for recommending the kind of investment that builds on the appeal of our great outdoor spaces for long-term economic and quality-of-life rewards in communities throughout Michigan."

The Trust Fund board can recommend funding for both development projects and acquisitions to local and state agencies. This year, it awarded $14,466,500 for acquisition grants and $9,072,200 for development grants. Seventeen grants were awarded to local units of government for a total of $11,956,500 for acquisitions, while five acquisition grants went to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for projects totaling $2,510,000. For recreation development projects, the board recommended a total of $7,822,200 be awarded to 49 local units of government while five DNR projects garnered a total of $1,250,000.

"The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund provides tremendous support to communities that want to offer residents and visitors quality recreation opportunities, while ensuring broad public access to hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation in Michigan’s special, scenic places," said DNR Director Keith Creagh.

The MNRTF is a restricted fund that was established in 1976 to provide funding for public acquisition of lands for resource protection and outdoor recreation. It is funded through interest earned on funds derived from the development of state-owned minerals. In 1985, Michigan voters chose to make the MNRTF part of Michigan's constitution, ensuring the program's future.

The Trust Fund board’s recommendations will go to the Michigan Legislature for review as part of the appropriations process. The Legislature then forwards a bill to the governor for his approval.

A list of the final recommendations made by the Trust Fund board is available at www.michigan.gov/mnrtf.