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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Gov. Whitmer calls on Federal Government to surge more vaccines to Michigan, urges voluntary 2-week suspension of some activities

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, give an update on vaccines during a press conference on Apr. 9. (Photo courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING -- At a press conference in Lansing on Friday, Apr. 9, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that Michigan would hit more than five million vaccinations by the end of the day. However, while vaccine supply has increased dramatically since the Biden Administration took office, the state is currently experiencing a serious spike in COVID-19 cases that is putting pressure on Michigan hospital systems. To slow the spread of the virus and protect more Michiganders, the governor renewed her call for the federal government to surge additional vaccines to Michigan, while also urging high schools to shift to remote learning, encouraging diners to choose outdoor dining or takeout instead of indoor seating, and recommending youth sports suspend in-person activities for the next two weeks.

"Administering more than five million doses of the safe and effective COVID vaccine in under four months is a big deal, but we’ve still got a lot more work to do," said Governor Whitmer. "Right now our numbers are alarming, and we all have a role to play to get our state moving in the right direction again. That’s why I’m renewing my call on the federal government to surge additional vaccines to our state. And it’s why I’m urging high schools and youth sports to voluntarily suspend in-person activities for the next two weeks. This is a team effort. It's on all of us to do our part by masking up and getting vaccinated to protect ourselves and our families, so we can get back to normal. Let’s get it done."

To date, Michigan has administered more than five million vaccines, moving the state closer to its goal of equitably vaccinating at least 70 percent of Michiganders ages 16 and older as soon as possible.

While many states across the country have dropped basic health protocols altogether, the State of Michigan continues to implement smart health policies and mitigation measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, including a statewide mask mandate, limits on indoor social gatherings larger than 25 people, expanded testing requirements for youth sports, and dozens of pop-up testing sites across the state. 

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun -- chief medical executive, chief deputy for health, and a parent and former student athlete herself -- joined the Governor in urging parents and young athletes to avoid COVID-19 risks.

"We’ve seen that the younger population has played a significant role in transmission during this most recent spike," Dr. Khaldun said. "I urge youth sports organizers to pause in-person activities for the next couple weeks, and as always, mask up, wash your hands, social distance and get your safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are able."

Over the last few weeks, Michigan has tracked outbreaks associated with youth sports. To prevent additional outbreaks, Governor Whitmer is urging youth sports on both school-sponsored and non-school-sponsored teams to suspend in-person activities, like games and practices, for the next two weeks. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) requires testing for youth sports between the ages of 13-19, and provides testing assistance through the MI Safer Sports testing program, which expanded weekly testing protocols for athletes and teams. For all youth sports, participants must test on at least a weekly basis for COVID-19, and also before any unmasked activity.

"MSYSA appreciates Governor Whitmer providing us the opportunity to review our specific risk mitigation strategies and return to play guidelines," said Thomas Faro, Executive Director of Michigan State Youth Soccer Association, Inc. "We acknowledge the need for our members to continue to do their part with the consistent use of facial coverings and social distancing so that children can play soccer."

In addition, Governor Whitmer is asking high schools to utilize virtual instruction for the next two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19. MDHHS issued guidance to schools strongly encouraging them to enroll in the department’s testing program if they are open to in-person instruction. Additionally, the state is offering 56 pop-up sites located throughout Michigan as part of the special program in an effort to increase access to testing for Michiganders returning from Spring Break. For more information on additional test sites, visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirustest

Governor Whitmer is also urging Michiganders to avoid dining indoors and avoid gathering with friends indoors for two weeks. The unfortunate nature of this deadly virus is that it spreads quickly when people are gathered indoors without masks for an extended period of time. By opting to dine outdoors or order takeout, restaurants can remain open while operating safely to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.*

For the latest information on Michigan’s response to COVID-19, please visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirus. You may also call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136, or email COVID-19@michigan.gov.

* Editor's Note: According to the latest Briefing from Copper Country Strong, Houghton County has the highest rate of COVID-19 positivity, 7.5 percent, and the lowest percentage of vaccine coverage for the population over 16, 23.23 percent, in the 5-county area covered by the Western UP Health Department. Click on Copper Country Strong in our right column to see the latest numbers and announcements.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hancock City Council approves MNRTF grant application, following public support; City Council to meet TONIGHT, Apr. 7

By Michele Bourdieu

This new City of Hancock logo was approved at the March 30, 2021, Special Hancock City Council meeting. (Image courtesy City of Hancock)

HANCOCK -- At a special meeting and public hearing on March 30, the Hancock City Council heard comments from local residents on their proposed Resolution 21-05 Submission of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) Acquisition Grant application for the Navy Street Trail.

Several comments were received during the public hearing supporting the application for this grant, which, if received, would allow the City to purchase 1000 feet of the Navy Street Trail and allow public access to the waterfront trail that is now owned by Carmody Lahti Real Estate and Finlandia University.*

The green line on this map shows the Navy Street Trail in Hancock, along the Portage Waterway. The City of Hancock hopes to acquire public access to this waterfront property through a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) land acquisition grant. (Keweenaw Now file photo courtesy City of Hancock)

During the March 30 meeting, following the public hearing, the Council voted and unanimously approved the Resolution to submit the grant application.

Thanks to Joshua Vissers, editor and publisher of Late Edition, the video recording of that virtual meeting, including the public hearing, is now available on YouTube HERE.

Residents, community leaders support MNRTF grant application

During the meeting, Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock also read a list of names of several persons who sent letters in support of the grant application. Here are some excerpts from those letters:

Kurt Rickard, Hancock Planning Commission chairperson, confirmed that the Planning Commission voted unanimously on March 22, 2021 to support the grant application.

"This project meets the City's planning needs, identified in the Master Plan, by continuing the goal to connect the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on the east to the Maasto Hiihto on the west side Hancock," Rickard states in his letter to Hancock Mayor Paul LaBine.

Finlandia University President Philip Johnson sent the Council a copy of his statement of support to the Trust Fund, noting the following:

"The acquisition of 1,000 feet of waterfront property at this location will allow the City to begin linking existing recreational facilities with a single, multiuse recreational trail. A successful application will advance the City's master plan to achieve the following:
1)    increase community connection to the waterfront;
2)    develop the area's trail system;
3)    expand safe recreational biking;
4)    invest in general outdoor recreational development; and
5)    acquire, when possible, properties along the waterfront that hold promise for such plans."

Jay Green, Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club president, sent a letter of support from KNSC, stating in part, "We feel this would be a great opportunity to ensure the use of the waterfront trail for years to come. The trail adds to the enjoyment of the City's natural amenities. Connecting to the Waterfront Porvoo Park enhances the experience for both local residents and visitors enjoying the City. Porvoo Park adds amenities of bathrooms, seating, and a pavilion that the trail can take advantage of.

"Currently the trail is popular as a daily walking destination for dog walkers, fishermen and bird watchers along with the general public. Several years ago it was the route taken for the Chain Drive mountain bike race heading from the bridge to the Maasto Hiihto Trail System."

John Diebel, KNSC treasurer, spoke at the hearing and also sent a letter of support, noting his own observations of wildlife on the waterfront trail: "There is currently an active beaver lodge on the property. My pre-dawn dog walks there are often enlivened by the sound of beavers slapping their tails on the water at my approach. Nor is it unusual for my headlamp to catch the reflection of fox eyes ahead of me on the trail. Just yesterday from the second floor of our house my wife spied a bald eagle cruising over the proposed acquisition looking for open water. During the summer along the snowmobile trail near the property and the waterfront walking trail my wife and I have seen Baltimore orioles, American redstarts, brown thrashers, pileated woodpeckers, great horned owls, bald eagles and a variety of song birds. Once back in the late 1980s a moose even wandered down the snowmobile trail one summer morning and swam to the south side of Portage Lake from the area before continuing his journey up to South Range. Though a relatively small and narrow green space, it provides the opportunity for users to encounter a variety of wildlife."

Lisa McKenzie, former Hancock mayor, also sent her support for the Waterfront Trail and acquisition of parcels.

"Over the years, the City of Hancock Council and various Commissions have planned and worked to develop and promote community access to the waterfront," McKenzie writes. "I support the acquisition of any parcels for accessibility and recreational development opportunities for our community."

In letters to City Manager Mary Babcock, Sue Ellen Kingsley and her husband, Terry Kinzel, active supporters of the Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids trails, both expressed their support for the grant application. Kingsley writes, "Even though I live in Hancock Township, as a cyclist/pedestrian who frequently spends time in Hancock, I have often longed for a waterfront trail to enjoy. This seems like a grand opportunity for the City of Hancock to enrich the lives of present and future residents and visitors of not just Hancock, but all of Houghton County. We have all seen how our quality of life has improved with the walking/biking waterfront trail in Houghton, a trail that is heavily used for both recreation and commuting. A similar facility in Hancock would immeasurably add to the city's -- and the county's -- appeal for residents and tourists alike."

Jeff Ratcliffe, executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) states in a letter to Babcock that the project furthers KEDA's Strategic Plan goals in addition to the City's: "Developing amenities such as this waterfront trail and park system is critical to our ability to attract and retain talent for our universities, hospitals, manufacturing and technology companies. The City of Hancock is to be commended for pursuing development of this project."

Jeannie DeClerck, coordinator of the Hancock Beautification Group, notes, "It's a lovely spot. Few cities are fortunate enough to have such an extended stretch of undeveloped land along a waterfront. With little public investment, it already draws anglers, pedestrians, dog walkers, and visitors who enjoy 'forest bathing' from spring until winter. Purchasing it for public use will assure that the people of Hancock will continue to take advantage of this unique natural sanctuary for decades to come."

Local resident Mary Eckhart, who belongs to a women's hiking group, also told Babcock of her support for the project: "Our group is just a small representation of many people who are outdoor enthusiasts. I believe that this trail would be appreciated and well utilized. I see it as an economic asset to the community. The trail has the potential to bring outdoor enthusiasts to the community in addition to supporting opportunities for leisure, health and fitness to the residents of Hancock."

Dan Dalquist, representing the Keweenaw Trekkers -- a mountain bike group that has used the Maasto Hiihto-­Churning Rapids trails for over 30 years and started the former Chain Drive bike race in Hancock -- states, "This section will help the bicycling community with legal access to transit thru Hancock. Walkers and runners will also benefit."

Longtime Hancock resident Emily Dekker-Fiala also sent a letter on the importance of acquiring this trail for hikers and bicycle enthusiasts. She asked the City to be pro-active in acquiring this trail for the public, noting, "Since the pandemic stay-at-home order of last March, I have noticed an upsurge in the use of all of our trails. Some people are just discovering their community trails and others are getting out and walking more often for the fitness and therapeutic values. I expect that some of this new use will continue after we find our 'new normal.' The Navy Street route is a hidden gem that many people have not discovered, but it has walkers of all ages enjoying it and it will grow in popularity. Nonmotorized access along the waterfront is a huge asset for residents and visitors alike."

Hancock City Council to meet April 7

The Hancock City Council will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, April 7, in the City Council Chambers in Hancock. The meeting will also be on Zoom. Click here for the agenda. You can access the meeting on Zoom here:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82969366390
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 829 6936 6390

*Editor's Note: See our March 30, 2021, article, "TODAY City of Hancock to hold PUBLIC HEARING on MNRTF acquisition grant application for Navy Street Trail access."