Swastika found at cemetery

JACKSON, Mich. (AP) — A swastika has been found in a Jackson County cemetery where World War II soldiers are buried.
Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies has reported the vandalism at the Mount Evergreen Cemetery to the police department. Authorities believe it happened before the weekend, possibly early Friday morning.
City officials say about 120 WWII veterans are buried at the cemetery in Jackson.
The vandalism has upset members of the community.
Yasirah Nelson’s great-grandfather is buried at the cemetery.
She says Nazis invaded his city in Germany, prompting him to flee to the U.S. and join the Army in 1941. She hopes the person responsible for the vandalism will learn more about WWII and its lasting impact.

Port Huron to open sledding hill at park this summer

By JACKIE SMITH
Port Huron Times Herald
AP Member Exchange
PORT HURON— Soon, the winter won’t be the only time local families can go sledding at Palmer Park.
Two artificial ramps for a sledding hill will open up later this month to the public, and those interested will be able to take out tubes to give them a test ride at no cost. Port Huron received an award in 2018 from the KaBOOM! and Ralph C. Wilson Jr. foundations, as part of a “Play Everywhere Challenge” program, to pay for the feature.
City officials, touting it as just the second sledding feature of its kind in the state, recently gave the ramp a test drive. Officials said they still have to finish getting equipment in place, and City Manager James Freed said the city is waiting a couple more weeks because of staffing.
Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Winzer said they’ll celebrate its opening today, the Port Huron Times Herald reported.
“One of our major goals is to provide innovative play in our playgrounds, and we feel that in innovative play, we’re getting kids outside and getting them active,” she said. “Obviously, they have many options on their phones and tablets, so we have to be very creative to get them to want to be outside.”
The KaBOOM! and Wilson foundations have also been involved in other efforts in the city, including the 2018 custom-built playscape at Optimist Park and the ongoing effort to revitalize that park’s skateboarding facilities.
Winzer said they’re also waiting to hear back on two other efforts, but she added it was too soon to divulge what those projects were.
Earlier this month, the city promoted a race down the Palmer Park sledding ramp between Freed and Mayor Pauline Repp, citing a casual challenge after the grant agreement was approved by City Council members last year.
At the time, Winzer said they discovered the sledding ramp idea at a conference and that followed the city’s effort to implement opportunities with free play activities for kids.
She said the only other feature of its kind in the state was at the Detroit Zoo.
The $40,000 grant from KaBOOM! and Ralph C. Wilson funded the 150-foot ramps and accompanying tubes.
The actual sledding feature was slated to cost a little more than $31,000, and Winzer has said the remaining funds would go to pay for any amenities related to it.
She said they haven’t decided yet if that’ll include a smaller ramp for small children.
The sledding ramps are aimed to be used all year round. For now, Winzer said they aren’t charging anyone interested in giving it a run, although they may have to consider a nominal charge down the road.
She said the current ramps can be used by anyone ages 4 and up. A trailer will be located outside to help facilitate its use.

Overflowing Great Lakes pose new threat for endangered bird

By JOHN FLESHER
AP Environmental Writer
GLEN HAVEN — Peering through a spotting scope mounted on a tripod, researcher Alice Van Zoeren notices a piping plover skittering across a sandy, pebble-strewn Lake Michigan beach and hopping into a nest, swapping places with its mate.
“Nest exchange! Did you see it?” Van Zoeren calls to colleagues. Male and female plovers take turns incubating their eggs, and this pair’s flawless changing of the guard is a healthy sign.
Yet trouble is brewing for them — and for other piping plovers, already one of the Great Lakes region’s most endangered species — as water levels surge during a rain-soaked spring that has flooded large areas of the Midwest.
Pools are forming behind several nests along this beach at Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And the big lake — gray and slightly rippling on an overcast, breezy morning — has crept within a few yards of the plovers’ nesting zone.
Their home could be one storm away from destruction. And this is one of the most hospitable spots for the plump, sparrow-sized shorebirds. Conditions are worse in some places.
The Great Lakes are reaching some of their highest levels since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began keeping records 101 years ago. Streets, businesses and houses have flooded.
Many beaches are shrinking or submerged. For tourist-oriented businesses and waterfront homeowners accustomed to wide expanses of sand, that’s a worrisome development.
For piping plovers, it’s a mortal threat. Squeezed out of familiar turf, they move closer to places with trees and underbrush, where predators lurk, or even flee to urban areas. A pair recently took up residence on one of Chicago’s busiest Lake Michigan beaches.
“The high water levels really put them in danger more than most other species because their habitat has been greatly diminished,” said Vince Cavalieri, piping plover coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some nests on the Canadian side of the lakes have been swept away, he said.
The Great Lakes generally rise with the snowmelt and rainstorms of spring and dip during later dry spells. Those minor fluctuations happen within larger high and low periods that can last years.
But some scientists believe climate change is causing more frequent and intense shifts. Lakes Huron and Michigan hit record low levels in 2013 amid a lengthy slump.
An abrupt turnaround followed. Bitter winters froze lake surfaces and limited evaporation, while snowfall and spring downpours got heavier.
As parts of the nation’s midsection flooded this year, the lakes filled to the brim.
University of Michigan hydrologist Drew Gronewold and climate scientist Richard Rood concluded in a recent article that “rapid transitions between extreme high and low water levels in the Great Lakes represent the ‘new normal.’”
If so, the piping plovers’ situation could become more precarious. Their numbers already have plummeted with shoreline development. The federal government lists them as threatened in the northern Great Plains and along the Atlantic coast, where rising sea levels imperil their wintering grounds. But the Great Lakes population is endangered, hitting a low of just 12 breeding pairs in 1990.
Recovery projects are helping; 76 pairs were counted in 2017 and 67 last year. This year’s census is still underway but expected to yield similar results, said Cavalieri of the fish and wildlife service.
The next few weeks are crucial. Most of this year’s eggs will hatch by the end of June. If additional storms don’t wash away nests, a new batch of youngsters may survive.
But long-term prospects will be dicey until the waters recede.
Piping plovers are a migratory species, breeding during summers in the northern U.S. and Canada and heading south to winter in coastal areas from the Carolinas to Texas.
Once settled in, they spend lots of time on the ground — building nests, guarding eggs, darting about in search of food such as insects, spiders and crustaceans. Their plumage, a mixture of light browns and grays with a black collar, provides camouflage.
At Sleeping Bear Dunes, home to nearly half of the Great Lakes plovers during spring and summer, breeding grounds are roped off and posted with keep-out signs.
Nests are topped with cage-like enclosures that bar entry to predatory merlins, gulls, raccoons, foxes and coyotes but leave enough space between the wires for the plovers to enter and exit.
Unleashed dogs are the biggest problem, said Erica Adams, a National Park Service plover specialist. They’ve been known to spook the birds so badly that they abandon their nests.
In addition to serving as security guards, professionals and volunteers can perform emergency rescues if flooding is imminent.
Van Zoeren, a research assistant with a University of Minnesota team that bands plovers, recently removed eggs from a nearby island as a storm rolled in. They were stored in an incubation machine at the Sleeping Bear Dunes headquarters and returned to the nest after the lake calmed.
Even if the birds aren’t flooded out, the rising waters make their lives harder.
“It’s forcing them to use the same areas as birds they might not be used to neighboring with,” Adams said. “That increases competition, especially for the chicks that hatch this year. If they don’t have enough food, enough space to forage, they won’t have enough calories to make the journey down south.”

Follow John Flesher on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/johnflesher

GM spends $150M on factory

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — General Motors says it will spend $150 million so it can make more heavy-duty pickup trucks at its Flint, Michigan, assembly plant.
The money will improve the factory’s conveyor system and for other equipment to boost output.
The factory builds heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups which are all-new for the 2019 model year.
No new jobs are tied to the Wednesday announcement, but GM announced earlier this year that it would add 1,000 workers at the plant. The factory now runs three shifts per day and employs about 5,000.

Michigan House budget bars spending on new Detroit bridge

LANSING (AP) — Michigan’s transportation department could be prohibited from doing work related to construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Canada under a spending bill advanced Wednesday by House Republicans, drawing criticism from opposing lawmakers who say Canada already reimburses the state for its expenses.
Michigan currently is prohibited from paying for work on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, with an exception if Canada pays it back for activities such as design, engineering and land purchases on the U.S. side. That exemption would be removed under the budget measure approved by the House Appropriations Committee on a 17-12 party-line vote.
“We just want to create more transparency and clarify everything, and we’re working on a solution to make everyone happy,” said Rep. Matt Maddock, a Milford Republican who suggested a change would be made before the full House votes Thursday. “But the bridge will not be shut down. They’re not going to shut down construction on the bridge because that’s preposterous.”
Yet Democratic Rep. Joe Tate of Detroit expressed concern that the move might slow or halt construction of the $4.4 billion bridge that is expected to open in 2024. He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to continue letting the state transportation department accept cost reimbursements for Canada’s largest infrastructure project. The state spent $24.8 million from January through March.
“This not only creates immense economic development for Michiganians through jobs … but allows us the opportunity to strengthen Michigan’s relationship with its strongest trading partner,” Tate said.
In 2012, then-Gov. Rick Snyder and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a deal calling for Canada to pay for the bridge over the Detroit River after the Republican governor ran into opposition in the GOP-led Legislature.

Amash, impeachment supporter, quits a conservative group

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Justin Amash, the lone Republican calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, has quit the Freedom Caucus of House conservatives, his spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.
The split comes a few weeks after Amash called for the House to impeach Trump based on the details of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Several members of the Freedom Caucus said they were blindsided by Amash’s move, but he has stood by it, repeating his argument in detail on Twitter. Trump and many of his allies on Capitol Hill say the report and the Democrats’ investigations of Trump are drummed-up partisan exercises.
Amash’s departure from the caucus — he was one of the group’s founders — is a reflection of how closely the group is now tied to the president. While Amash’s views on small government have not changed, his break on impeachment has strained ties with his GOP colleagues.
Asked about Amash on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., criticized his voting record and said Amash “can determine his own future.” Philosophically, he said, Amash is “probably in a different place than the majority of all of us.”
Trump also has said he’s not impressed by Amash. But the Grand Rapids-area Republican hails from a state that Trump swiped from Democrats in 2016 and is driving to win again in 2020.
For his part, Amash has not said whether he will run for re-election to his House seat. He has left open the prospect of running for president in 2020 as a Libertarian, which could take away support from Trump.
At a town hall in his district May 28, he received standing ovations from many who saluted his “courage.” Amash also sparred with some former supporters who faulted him for embracing a Democratic “smear attack” against Trump.
Citing Mueller’s report, Amash said Trump had asked former White House counsel Don McGahn to create a “false record” denying that he had asked for Mueller’s removal as special counsel.

State bill boosts spending to combat lead, abusive clergy

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING — A $28.8 million mid-year spending bill that received final legislative approval Tuesday would allocate funding to help deal with tougher rules for lead in drinking water, investigate sexual abuse by clergy and replenish a compensation fund for wrongfully convicted inmates.
Also included in the measure is money to implement marijuana legalization and expanded voting ballot initiatives approved by voters last fall, prepare for the 2020 Census and expand a program that enables people getting food assistance benefits to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is expected to sign the legislation that sailed through the Republican-led Senate unanimously Tuesday, days after the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved it following changes.
The measure would allot:
≤ $10 million to a fund that assists exonerees. Whitmer last month line-item vetoed a separate bill that included the funding because of her policy of rejecting spending policy bills to uphold voters’ referendum rights.
≤ $635,000 for Attorney General Dana Nessel’s ongoing criminal probe of clergy abuse , which has resulted in charges against five former Catholic priests.
≤ $8 million to implement the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and the expansion of absentee voting and automatic voter registration.
≤ $2 million as part of Whitmer’s plan to help expand the Double Up Food Bucks program to all 83 counties and add retailers in the 65 counties where it is now offered. A match of up to $20 a day is given to food assistance recipients purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
≤ $3 million for public health services needed as a result of Michigan passing the country’s toughest lead rules in the wake of Flint’s water crisis. The rules are expected to result in more community drinking water systems testing above the safety level for lead. The funds would be used for public education, in-home water investigations and to buy water filters for low-income families. Large water suppliers in the Detroit area are challenging the rules in court, calling them a $2.5 billion unfunded mandate.
≤ $5 million to support outreach and preparation for citizen participation in the 2020 Census, a bid to ensure the state gets its fair share of federal funding that is based on population.
The bill also would reauthorize $11 million of $115 million in earmarks, or “enhancement grants,” that initially were approved by the Republican-led Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Snyder during the “lame-duck” session late last year.
The move is needed because of errors in that budget law, state spokesman Kurt Weiss said. Included is $2 million for the nonprofit Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association to develop a low-orbit launch site within the state.
Nessel issued a statement thanking legislators for their support for the wrongful imprisonment fund and the clergy probe, which began last year under her predecessor.
“By allocating $635,000 toward the clergy abuse investigation, Michigan has chosen to give a voice to the survivors of sexual abuse,” she said. “While additional funds will be needed to complete this investigation, this money will allow our office to provide victim advocates to those who are coming forward with credible allegations of abuse while also streamlining, digitizing and managing the over 1.5 million documents that were seized pursuant to search warrants.”
Whitmer and lawmakers continue work on the budget for the next full fiscal year that starts in October. A divided House on Tuesday approved spending plans for prisons, the judiciary, agriculture, state police and military.

Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

Women seeking abortion get offer

YALE, Mich. (AP) — A hotel manager in Michigan’s rural Thumb region is offering free lodging to women who come from states that have passed tough abortion restrictions to have the procedure.
The Detroit Free Press reports Yale Hotel manager Shelley O’Brien proffered an invitation on Facebook that includes roundtrip transportation to appointments. O’Brien, a 55-year-old mother and grandmother, says she wants to help women “maintain autonomy” over their bodies.
Several conservative states such as Alabama and Missouri have passed restrictions taking aim at the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion across the United States. Many such laws are being challenged in the courts and may not go into effect. Michigan currently has less restrictive abortion laws.
O’Brien tells the newspaper in a story first published Friday nobody has taken her up on the offer.
She could not be reached Monday by The Associated Press for comment.

Google has state expansion plans

TAYLOR, Mich. (AP) — Google is committing to spend $17 million to upgrade and expand offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor, a move the tech giant says will give it the capacity to “significantly” increase its Michigan workforce in coming years.
Google has more than 600 employees statewide.
The company announced it plans Monday at a “Grow with Google” workshop in Taylor, while declining to say how many jobs it may add.
Google says once the office expansions are done, its footprint will total more than 260,000 square feet across Michigan. The announcement was applauded by elected officials such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Gary Peters. Google’s workshops focus on improving small businesses’ online presence with digital skills. Additional workshops are being held in Grand Rapids and Jackson this week.

22 caught in Michigan sting targeting child sex solicitation

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Authorities in Michigan say they’ve arrested 22 people as part of an online child sex sting targeting suspects who are accused of soliciting sex with children.
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell announced the arrests Sunday and says they were believed to be targeting children for sexual purposes in Genesee County. He says some live in the county and others are from Saginaw, Shiawassee, Oakland, Wayne, Lapeer and Tuscola counties.
Pickell wrote in a Facebook post that the investigation is “a sobering reminder that we must be more vigilant than ever protecting our children.”
The sheriff said Monday an online ad was put up to draw suspects as part of the investigation, which involved the newly formed Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team, or GHOST.
He says the team also arrested a person suspected of sexually assaulting a 2-year-old and another accused of sexually assaulting a 6-year-old.