Kent Country Recycling Fees to Increase in 2017

Environmentally responsible practices may be trendier than ever, but they’re generally worth the effort. If just 20% of American households switched to electronic billing in lieu of paper invoices, we’d save 151 million pounds of paper every year. But for households that still utilize paper products, recycling programs are often a great option to offset the waste.

Most citizens know that recycling regularly can help protect the planet. After all, recycling one ton of cardboard saves over nine cubic yards of landfill space. However, ecological sustainability doesn’t automatically translate to financial sustainability. One recycling plant in Kent County has found that its practices are no longer economically viable, resulting in an increase of their recycling rates. If Kent County businesses want to go green, they may have to fork over more green to do so.

When the county first opened the recycling facility in 2010, it was able to actually turn a profit by selling the commodities it produced, such as plastic, aluminum, and tin. Profits continued to rise until 2011, when the prices of those commodities started to drop due to changes in the marketplace, like the lowered price of oil. In 2011, Kent County was able to get around $152 a ton for those commodities, but by 2015, they could fetch only about half that price. Last year, their losses totaled $1.6 million.

The facility has been in the red for the last four years. Darwin Baas, the director of Kent County Public Works, says that the losses simply weren’t sustainable. As of January 1, 2017, the county implemented a new fee schedule with a goal of making recycling a sustainable undertaking once more.

For local waste haulers, the recycling fees will come to $35 a ton. If you’re bringing loads from outside Kent County, those fees increase to $40 a ton. “That allows us to operate at a break-even point, which is what we need,” said Baas.

Last year, the county put a $10/ton fee in place as an attempt to replace lost revenue, but that clearly wasn’t enough to bridge the gap. Annual operating expenses total around $4 million, so the facility needed much more than the anticipated revenue of less than $2.5 million in 2015. These new increased fees will provide nearly 38% of the facility’s overall budget; the remainder still comes from the sales of commodities.

Adding to the financial crisis are the costs tied to contamination of the materials they receive at the facility. Baas estimates that around 15% of the materials they get can be labeled as non-recyclables or contamination. They regularly receive Styrofoam, tarps, and brake rotors at the facility, all of which have to be removed and disposed of. The county budgets $150,000 a year for this sole purpose.

One incident was even more catastrophic. A partially full cylinder of propane was unknowingly brought to the facility and caused an explosion, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

And while businesses are expected to bear the burden of these increased costs, the Director of Public Services, James Hurt, noted that individual residents shouldn’t be concerned about increasing bills.

“We are not intending to pass that cost on to our residents, to our customers as an additional cost,” he said. “Our community recycles enormously; it’s a very strong recycling community. We certainly don’t want to deter recycling from occurring.”

Hurt went on to say that the increased fees are built into the city’s current budget, and that he anticipates the city will continue to absorb those fees throughout the year.

“Recycling is important,” he said. “It’s one of our core values. We want to continue to promote that.”

Grand Rapids Parks Department Plans Major Upgrades for 2017

The new calendar year promises to be a big one for Grand Rapids City Parks, with new upgrades, renovations, and additional features planned for more than half a dozen of the area’s green spaces.

Construction plans for 2017 are in the works for Bike Park and Clemente Park in the southwest; Alexander Park in the southeast; and Huff Park, Aberdeen Park, and Ball Perkins Park in the northeast.

The Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department has also announced plans to bring four concrete ping-pong tables to area parks, though their locations are being largely left up to the public to decide.

Earlier this month, the department put up a call for comments on its Facebook page, asking users where they would like to see an outdoor ping-pong table installed. So far, the post has received hundreds of suggestions, with Cherry Park, Riverside, and Wilcox Park leading the pack so far. The top six suggestions will become finalists for a full public vote.

“As a part of the master plan we’ve been floating ideas like this,” said David Marquardt, director of the parks and recreation department. “The feedback we’ve been getting has been positive, and we see this as a ‘quick win’ as a part of the master plan process.”

The park plans for 2017 come in the wake of a highly successful year for park renovations in Grand Rapids. A recent poll of urban residents around the globe found that 52% of people chose green spaces as the feature they’d most like to see more of in their cities. To that end, more than $2.5 million of federal grant money was spent in 2016 upgrading community parks, including a new walking path in Camelot Park and a picnic shelter at Mary Waters Park. A new playground, splash pad, and picnic area with restroom facilities is set to open at Campau Park at Delaware and Commons in spring 2017.

Many of the proposed upgrades for 2017 will be discussed in neighborhood meetings this month and next, to hear community input on the projects and developments.

East Grand Rapids Aims to Make Leaf Pickup a Breeze

Autumn’s changing foliage may be beautiful, but those falling leaves can wreak havoc come winter. If you fail to take care of the leaves in your yard, the resulting build-up can lead to flooded streets when precipitation falls from the sky. What’s more, if leaves clog up your drain gutters, your home could sustain significant damage. Destruction from water and ice is more common than you might think. In fact, 20% of all insurance claims are related to some kind of water damage. Fortunately, residents in East Grand Rapids won’t have to worry as much about these damages, as they’re getting some much-needed help with their leaf cleanup duties.

The Public Works crews of East Grand Rapids work every week day to clear the streets of seemingly endless leaf piles. They often work overtime to ensure that all the piles are picked up. Not only does the service help homeowners keep their lawns looking clean, but it ensures that the streets remain traversable. Crew leader Jeff Stults says that the leaf removal helps to keep catch basins clean.

“If we don’t pick them up and they stay on the street, rain will plug the catch basin which will in turn lead to flooded streets,” says Stults.

Unlike those in neighboring cities who have to put their leaves in lawn bags, all East Grand Rapids residents have to do is rake their leaf piles to the curb. Understandably, it’s an immensely popular service. Space in the leaf program fills up quickly.

Not only does leaf removal help in the fall, but removing the leaves is vital when the first flakes of snow fall. If leaves are left under the snow, it makes for a much bigger mess come spring. By cleaning leaves out of their gutters on a regular basis, residents can prevent lawn mess, foundation damage, and ice dam formation. Although Public Works does not cover gutter cleaning, the program is a good reminder for homeowners not to put off leaf removal at their residence.

Public Works is also performing a conservatory service with their leaf pickup program. Nearly half of the 30,000 cubic yards of lawn waste material Public Works hauls out every year is just from defined leaf collection. All the leaves are brought to a landfill contractor who then recycles them to make fertilizer. Assistant City Manager Doug La Fave emphasizes that residents who participate in the program may see their leaves again in a different format: “They may end up coming back to their property depending on what product they buy and where they buy it from.”

East Grand Rapids will continue to make a giant pile of leaves behind the public works building until December 9th. After that, the leaves will be hauled off and be made into new materials that will give back to the earth.

Santa Parade Returns to Grand Rapids This Weekend

Image: Bailiwick Studios

Image: Bailiwick Studios

The annual Art Van Santa Parade will return to Grand Rapids on Saturday, November 19, with lots of familiar fun and some new twists.

This year’s theme is “Christmas Fun for Everyone,” which will be woven throughout the many costumes and decorations that will make their way through downtown. Over 100 entries are expected to participate in the parade, including a capstone appearance from Santa Claus himself.

“Downtown Grand Rapids will be filled with the sweet sounds of local marching bands, carolers, and local performers,” reads the event’s web page. “Entrants for the 2016 event will create unique entries around the theme, including costumes, music and floats based on popular and classic holiday songs.”

The parade will begin at 9 a.m., and will run along Monroe Avenue NW beginning at Michigan Street. The ceremonies will pass by DeVos Place, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, and the Rosa Parks Circle before ending near Charley’s Crab at Fulton Street.

The Santa Parade is a time-honored tradition in Grand Rapids, dating back to the late 1800s; it began as a way to encourage residents to start their holiday shopping in the downtown area. This year, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss will serve as Grand Marshal, and Nashville singer-songwriter Jacob Davis will also provide entertainment.

One of the highlights every year, for marchers and viewers alike, is the participation of dogs in the parade. Around 46.3 million American households have dogs, and an estimated 63% of them buy Christmas presents for their pups, too. This year, some 70 corgis and their owners will march in the parade, helping to raise awareness for Paws with a Cause, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that trains service dogs for people with disabilities.

The entire parade is organized by the Grand Rapids Jaycees and sponsored by ArtVan, as well as several other community organizations. The iconic Santa sleigh provided by the Jaycees last year, with a full team of reindeer riding over a snow-covered replica of the Blue Bridge, will make a return appearance. After the parade, families can get complimentary photos taken with Santa Claus in Rosa Parks Circle.

Holland Man Killed By Crane Tipping Accident

A recent accident at a Holland, MI construction company site proved fatal for one worker.

When a crane tipped over at Holland Equipment Services/A and B Farms on Tuesday, November 1st, the man operating the crane was killed. Allegan County Sheriff’s Captain Chris Kuhn reported to local media outlets that there were no direct witnesses to the incident. Though they know that the victim was operating the crane at the time, how the crane tipped over is a mystery.

In 2013, there were an estimated 4,405 fatal work injuries. Conditions on construction sites can be particularly hazardous due to the nature of the work. Because cranes are typically the largest piece of equipment on industrial work sites, they cause the majority of construction injuries. Although crane accidents can be caused by poor weather and falling debris, most are attributed to human error. They can easily be prevented by following safety regulations like enforcing the proper operational capacity, choosing the right crane for a given job, or simply setting it up correctly.

Although the most recent statistics for crane-related fatalities are from 2006, this type of accident has been fairly prevalent in the news within the past few years. As of 10 years ago, a total of 72 fatal crane-related injuries occurred in one year. Of those 72 fatal accidents, 30 were caused by being struck by falling objects, while only nine were a result of being struck by a crane. The remaining fatalities occurred when an object being carried by the crane fell onto workers below.

In the decade between 1997 and 2006, over 800 workplace fatalities could be attributed to crane accidents. Construction workers tend to be the most prone to these types of accidents, but electricians and welders also have an increased risk.

That’s why it’s so important for employers to follow OSHA standards. Not only will they keep their workers safe and on the job, but it can also save them a lot of money. Reducing the number of accidents even by 10% can result in nearly $60,000 in annual savings. That can make a big difference for small, privately owned construction companies.

The victim has not been identified in this case, and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be conducting a separate investigation regarding the incident.

Recalled Frozen Strawberries in Grand Rapids Linked to Hepatitis A Outbreak

Consumers in Grand Rapids and around the country are being urged to get a hepatitis A vaccine after a recent recall of potentially contaminated frozen strawberries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have determined that the recent outbreak of hepatitis A in several states across the nation is likely due to a shipment of contaminated frozen strawberries imported from a producer in Egypt. The berries were distributed to several food chains and local restaurants, and could pose a potential health hazard to anyone who consumed them.

One of the affected chains is Tropical Smoothie Café, which has three locations around the Grand Rapids area. So far, no cases of hepatitis A have been reported in Michigan, though there have been over 100 cases confirmed in Virginia, Maryland, New York, and West Virginia.

Local restaurants may also have received the contaminated frozen strawberries, including Biggby Coffee, Salvino’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill. An updated list of known and possible locations where the strawberries may have been served in Michigan can be found at the State Department of Health and Human Services website.

Every year, about 48 million people in the U.S. are infected with a foodborne illness, with approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. So far, the CDC has reported 52 hospitalizations from the outbreak. Although it is extremely rare, hepatitis A can sometimes be fatal.

Hepatitis A is a contagious disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Symptoms typically begin to appear 15 to 50 days after infection and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine and pale stool, according to the State Health Department.

Thankfully, vaccinations are available that can prevent the onset of the disease, even after ingesting contaminated foods. However, there is only a two-week window in which the vaccination will be effective, so consumers who have consumed strawberry-containing foods or beverages like smoothies, shakes, and sauces, at any of the possibly affected locations since October 22 should seek medical care immediately.

“The immunization is only effective up to 14 days after exposure, so it is important to contact your health care provider while you are in the 14 day window,” said Adam London, Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer. “If it has been longer than 14 days, you should be aware of the symptoms of Hepatitis A and if you become ill, contact your health care provider.”

Nearly 120 people in Kent County have already received hep A vaccinations as state and federal officials continue to purge the contaminated frozen strawberries from restaurant shelves. The shot is also part of a routine immunization schedule for many children. Adults over age 40 have the option of a hepatitis A virus-specific immunoglobulin (IG) in lieu of a vaccination.

Vaccines are capable of preventing more than 2.5 million deaths every year.

Doctors and Mothers Stress the Importance of Flu Shots

Flu season is officially upon us, and health officials in Grand Rapids and around the country are urging everyone to get their annual vaccine.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed two types of vaccines: a “regular dose” flu shot for people with healthy immune systems, and a “high dose” shot for older adults whose immune systems may have weakened with age.

Every year, many people are hesitant to get the flu vaccine, either because they don’t think they’ll be affected, they dislike needles, or they’re afraid the shot might actually give them the flu. Dr. Daniel McGee, a pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, maintains that those fears are unfounded.

“It will never give you the flu, it doesn’t work that way,” he told NBC News. “You can get muscle aches and a little bit of fever after the flu shot, but that just means it’s working. That doesn’t mean it’s giving you the flu.”

Even in the most mild of years, the influenza virus is said to account for 75 million absences from work and 200 million days of reduced workplace productivity. At its worst, it can be lethal, as some families learn the hard way.

Piper Lowery was just 12 years old when she died of the flu. But her mother, Peggy, is working to make sure that no one else has to suffer the same fate. Peggy is raising awareness with the Fight the Flu Foundation by knitting 100,000 infant hats to be donated to hospitals across the country.

“Believe me, I would take her back within a second,” she said. “But there’s been a lot of good that’s come out of this that’s helped other people. She’s impacted so many lives, I cannot tell you. I can’t go back and rewrite history.”

Like the CDC, Lowery wants to encourage everyone six months of age and older to get a new flu shot every year.

Michigan Men On Trial for Shaken Baby Syndrome to Challenge Diagnosis

Two Michigan men stand separately accused of murdering their partners’ children through violent force that resulted in Shaken Baby Syndrome. But according to their defense attorneys, that diagnosis may not hold up in a court of law.

Shaken Baby Syndrome, also referred to as abusive head trauma, is frequently tied to the presence of three fatal symptoms: bleeding behind the eyes, bleeding along the surface of the brain, and swelling of the brain. Yet the defense teams in both cases argue that those factors alone are not enough to determine physical abuse; they might be caused by falls, accidents, or preexisting injuries. Around 28,000 infants are born with a birth injury every year, for example.

Leo Ackley and Anthony Ball will separately stand trial for first-degree child abuse and murder in Calhoun County Circuit Court. Ackley was previously convicted for the death of his girlfriend’s two-year-old and sentenced to life in prison in 2012, but was granted a retrial next year after the Michigan Supreme Court determined his attorney at the time had neglected to “engage a single expert witness to rebut” testimony from the prosecution’s expert witness.

Ball, meanwhile, is accused of killing his fiancee’s 20-month-old in 2014. His defense attorney, Kimberly Schroder, argues that the injuries may have been caused by a car accident the child was involved in a few days before she died.

In both trials, however, the principal issue in question is whether Shaken Baby Syndrome has enough scientific evidence to be used for legal conviction.

“This case is really about Shaken Baby Syndrome… a highly controversial, unproven hypothesis unfit to serve as the basis for a murder prosecution,” Shcroder wrote in court proceedings.

The prosecution, however, remains unfazed. “This is not a Shaken Baby Syndrome case,” Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert said to the Washington Post. “It implies that if you shake a baby hard enough, injuries occur. That’s not the argument in this case. We’re not claiming that the baby was shaken. We’re claiming the baby was injured.”

Trials will commence this week and next in Calhoun County.

East Grand Rapids Police Now Have Tools to Help Combat Cyber Crime

cyber-crimeCyber crimes such as credit card fraud and identity theft cost the U.S. approximately $8 billion annually. However, East Grand Rapids Public Safety Department now has the tools necessary to combat the growing rate of cyber crimes plaguing citizens.

Officer Jeff DeJonge was among a small number of officers across the country selected for a five-week intensive training program conducted by the United States Secret Service.

After finishing the program, DeJonge received a case of devices and three computers specifically designed to help seek out cyber criminals.

As more and more of the world relies on credit cards and digital shopping, police departments across the country are becoming increasingly focused on preventing and combating these crimes.

Sending a single officer to the course would cost the city approximately $75,000, but it would seem that this is an issue that concerns the government on a national level as well.

Fortunately, the federal government covered the cost for all officers attending this particular training session.

However, the five-week training course isn’t the only method of combating cyber crimes like fraud.

Oberthur Technologies, a UK-based company, is currently attempting to bring a new type of credit card to the market that would replace the static printed three-digit security code on the back of the card with a mini screen, which displays a random code that changes automatically every hour.

The card is powered by a thin lithium battery designed with a lifespan of three years.

According to Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert from Surrey University, the technology has existed for a while.

“In some ways, it’s surprising it has taken so long for this to appear,” he said.

He noted that although the technology is there and that this would increase card security, being unable to memorize the security code may be a drawback for some buyers.

Nevertheless, it’s apparent that the world understands just how much of a threat cyber crime is. The more ways there are to fight it, the better.

For the East Grand Rapids Public Safety Department, the fight begins with their new equipment.

Now, the department can track and potentially solve crimes like credit card fraud, child pornography, and online threats without tapping into outside resources.

Bernie Sanders Visits Grand Rapids to Campaign for Hillary Clinton

Image: Gage Skidmore

Image: Gage Skidmore

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made a recent appearance in Grand Rapids to advocate support for his one-time rival, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Addressing the crowd at Innovation Central High School in Grand Rapids, Sanders sought to assure his former supporters that the platforms put forth during his bid for the presidential nomination during the Democratic primaries are still alive and well in the Clinton agenda.

“It is by far the most progressive platform in the history of American politics,” Sanders said in a television interview before the event. “It talks about Wall Street’s greed and breaking up the large banks. It talks about transforming our energy system. It talks about raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It talks about health care for all people. It talks about what we have to do to protect a middle class which today is in a lot of trouble.”

During his run for the presidential nomination, Sanders — a self-proclaimed socialist — largely focused on issues of income inequality and the wealth gap. Studies show that household income has grown 26% over the past dozen years, for instance, but the cost of living has also increased 29% during that same period.

Sanders emerged as something of a dark horse during the 2016 primary season, a hitherto obscure Independent senator from a small liberal state who wound up challenging presumptive frontrunner Hillary Clinton until nearly the end of the race. In Michigan, Sanders took a surprise win over Clinton in the March 8 primary with a narrow 49% to 48% vote.

The fervent support Sanders’ campaign garnered from young people in particular has not easily transferred to the Clinton camp. Polls show that only 31% of Millennials support Clinton, prompting Sanders to urge young people to consider their options and their future.

“I would ask young people and all voters to take a hard look at the agenda that Secretary Clinton is bringing forth,” Sanders said. “She is talking about a proposal that I worked with her on to make public colleges and universities tuition-free, which would be of huge help to thousands and thousands of families in Michigan. Raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Pay equity for women. The understanding that climate change is real and we have to protect the planet for our children and our grandchildren.”

Sanders also had strong words of criticisms for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, particularly in light of recent evidence that indicates the billionaire may not have paid any federal income taxes for more than a dozen years because of a declared $916 million business loss in 1995.

“In one day, Donald Trump did more than I did in a year to tell the American people how corrupt the political system is. How corrupt our tax system is, how rigged our economy is,” Sanders said at a speech in Dearborn, just prior to his Grand Rapids visit. “In one day, we learned that this multibillionaire, who owns mansions all over the world… does not pay a nickel in federal income tax, and he’s proud of that. He thinks we can just stiff the middle class.”

Trump also has residences in both New York and Florida, and the move from the former to the latter can save people in high income tax brackets thousands or millions of dollars every year.

Sanders continued: “We’ve got a message for Mr. Trump and the other billionaires: Hillary Clinton is going to be elected president, and they’re all going to start paying their fair share.”

Sanders will continue to campaign throughout several other states in support of Clinton in the coming weeks. Clinton herself is scheduled to attend a rally and fundraiser on October 10 in Detroit.