The Pyramid P20 STEM Education Hub, which would serve students from preschool through graduate school, is billed as an opportunity to make Michigan a global leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
But no taxpayer dollars should be spent on this project until those behind the center are willing to pull back the curtain veiling their plans, reveal the identities and credentials of board members, and show how their proposed services fill an unmet need in the state.
Kudos to Steelcase for donating its former research facility, a 664,000-square-foot building at 6100 East Paris Ave. SE. for an education center focused on the skills needed for high-tech fields.
The vision is exciting. The hub would house traditional public schools, charter schools and colleges throughout the state engaged in science and technology programs on site. It also would have an arts component, says businessman Jerry Zandstra, a founder of the nonprofit. He and Sid Jansma Jr., president and CEO of Wolverine Oil and Gas Corp., are the only publicly identified partners in the project.
However, several questions must be addressed before state funds are approved.
What individuals and businesses are involved in the project? How would public funds be used? How would this project avoid duplicating programs already offered in nearby tech centers operated by Kent and Ottawa ISDs?
The lack of communication with public schools is troubling. Zandstra says he has not consulted school district leaders, although he has discussed the initiative with retired educators, businesses and lawmakers.
If this project truly is meant to serve all public and collegiate students, why not tap the insights and support of the schools that will be expected to buy into it?
With backing from Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, the project won approval from the state Senate for $5.5 million in a supplemental spending bill last month. Wisely, House lawmakers stripped the project from their spending bill. It still could be restored during conference committee — Jansen should make sure that does not happen.
This idea — as intriguing as it is — should be considered as a stand-alone bill. A full public vetting of the proposal is necessary to merit taxpayer funds.
Right now, the project has too many unanswered questions.
Lansing State Journal. March 10.
Michigan must keep pushing for new bridge
Having failed to stop Gov. Rick Snyder from pursuing plans for the New International Trade Crossing with battles in Michigan, Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun has now turned his efforts to Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, the nation's capital apparently is proving more fertile ground. Michigan's members of Congress — from both parties — need to rise up and see to the state's needs by insisting on federal support for the project.
Moroun, many will recall, succeeded in keeping the Michigan Legislature from approving the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed new span linking Canada and Michigan.
The new project is so desirable to the Canadians that they've pledged to loan Michigan the money needed for its share of construction costs and will take payment from proceeds of tolls. Snyder, undeterred when the Legislature refused to support his plan, went around it and kept the project moving with his executive powers, getting federal transportation officials on board.
The Moroun family, owners of the Detroit International Bridge Co., which operates the Ambassador Bridge, then funded a ballot proposal that would have amended the state charter to make building of a bridge with any government support unlikely. Michigan voters resoundingly defeated that.
Now Moroun fights in Washington, and is seeing some success. Most recently, President Barack Obama's latest budget proposal failed to include funds for the U.S. Customs plaza that is needed as part of the bridge project. And late last week, Moroun asked a federal judge to block the U.S. Coast Guard from issuing a permit that would be needed before construction of a new bridge, arguing that his company's franchise agreement prohibits any competing span.
The problem there is that the Canadians have turned down Moroun's plan to put a second span adjacent to his existing bridge. So if the U.S. wants improvement in crossing delays and national security, NITC is needed. Canadian officials say that one-quarter of all trade between the two nations passes through Detroit and Windsor, the busiest crossing between the nations. Economic development officials project the new bridge could help add 66,000 additional jobs to the state. It's in the best interests of all but Moroun to have a new bridge. Michigan's congressional delegation must tackle this challenge.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). March 12.
National parks well worth federal investment
If you've ever wondered if the tax money the federal government sets aside for national parks is money well invested, wonder no more.
A story in Tuesday's (March 11) Mining Journal penned by Staff Writer John Pepin should have provided an otherwise obvious answer: Yes.
Pepin wrote that a new National Park Service report shows 2.2 million people visited Michigan's four national park units in 2012, spending a total of $181.7 million in the towns nearby, which helped support a total of 3,221 jobs in those local areas.
The report reviewed the National Park Service's 141 units across the country, including Isle Royale National Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the River Raisin National Battlefield downstate.
The numbers are substantial. Pepin wrote in annual visitation to Michigan's four parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes had the highest with 1,531,560 visitors; followed by Pictured Rocks at 593,587, River Raisin at 50,667 and Isle Royale with 16,663.
In the number of jobs supported by park tourism, Sleeping Bear Dunes again topped the four Michigan parks with 2,818; followed by Pictured Rocks with 312; Isle Royale at 50 and River Raisin with 41.
Visitor spending at Sleeping Bear Dunes totaled $151.8 million in 2012; followed by 23.7 million at Pictured Rocks; $2.7 million at River Raisin and $2.5 million at Isle Royale, Pepin stated.
Without exception, these parks are cornerstones to local and regional tourism here and across the nation. They are certainly worth the investment.
Detroit Free Press. March 12.
Now is not the time to cut federal funding for Great Lakes
Mother Nature gets credit for a big assist in the fight to keep the Great Lakes healthy, with ice coverage now topping 92 percent for the first time in nearly four decades.
The long, cold winter means the lakes are far above the 50 percent-60 percent ice coverage that they have been experiencing in recent years, and that should mean higher lake levels this spring and summer.
It's a step in the right direction but not a complete recovery from the evaporation that has dropped lake levels to near-historic lows as of late.
But the lakes won't get as much help from Washington this year if President Barack Obama's proposed budget holds. Since 2010, the administration has asked for $300 million annually to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But the fiscal year 2015 budget calls for cutting the allocation by $25 million.
The reason is simple: across-the-board belt-tightening. Most programs got a cut of some kind in the president's budget, and administration officials have made clear that the reduction for the Great Lakes initiative isn't about substance or disapproval of the program, it's just about money.
We suppose that's reasonable by financial measures; nearly everyone believes that the federal budget can be trimmed.
But the Great Lakes are this region's most significant environmental treasure and priority, and they're in trouble. If ever there were a time to maintain or boost preservation efforts, it would be now.
Back in 2009, congressional backing for Great Lakes clean-up projects had hit a wall. Congress passed the Great Lakes Legacy Act in 2002, and reauthorized it in 2008, but funding and coordination were still big problems.
The Obama administration created the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009, and kicked it off with a $475-million allocation, which dropped to $300 million a year after that.
Since 2010, the initiative has gone to work cleaning up 43 "toxic hot spots" identified around the lakes — places where industry or agriculture have so polluted the lakes that marine life and drinking water are in danger.
Many have been abated, including some key spots in Michigan.
The initiative has also taken the lead in fighting invasive species in the lakes, including the battle to keep Asian carp out. Again, there has been progress, but the fight is far from over, and funding is key to continuing the efforts.
This issue is no trifle. For those of us who live in the region, the lakes are a primary source of recreation and drinking water, as well as a key to our economy.
For the nation, the lakes represent the largest usable freshwater reserve in the world, a key asset now that will only grow in importance in the future.
The money spent cleaning up and protecting the Great Lakes pays back many times over, sometimes literally. A Grand Valley State University study of a $10-million shoreline reclamation project along Muskegon Lake — which is connected to Lake Michigan — found $66 million in economic benefits.
Belt-tightening or no, the lakes are a priority. Congress ought to find a way to keep restoration going at full funding.