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City to create social district

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs City Council will vote Thursday evening on whether to approve a “social district” and “commons area” to coincide with a city concert series this summer.

According to Cedar Springs City Manager Mike Womack, the concerts will be on Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m., in June, July, and August, and people will be able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, if they desire, from establishments such as the Red Bird Bistro or Cedar Springs Brewing Company, while they listen to music in the Heart of Cedar Springs park.

The social district gives people the opportunity to purchase their beverage from the restaurants in an approved to-go container, and then carry it to the park, where they can consume it.

The Social District will encompass both the eastern and western sidewalks on Main Street, from the north side of Beech St. northwards to Maple St., then along the northern and southern sidewalks along W. Maple St. westwards to the entrance of the Heart of Cedar Springs Park, which will be known as the “commons area.”

“The Social District Plan was something that we have been planning since early in the winter when the State’s law changed to allow such a thing,” explained Womack. “Unfortunately, the City doesn’t have any good location (like Rockford) to enable a downtown Commons Area so instead we focused on planning it for over the Summer.”

Womack said that in the future the Council could consider extending the hours, but for now it would just be on Wednesdays during the summer from 7-9, for the concert series. 

These concerts are not related to the concerts put on by North Kent Community Enrichment, which take place once a month on Thursdays at Morley Park during the summer months.

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Newaygo man faces federal charges

By Judy Reed

David Saylor

A Newaygo man who was arrested in early March after his 16-year-old son took some explosive materials to school and accidentally detonated them, is now facing federal charges.

David Robert Daniel Saylor, age 34, was arrested and arraigned on a 2-count criminal complaint as a result of the investigation into the explosion at Newaygo County High School on Monday, March 8, and subsequent search warrant of his home in the 2300 block of E. 95th, where they found more explosive materials. At the time, Newaygo County Prosecutor Worth Stay charged Saylor with one count of Explosives – Manufacture/Possession of Molotov Cocktail and one count of contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor. He is also charged as a Habitual Offender – 2nd Offense Notice.

This week, Saylor was indicted and charged with multiple federal offenses, including possession of destructive devices and possession of a stolen firearm.

The indictment alleges that on or about March 8, 2021, Saylor possessed in Newaygo County two different improvised explosive devices. One device is described colloquially as a “pipe bomb.” The other is described as “an improvised explosive consisting of a brass fitting wrapped in tape that contained an explosive material.” Neither device was registered to Saylor, as required by federal law. The indictment includes a forfeiture allegation that explains the explosive devices were seized on March 8 and that Saylor must permanently forfeit them to the federal government if he is convicted. Saylor is also charged with possessing on that same date a firearm, specifically a Berretta .22 caliber rifle, knowing that it had been stolen from its lawful owner. Each of the three charges is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

According to the Michigan State Police, the Newaygo Police Department was dispatched to Newaygo High School for the explosion inside a classroom on Monday, March 8, at 8:52 a.m. 

Preliminary investigation by Newaygo Police and the MSP Hart Post determined that the 16-year-old student accidently detonated the explosive material and did not understand how big an explosion the materials could cause. They do not feel he intended to attack anyone. 

The boy and several others were injured in the blast and all sought treatment.

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Nylaan signs with Siena Heights University

Alexander Nylaan, a senior at Cedar Springs High School, officially signed with Siena Heights University on Wednesday, March 10. He was a member of the Cedar Springs High School Cross Country team for 2 years and Track and Field for 4, where he competes in hurdles. The University saw great potential in more than just his athletics, though. His academic achievements and participation in the University’s Scholarship Competition earned him a Dean’s Scholar designation, for which he will receive a 4-year academic scholarship. 

Alexander is excited to bring his talents to Siena Heights University and is looking forward to furthering his education. He has plans to major in Business Management. 

Congratulations and best of luck in your future, Alex!

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First Adopt-A-Highway litter pickup in Michigan

April 17-25

Volunteers will fan out out across lower Michigan to give state highway roadsides their annual spring-cleaning beginning Saturday as groups in the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Adopt-A-Highway (AAH) program pick up litter from April 17 to 25.

The first AAH pickup for the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula will be later, from May 1 to 9, when spring has had more time to set in.

“Our thousands of Adopt-A-Highway volunteers deserve thanks for helping to save taxpayer dollars while keeping Michigan roadsides clean,” said State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba. “Their community spirit and pride make a huge difference. We ask all motorists to keep an eye out for these volunteers and drive cautiously during the pickup periods.”

Volunteers pick up litter three times each year. Statewide, there will be a summer pickup from July 17 to 25 and a fall pickup from Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.

The AAH program began in Michigan in 1990. Today, around 2,900 groups have adopted more than 6,000 miles of state highway. In a typical year, these volunteers collect 60,000 to 70,000 bags of trash annually, an estimated $5 million value for the state. Last year was anything but typical, though. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first pickup of 2020 was cancelled. While the summer and fall pickups went forward with COVID precautions in place, groups collected around 20,000 bags of trash. Organizers speculate the numbers were down because fewer groups were able to participate, not necessarily because there was less trash on the highways.

AAH groups wear high-visibility, yellow-green safety vests required by federal regulations when working within a highway right of way. MDOT provides free vests and trash bags, and arranges to haul away the trash. Volunteers include members of various civic groups, businesses and families. Crew members have to be at least 12 years old, and each group must number at least three people. MDOT requires all AAH volunteers to wear a mask outdoors when they are unable to consistently maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from individuals who are not members of their household.

Sections of highway are still available for adoption. Groups are asked to adopt a section for at least two years. AAH signs bearing a group’s name are posted along the stretch of adopted highway. There is no fee to participate.

Several landfills in southwestern Michigan are also chipping in to help the AAH program. Westside Landfill in St. Joseph County, C&C Landfill in Calhoun County, Orchard Hill Landfill in Berrien County, Southeast Berrien County Landfill near Niles, and Republic Services Gembrit Circle Transfer Station in Kalamazoo have all agreed to accept trash generated by the three annual AAH pickups at no charge. In exchange, these businesses receive a sign recognizing their support.

For more information, go to www.Michigan.gov/AdoptAHighway.

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Ramp closure

If you travel into Grand Rapids, you will want to take note of this ramp closure.

From MDOT: The off ramp from southbound US-131 to Market Avenue will close for road and sewer work 7 a.m. this coming Monday through June 18.

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Child dies in ORV crash

An 8-year-old Montcalm County boy died Monday in an ORV crash.

Troopers from the Michigan State Police Post in Lakeview were dispatched to the scene of the crash in the 11000 block of Deja Rd, in Home Township, about 1:14 p.m. Monday, April 12.

Preliminary investigation revealed the ORV was being operated by the 8-year-old male driver on private property when it overturned. The boy suffered fatal injuries as a result of this crash. 

The crash is still under investigation and the boy’s name had not been released at print time. 

Troopers were assisted by Montcalm County EMS, Home Twp. Fire Department and Montcalm Central Dispatch.

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CDC director says Michigan needs to lockdown again

Contradicts Whitmer’s focus on vaccinations

By Scott McClallen | The Center Square 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Photo from State of Michigan.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention disagree on the “science” behind solving Michigan’s COVID-19 case numbers, which have increased for seven weeks and are the worst in the nation.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday said: “I think if we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work to actually have the impact.”

On Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, Whitmer couldn’t fully explain the increase in cases. “We are seeing a surge in Michigan despite the fact that we have some of the strongest policies in place, mask mandates, capacity limits, working from home,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer implored President Joe Biden to boost vaccine numbers to Michigan to fight off rising case increases, but Biden declined.

Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said in a Monday news briefing the federal government won’t change its COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy, “playing whack-a-mole” for hotspots by sending more doses to Michigan.

“We know that if vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an effect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine, for somewhere between two to six weeks,” Walensky said. “So when you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily give vaccine.”

Walensky emphasized vaccines have a delayed response compared to economic shutdowns. 

“In fact, we know that the vaccine will have a delayed response. The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer and to shut things down, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another, to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace.”

Whitmer has said Michigan’s third surge is “not a public policy problem,” but driven by more virus variants, youth sports, and people breaking COVID-19 rules, and can be solved by boosting vaccination numbers. However, that may be more difficult after federal health agencies Tuesday recommended an immediate pause in injecting the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after six people developed a rare and severe type of blood clot after receiving the shot. (See related story here.)

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Michigan expands use of monoclonal antibody therapy against COVID-19

Therapy can help reduce symptoms in patients and the risk of hospitalization and death 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that the state is working to expand the use of a medical intervention designed to significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. This involves additional doses of monoclonal antibodies being made available to providers and requests to providers to expand the number of infusion sites in the state. 

The announcement comes at a time when the CDC director has said that Michigan should go back into lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, something Whitmer is resisting. (See related story here.)

“We are using every mitigation strategy, every medication, and every treatment option to fight the virus here in Michigan,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “These antibody treatments could keep you out of the hospital and save your life, and my administration and I will continue working with the federal government to make sure we are using all the tools in our toolbox to keep you and your family safe and get back to normal sooner.” 

Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) are laboratory-produced molecules that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system’s attack on cells. mAb targets different parts of the virus and prevents it from bonding with cells in the body, effectively neutralizing it. Clinical trials have shown promising data that this therapy works for the treatment of COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe symptoms and/or hospitalization, including older Michiganders. To date, preliminary data suggests more than 6,600 Michiganders have received this treatment with 65 percent reporting feeling better with two days of treatment and less than 5% of them requiring hospitalization following treatment. 

“When administered to non-hospitalized patients within 10 days of symptom onset, monoclonal antibodies may reduce symptoms and the risk of hospitalizations and emergency room visits associated with the virus,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “Michiganders who contract COVID-19 should ask their health care providers about receiving this treatment and I urge providers to assess if their patients qualify. We have seen successful use of this therapy in long-term care facilities and even in home use by EMS providers. This therapy can help save the lives of more Michigan residents as we work to vaccinate 70% of Michiganders age 16 and older with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible.” 

“We have been treating patients with monoclonal antibodies over the last five months and we can attest to its success,” said Adnan Munkarah, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, Henry Ford Health System. “This treatment has the potential not only to help patients who are suffering from the severe effects of COVID-19, but also to ease the burden on our hospitals and caregivers. At the same time, we must stay vigilant by getting vaccinated and following the safety measures we have in place.” 

The therapy has been used successfully to help address COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the state and to treat patients at home. This has included a 33-patient nursing home in Wayland in January, a senior care facility in Cass County in December and a veteran’s home in Grand Rapids in December. In seven long-term care facility outbreaks, 120 vulnerable patients with high mortality rates were treated with mAb. Only three of those patients needed to be hospitalized with one death. 

Michigan was also one of the first states in the nation to issue an EMS protocol to allow paramedics to administer this medication to further increase access. In St. Clair County, Tri-Hospital EMS treated 50 patients at home over a nine-day period. The state is also using EMS to provide paratransit or ambulance transport to infusion clinics for patients who don’t have access to transportation.  

The therapy is administered through an intravenous infusion and is designed for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have mild to moderate symptoms. It is not intended for hospitalized patients. These treatments are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an Emergency Use Authorization. According to the FDA, mAb therapy is effective against the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, the predominant form of COVID currently seen in Michigan. 

The National Institutes of Health recently recommended that patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of worsening disease should be treated with combination therapy—either Lilly or Regeneron. 

Michigan continues to monitor and track patients within 14 days of COVID-19 antibody treatment administration to assess the impact of COVID-19 antibody treatments on the state’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate. Additionally, the state is now conducting follow-up phone interviews conducted by volunteer medical and pharmacy students to more effectively assess patient response to mAb. 

Additional information on monoclonal antibody therapy can be found at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Combating COVID website and Michigan.gov/COVIDTherapy

Michigan residents seeking more information about the COVID-19 vaccine can visit Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.       

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Former EGLE employee charged with embezzlement

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Photo from State of Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and EGLE announced Wednesday that a former employee of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has been charged with embezzling more than $850,000 from the State of Michigan. 

Joseph Pettit, 49, is charged with the following: three counts of embezzlement over $100,000, a 20-year felony; four counts of uttering and publishing, a 14-year felony; and using a computer to commit a crime, a 20-year felony. 

Any entity that wants to drill or operate any type of well in the State of Michigan must apply for a permit and post a conformance bond with the Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division of EGLE. When the owner of the well changes hands, the original owner gets the bond back. 

As an employee of EGLE, most recently as an environmental quality specialist, Pettit was responsible for completing the process of releasing bonds back to companies and facilitating the transfer of bonds back to the original owner. Instead, Pettit created fake vendors and diverted these funds to bank accounts that he supplied for these vendors. Pettit worked at EGLE from 1996 until January of 2020. 

“This case is a reminder that my office treats it very seriously when anyone abuses the system for their own gain,” said Nessel. “I am grateful to EGLE for their cooperation and diligence in ensuring those who violate the public trust are held accountable and in working to ensure something like this never happens again.” 

EGLE leadership became aware of potential discrepancies in September of 2020, and immediately contacted Michigan State Police, which conducted the investigation. 

“Our discovery of potential crimes was immediately referred to law enforcement, and we continue to provide them everything they need to ensure justice is done on behalf of the State of Michigan,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. “We are also doing everything we can to prevent this from occurring again, including strengthening internal financial controls to provide even greater checks and balances against fraud.” 

It is alleged that between 2018 and 2020, Pettit embezzled more than $850,000. Suspected losses from 2013 through 2016 are barred by the statute of limitations. 

“We hold ourselves to the highest standards of government ethics at EGLE and that starts with vigilantly stewarding public funds,” Clark said. “So when an employee disregards department values and violates the public trust, it harms not only Michigan’s 10 million residents who count on us to use their resources wisely to protect the environment and public health, but also fellow members of the EGLE team who dedicate their lives to that mission.”         

Pettit was charged in the Lansing District Court 54-A. He Is expected to appear in court Friday, April 16, for arraignment.  

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Fletcher grasslands prescribed burns

A prescribed burn at Fletcher grasslands.

The Fletcher Grasslands is one of Michigan’s largest, contiguous, nonforested areas of public land, spanning 2,000 acres in southeastern Kalkaska County. Once managed specifically for sharp-tailed grouse, this area is now managed to support an ecosystem filled with diverse life. To maintain biodiversity in this grassland and oak pine barrens complex, a variety of techniques are used to manage the habitat, including native seed plantings, mowing, tree harvesting, farming and mulching. But there is one ancient approach preferred for taking care of this grassland: fire.  

Centuries ago, large wildfires burned across Michigan, shaping the composition of the land and creating open grasslands in areas with sandy soils. This natural disturbance had the unique ability to set back forest succession, promote the regrowth of native species, clear and warm seed beds, and recycle nutrients back into the soil. In modern fire management, controlled prescribed burns are used to obtain the same benefits that wildfires provided, without the variability and risk of an uncontained flame. Fire-adapted systems treated with a controlled burn become more resilient to climate changes, grow native species of greater diversity, and have improved overall ecosystem health.

The benefits of prescribed burns are on full display in the Fletcher Grasslands. Rich in wildlife, these areas provide countless opportunities for hunters and wildlife watchers. Wildlife species such as the tawny crescent, dusted skipper, eastern whip-poor-will, smooth green snake, wild turkey and white-tailed deer all depend on fire in the ecosystem to thrive.

To learn more about the benefits of fire, see where burns are taking place and watch footage from past burns, visit Michigan.gov/FireManagement.

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