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April 21, 2002

Week in Review

      Corps orders removal of debris from dredging
      ELK RAPIDS - Threatening possible legal action, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ordered village officials to remove all clay and other harbor dredging debris dumped in wetlands at a housing development site.
      An Antrim County soil erosion official said the materials dumped at the development have caused a "significant" runoff into nearby Grand Traverse Bay.
      The Corps also ordered the village to restore wetlands there and other wetlands near the wastewater treatment facility on the south side of Hermann Road where other dredging materials "slumped" into wetlands.
      Corps and state Department of Environmental Quality officials had approved the wastewater treatment plant area for dumping last year when both agencies approved the harbor dredging. But the spoils were not to disturb nearby wetlands.
      Probe into 'Jaws' failure at accident scene ends
      EAST JORDAN - A state police investigation has concluded there was no criminal activity involved in the failure of the city fire department's "Jaws of Life" equipment to operate properly at the scene of a fatal car accident last summer.
      The two-car accident occurred on Mount Bliss Road south of East Jordan last July 29, killing 50-year-old Denny Skrocki Sr., of East Jordan, and injuring four others.
      Firefighters brought two jaws units to the crash site but were unable to start either one.
      Witnesses said it took firefighters about 18 minutes to determine that both units were out of gas and to refuel and start one of them.
      The incident led to claims that the units had either been improperly maintained or sabotaged.
      Appeals court delays ruling in sewer case
      CHARLEVOIX - The Michigan Court of Appeals is seeking more information before it rules whether a judge was right to dismiss a lawsuit against the Charlevoix school district regarding a controversial sewer extension to the new high school.
      The Court of Appeals issued an order last week remanding the case of Kenneth Staley, et al vs. the Charlevoix Public Schools Board of Education back to Charlevoix County's 33rd Circuit Court.
      In his September ruling, Circuit Judge Richard M. Pajtas found that the lawsuit was without merit and that the sewer extension project could move forward.
      The group of residents claimed the school should not have used proceeds from an $18 million bond issue approved by voters in October, 1999 to extend a sewer for a new high school on Marion Center Road.
      Former school worker faces theft charges
      CHEBOYGAN - A former business manager for two northern Michigan school districts faces up to 14 years in prison on charges she embezzled $100,000 from Wolverine Community Schools.
      Tina Marie Powers, 45, was arraigned in Cheboygan District Court Thursday on one count of forgery and three counts of uttering and publishing, charges which carry a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. She was also charged with embezzlement over $20,000, a 10-year felony.
      Powers, who worked for Wolverine Community Schools from 1998 through 2001, is accused of diverting about $100,000 from the school district's accounts to her personal accounts, Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Ron Nightingale said.
      The cash shortfalls were discovered by Joe Hart, Wolverine's current business manager, who was hired in July 2001.
      Teacher accused of bomb threat resigns
      GRAYLING - A Crawford AuSable Schools mathematics teacher accused of calling in a bomb threat to the Grayling Middle School ended her ties with the district Monday.
      Kathryn Anne Olson, a third-year teacher with the district, resigned from her job Monday, said district superintendent Milli Haug.
      Police say Olson called Grayling Middle School during the early morning hours of March 11 and said there was a bomb in the school.
      She was arraigned in Crawford District Court earlier this month on a felony charge of making a false report or threat with a harmful device. She faces up to four years in prison and a $2,000 fine in convicted.
      Olson had been on administrative leave with pay since late March.
      CHIP counseling centers close in three communities
      PETOSKEY - The CHIP counseling centers offering mental health, substance abuse and violence counseling in Petoskey, Cheboygan and Mancelona were closed Friday due to recent budget cuts and an otherwise strained financial situation
      The approximately 1,500 people who receive counseling at the CHIP counseling centers will have to begin seeking help elsewhere.
      The agency will continue to operate out of its Charlevoix office at 677 U.S. 31 South but will concentrate solely on substance abuse and violence prevention programs, Executive Director Scott Hickman said.
      Portion of home slides from bluff onto beach
      HARBOR SPRINGS - Officials say soggy clay is to blame for part of a multi-million dollar home sliding off its perch on the Lake Michigan bluffs.
      Emmet county building inspector Dick Crawford said wet clay beneath the foundation of the two-story home along scenic M-119 evidently gave way. The northwest wall of the basement, the furnace and dozens of cedar trees slid in a muddy mess about 150 feet down the bluff. Some of it made it to the beach.
      The house, which features a panoramic view of Lake Michigan, is located just south of Stutsmanville Road.
      The incident was reported late Monday by a neighbor walking along the beach who had phoned a local official to inquire as to why there were so many trees littering the beach.
      Emmet County planner Max Putters said soil at the site did not appear to be draining properly, and that groundwater could be seen dripping down the hill, even though there has been no significant rainfall in the area recently.
      grand traverse
      Airport strives to comply with new officer directive
      TRAVERSE CITY - A federal government directive ordering airports to station police officers at security checkpoints could leave Cherry Capital Airport in a lurch.
      Airport director Stephen Cassens asked the Traverse City Police Department to provide full-time police officers to replace National Guard troops who will be withdrawn from the airport by May 31. A full-time police officer will be required at the airport in order for it to remain open.
      Chief Ralph Soffredine said he would need to hire four new officers in order to provide Cherry Capital with full-time personnel, a move he said he is unwilling to make without a two- or three-year contract with the airport.
      But the airport cannot offer a lengthy contract because the police officers are slated to be replaced once federal officers have been hired, trained and deployed by the Transportation Security Administration.
      Cherry Capital plans to approach the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department or the Michigan State Police for help.
      Phone card leads police to suspect in bomb threats
      TRAVERSE CITY - A telephone calling card led police to a student they believe called in three false bomb threats to Northwestern Michigan College.
      Sections of the college were evacuated on Nov. 13, Feb. 4 and Feb. 25 after a male caller said a bomb or bombs were placed at the school.
      Kurt Clayton Strange, 19, of Gaylord, was charged Monday with three counts of making false bomb threats.
      City police Detective Kevin Gay zeroed in on Strange after he searched phone records from at least three long-distance companies.
      Strange was arrested Monday and was to be arraigned Tuesday. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
      Fire burns 25 acres of forest near Pearl Lake
      TRAVERSE CITY - It took all afternoon and part of the evening Tuesday to put out a 25-acre fire in tinder-dry state forest land near Pearl Lake in Grand Traverse County's Whitewater Township.
      A Department of Natural Resources plane on regular patrol of remote state forests discovered the fire about 2 p.m. By then, it had burned about seven acres southeast of Pearl Lake about two miles west of Williamsburg Road and about two miles north of Supply Road.
      Temperatures in the high 80s plus gusting, swirling winds made the job especially difficult for nearly 40 firefighters from the state Department of Natural Resources and five Grand Traverse County rural units, said Paul Simmer, area fire supervisor working out of the DNR's Traverse City field office.
      Nobody was injured and no cause had been determined as of Tuesday evening.
      Teen-age victims confront convicted child molester
      TRAVERSE CITY - A decade ago, they were too afraid to report the older boy who molested them, but two 15-year-olds faced the now 22-year-old man in court Tuesday at his sentencing.
      The boys, who were 6 at the time of the incidents, said that Jason Thomas Koper forced them to perform oral sex, threatened them to keep quiet about it, and harassed them for eight of the past nine years.
      Probate Judge David Stowe sentenced Koper to four months in jail and two years probation and ordered him to attend sex offender counseling.
      Koper, who was 12 at the time, watched as each boy read a prepared statement and asked Stowe for the maximum sentence. Koper faced up to 2 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to attempted gross indecency.
      Under a plea agreement between prosecutors and Koper, Koper was treated as an adult in juvenile court. Koper was originally charged as an adult with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and had faced up to life in prison.
      Truant child lands mother in jail, then in school
      TRAVERSE CITY - Thirty-seven-year-old Brenda Lee Hansen has been ordered by a judge to go back to school.
      Hansen, of Interlochen, couldn't get her daughter to go to school on her own, so District Judge Thomas Gilbert ordered Hansen to attend Traverse City West Junior High School with her 15-year-old daughter for the next month.
      Hansen pleaded guilty Monday to a truancy violation and was sentenced Tuesday.
      She also was sent to jail for two days, ordered to attend parenting classes and put on probation until her daughter turns 16 next February, when she will no longer be legally obligated to be in school.
      Hansen's case comes from a truancy intervention program that started in Traverse City in January 2000.
      Clerk, treasurer keep jobs following vote recount
      RESORT TOWNSHIP - The votes have been tallied and now counted again and it's official: Resort Township Clerk Lucy Eppler and Treasurer Marv Veurink will retain their positions.
      Eppler and Veurink have been battling for their jobs and their reputations since last year, when Petoskey insurance salesman Ernie Mainland launched a campaign to recall the two.
      Calling themselves, "The Committee for Better Township Government," Mainland and his supporters accused Eppler and Veurink of being irresponsible in their methods of record-keeping.
      The March 25 vote showed residents were in favor of both Eppler and Veurink keeping their positions. Eppler prevailed 334 to 320, Veurink 325 to 323.
      Munson service workers vote to join Teamsters
      TRAVERSE CITY - By a 17-vote margin, service, dietary and maintenance workers for Munson Medical Center voted Thursday to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
      Eligible workers had voted all day Thursday in the certification election. NLRB officials said there were no spoiled or challenged ballots in all 273 cast. Munson Healthcare Regional Foundation president Jay Zrimec said the high rate of participation showed that all workers had had a chance to express their opinions on the matter.
      Until last November, Munson's service workers had been represented by Local 51 of the Hotel, Hospital and Restaurant Employees for 32 years. When the union and the local bargaining unit decided to go their separate ways, some employees approached the Teamsters, which have been aggressively organizing health care workers in recent years.
      Two men arrested in connection with break-ins
      KALKASKA - Two men suspected of breaking into several homes in northeastern Kalkaska County faced arraignment Monday.
      David Wayne Moore Jr. and Joseph Eugene Norman, both 18-year-old Kalkaska residents, face up to 15 years in prison on charges of second-degree home invasion and larceny in a building.
      According to sheriff's reports, deputies arrested the men after receiving a call about 12:30 a.m. April 12 from a Manistee Lake-area resident who had heard a window breaking at a nearby home.
      The men fled, but officers soon found them and arrested them. Deputies said they also recovered several hundred dollars of suspected stolen property.
      Granholm halts South Fox swap due to tribal claims
      TRAVERSE CITY - A land exchange on South Fox Island between the state and developer David V. Johnson cannot proceed because of title flaws arising from Indian property claims, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm says.
      Her ruling, made public Monday, likely will delay the swap indefinitely if not kill it, opponents said. Johnson and the Department of Natural Resources said it sets a precedent that could give Indian tribes broad powers to block real estate deals.
      The tribe contends some parcels on the island were wrongly taken from members in the 1950s. It has filed a lawsuit against the swap.
      After years of negotiations, DNR Director K.L. Cool in December approved an exchange of parcels totalling roughly 220 acres for both sides on South Fox, a 3,400-acre island about 30 miles north of Leland.
      Johnson, a Bloomfield Hills developer, owns about two-thirds of the island, and the state owns the remaining third. Some of the parcels are intermingled, which Johnson says has caused widespread trespassing on his land - often by hunters carrying firearms.
      The proposed swap would consolidate the state's holdings on the northern end of the island and leave most of the central and southern portion to Johnson.
      Developer seeks permit for seawall to protect home
      TRAVERSE CITY - David Johnson, owner of two-thirds of South Fox Island, has applied for a permit to construct an emergency seawall to protect his new island home from sliding into Lake Michigan.
      The second layer of seawall to protect Johnson's home may be delayed, however, while state and federal agencies hold a public hearing on the applications.
      Johnson said he applied to both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the 300-foot wall after a February storm caused so much erosion that he lost about 100 feet of shore.
      Johnson said his new home, still under construction, was built 150 feet from shore. It is now 50 feet from shore and on a 12-foot cliff.
      Comstock wins national award for tribal civic center
      PESHAWBESTOWN - The StrongHeart Civic Center, built by Comstock Construction Inc. of Traverse City for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, has won the 2001 Build America Award - the "Oscars" of the construction industry.
      The 26,900-square-foot community center, gym and fitness facility was completed last spring despite late redesigns, various complications because of the site, extremely demanding construction techniques and a host of other challenges, said Tom Darga, who was project manager for Comstock.
      The company received the Build America Award at the annual convention of the Association of General Contractors in Las Vegas three weeks ago. Earlier it had received the Build Michigan Award from the Michigan chapter of the AGC.
      The center was designed by Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal, a part-Blackfoot Indian, who has been called the Canadian Frank Lloyd Wright for his innovative designs of buildings that fit the character of their sites rather than dominate them.
      Couple plans to resurrect Williard House
      LAKE CITY - A downstate couple wants to resurrect the Williard House, a 114-year-old hotel that was once a Mecca for jazz musicians and fans from across the state.
      Lucy and Tim Galvin, who have homes in Lake City and the Lansing area, have received the city's blessing for a liquor license application and are currently negotiating the purchase of the building, which dates to 1888.
      The hotel was a well-known site of jazz jam sessions in the 1970s but is now closed and neglected.
      The Galvins want to return its original name - the Grand Central - and some of its Williard House glory. They hope to have theme nights featuring blues, jazz, rock and country music.
      They plan to open the bar first and then prepare the 32 hotel rooms for occupancy. They also hope to get it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
      Investigators probe fire that destroyed home
      BAGLEY TOWNSHIP - Fire investigators still have not determined the cause of an early morning fire last Sunday that destroyed a Holly man's second home and storage building here.
      The Otsego County Fire Department was dispatched to the home of Ronald Fisk at 5502 Old 27 South near Elk Street at 2:26 a.m. Sunday. The fire was totally involved when firefighters received the call, Fire Chief Dave Duffield said.
      The two-story home was a total loss, and the blaze damaged the outside wall and attic of an adjacent storage building. No one was home at the time of the blaze.
      Board approves hiring two assistant prosecutors
      GAYLORD - Otsego County Prosecutor Kevin Hesselink successfully made his case Tuesday that a county-imposed hiring freeze was crippling his office.
      The county board voted 8-1 Tuesday to allow Hesselink to replace two assistant prosecutors who recently left office.
      In return, Hesselink promised to make $18,600 in budget cuts the board asked him to make by the end of the year, his department's share of $429,000 in cuts from the county's $9.1 million budget.
      On Tuesday, Hesselink hauled 12 boxes of court files and several binders and folders to the commissioners' table to demonstrate the work handled by his office.
      Citing a 1979 Wayne County court case in which the prosecutor sued the county over budget cuts, Hesselink argued that the county was obligated to fund his office at a "serviceable" level, given the workload.
      County officials cut budget, increase fees
      GAYLORD - Speeders, new homeowners and those who want birth certificates or marriage records will help Otsego County cover its budget deficit.
      County officials whose departments receive general fund money detailed Wednesday cuts they've made and efforts they're making to increase revenues in an effort to trim $450,000 from the county budget.
      County coordinator Lambert Chard said the changes would be tallied before the board's finance committee meets Monday to consider putting a millage request on the August ballot.
      The county board is expected to hold a special meeting later this month to implement fee increases and further discuss the budget and the ballot proposal.
      $3,000 worth of tools reported stolen from crib
      CADILLAC - Someone stole more than $3,000 worth of tools from a construction site on Pearl Street Monday night, according to Cadillac police.
      The missing tools, taken from a locked tool crib trailer, include five framing guns, a joist hanger gun, a chop saw and a skill saw.
      Police said they do not have any suspects and ask anyone with information to call the toll-free Silent Observer line at (800) 528-8234 or contact the Cadillac Police Department.
      Pair sentenced in string of Harrietta burglaries
      CADILLAC - Two of five people charged in a two-month string of burglaries near Harrietta were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison Tuesday.
      Rocky Lee Todd Jr., 18, of Cadillac, and Derrick Alan Sylvester, 19, of Harrietta, each received sentences of two to 10 years on two breaking and entering charges, and two to five years for attempted home invasion.
      A third co-defendant, William Truman Jones, 44, of Harrietta, pleaded guilty Monday to attempted second-degree home invasion in return for dismissal of a more serious home invasion charge.
      Two others, Andy Freeman, 20, of Harrietta, and Candis Louise Nelson, 18, of Mesick, are headed to trial and face up to 10 years in prison on the charge of breaking and entering a building with intent.
      Non-biological father gives up legal custody
      CADILLAC - A father who was once awarded custody of his non-biological daughter in a case that attracted statewide attention has settled with the girl's mother, agreeing to share physical custody of the child.
      The mother, Deborah Smith, will now assume full legal custody of the girl, now 12, as part of the settlement reached April 12 with her ex-husband, John Smith Jr., according to Deborah Smith's lawyer, Anthony Badinovac of Cadillac.
      The settlement in Wexford Probate Court dictates that both parents will continue to live in Cadillac and the girl will live with them both on alternating weeks.
      John Smith has never claimed to be the girl's biological father.
      He began his relationship with Deborah Smith before the girl's birth in 1989. They married in 1992.
      John Smith fathered two other children with Deborah. The two younger children also are alternating living arrangements between the two parents.

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