Lester Graham | Michigan Radio
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Lester Graham

Reporter, The Environment Report

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report and previously hosted Stateside on Fridays. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received 15 first place national awards for journalism excellence and scores more at the national, regional, and state levels.

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Downtown Ann Arbor
Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio

Some politicians and businesses are pressuring Governor Gretchen Whitmer to reopen the economy. Republican legislative leaders have a plan to phase in business operations.  It’s very difficult to make an informed decision about opening the economy because no one has enough data to know exactly how risky it could be.

Courtesy: UIA

The Michigan unemployment insurance application process is back online. After crashing Monday because of the huge volume of applicants, the state added new servers. The Unemployment Insurance Agency has also added new people to take phone call applications. 600,000 people are now receiving benefits. Another 700,000 applications have been approved for payments. The agency expects the number to continue to climb this week.

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There’s been some confusion about whether all garden centers, greenhouses, and nurseries are supposed to close by Governor Gretchen Whitmers emergency ‘stay at home’ orders. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

An extended "stay at home" order by Governor Gretchen Whitmer bans keeping garden sections of stores open for businesses with more than 50,000 square feet. But many nurseries and garden centers contacted by Michigan Radio are interpreting the rule as a ban on selling fruit and vegetable plants. Workers at greenhouses and nurseries say it's confusing and makes no sense.

The governor wants people to restrict their trips from home to getting the essentials such as fuel and food. Large retail garden centers have been ordered to close temporarily.

Bars and restaurants are asking Governor Gretchen Whitmer to allow them to sell cocktails and other alcohol with take-out food orders.

Bartenders, servers, restaurant owners and others from around the state are signing an open letter to the governor. They’re asking for a temporary executive order that would allow them to sell single-serving cocktails, beer, wine, or other spirits along with food during the duratio of the COVID-19 'stay at home' order.

designer491 / Adobe Stock

Applications for unemployment in Michigan took another huge jump last week. 384,844 people filed first-time claims. The U.S. Department of Labor’s newly released report revised numbers for the previous week, indicating more than 304,000 Michiganders filed for unemployment during that period.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Small businesses forced to shut their doors are trying to figure out how to last through what could be months of being closed. Businesses still operating are figuring out how to keep going. 'Main Street' Michigan is doing everything it can to survive COVID-19 isolation.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Research into the Defense Department’s records finds hundreds of military installations are contaminated with PFAS. The toxic substances are confirmed to be in the tap water or ground water in 328 military sites. They’re suspected in the water at 350 more sites. (See map here.)

wind turbines and solar panels in a field
pkawasaki / Adobe Stock

Utility companies are required to file long-term plans with the state government. DTE Energy filed a plan in 2018 and the Michigan Public Service Commission had concerns. One of them was DTE’s plans to meet Michigan’s 15 percent renewable energy requirement. The Commission thought DTE’s numbers were vague.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suspending enforcement of some environmental laws duing the COVID-19 outbreak.

The State of Michigan’s environmental agency will still provide regulatory oversight.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You can’t go to your favorite cocktail bar. It's closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But, you might have a few bottles in your house. What can you make with what you have?

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings thinks it’s time to improvise a little. To put her idea to the test, she put a selection on her table and asked Lester Graham to choose some of them and she’d make a drink.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If you leave your home, take proper hygiene precautions.

“You cannot possibly interact with an environment, go out into the world and wipe and secure every single surface,” said Sue Anne Bell, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. She added, “do your due diligence in maintaining hygiene.”

Courtesy: Karen Kahn, Nosh Pit

When Governor Gretchen Whitmer restricted restaurants to pick-up or delivery only, a few places decided to temporarily close. But many are trying to be nimble and stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen Kahn is a co-owner of a vegan restaurant in Hamtramck. She says she’s watching her fellow-restauranteurs working hard to keep going.

“I'm very proud of them because it's staying positive in this environment. I really feel that if I had to close my doors, I don't know what I would do. You know?”

prison bars
Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Eight staff members at the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department tested positive for the new coronavirus. At least seven of those employees have been in contact with other employees and inmates at the county jail.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Pageant Atterberry says any inmate who shows symptoms of coronavirus infection is separated from the general population and sent to jail medical facilities. If needed, an inmate would be transported for treatment. So far, only one inmate has been examined and found not to be infected.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There's a bracing herbal, minty, chocolaty, funky, bitter Italian liqueur (an amaro) called Fernet Branca. It became wildly popular among people who work at bars. It's often used in cocktails, but if you're a bartender visiting another bar, your colleague might pour you a shot as a greeting, a bartender's handshake. During these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, let's call it a "bartender's elbow bump."

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A Michigan prisoner who was sent to the hospital earlier this month has tested positive for  COVID-19. The inmate was taken to a hospital on March 11th for medical care unrelated to the new coronavirus. 

The prisoner was at that hospital for almost a week. Then he was transferred to a second hospital.

“Where he was placed on a floor with members of the public who were suspected of having COVID-19,” said Chris Gautz, Public Information Officer with the Department of Corrections.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The unemployment rate is rising because people are losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, there are new jobs opening up.

Retailers Wal-Mart and Amazon are looking for temporary workers. Fast food delivery services are hiring. Some pharmacies and medical supply companies need workers. Big chain supermarkets need people to keep the shelves stocked. In some cases small businesses are hiring too.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Corrections and Catholic Charities are working to find a way to restore ‘substance abuse training’ for inmates. Without the training, many inmates who would be eligible for parole will remain in prison.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state is helping restaurants, bars, and hotels that have been effectively closed down for the most part by the COVID-19 pandemic. That help ranges from deferred taxes, to loans, to the idea of buying back liquor.

Restaurants and bars buy liquor from the state. Getting ready for March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day, they really stocked up. Now, because they were ordered by the government to close to the public, that alcohol is just sitting on the shelf. The state is considering buying back the last 30 days of purchases.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The timeline is still not certain, but the U.S. and Canada soon will be closing the border to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Non-essential travel will be stopped, but who is “essential” is not yet clear.

The Canada Border Services Agency says exemptions on travel across the border are being given to healthy workers in the trade and transportation sector such as truck drivers and crews on planes and trains. Healthy people who have to cross the border to go to work, including healthcare providers and critical infrastructure workers will be exempt.

Courtesy: Ann Arbor Distilling Company

You might have a hard time finding hand sanitizer at any price these days because of concerns about the novel coronavirus. Store shelves are often empty. But one Michigan company is making it and giving it away.

With all the hoarding people are doing, it’s nice to hear about people trying to make things better. 

Ann Arbor Distilling Company decided it had the main ingredient you need to make hand sanitizer: alcohol.

Danielle Berridge is the distillery’s tasting room manager. She says they’re using the neutral spirit they use in their gin.

“It’s actually made from local corn. And then we’ve got some aloe gel in there and a little bit of veggie glycerin. And then we also add water to it to bring it down to, I believe, 70%,” she said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit city bus drivers refused to work and demanded changes because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Those issues have been resolved and the bus drivers will go back to work Wednesday. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan worked with union leaders most of the day to resolve the issues.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Supermarkets are still short on some items, but shoppers say it’s better than last Friday.

Meegan Holland is a spokesperson for the Michigan Retailers Association. She says people have been stuffing their cabinets, freezers, and linen closets full of supplies because they’re panicked. She expects the hoarding to taper off.

smart bus driving down a street in Detroit
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

A driver shortage means Detroit Department of Transportation buses are not running today.

"We are asking passengers to seek other forms of transportation while we work to address our drivers' concerns," a written advisory states.

Empty grocery store shelves
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Grocery stores in Michigan are working to keep shelves stocked during the coronavirus/COVID-19 event. Cleaning supplies as well as routine items such as toilet paper are in high demand.

Reports indicate sales are up dramatically at supermarkets. A spokesman for Busch’s Fresh Foods indicated sales had increased by two to three times.

Back of a school bus
Pixabay

The State of Michigan is using some of the settlement money from Volkswagen’s Clean Air Act violations to subsidize new school buses. Volkswagen installed a device to fool emissions tests to show its cars polluted less than they did. 

The state received a total of nearly $65 million and more than 20% (almost $9 million) is going to replace old diesel school buses. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan residents are sending more trash to the state’s landfills than they have since before the Great Recession.

Last year Michigan homes and businesses sent more than 43 million cubic yards of trash to the landfills.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates it will take years to regulate PFAS in drinking water, if it does at all. 

The USEPA has proposed to regulate two forms of the thousands of chemicals in the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances family. PFOA and PFOS were the most commonly used.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A proposed large solar farm is moving ahead for approval. The 24 megawatt solar installation could power the equivalent of five thousand households. 

“When you add in the hydro energy that we generate, as well as the methane that we capture from the landfill, this gets the city of an obvious municipal operations government footprint — our electrical use — to about zero. Hundred percent powered with clean, renewable energy,” said Missy Stults, Sustainability and Innovations Manager for the City of Ann Arbor.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When you walk into Buffalo Traders Lounge in Grand Rapids, it’s the kind of space that just begs you to get comfortable, relax, and sip a drink.

“I have to say this is a gorgeous space, kind of mid-century modern decor. And I love it,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings said as she looked around.

We were there to visit with the lead bartender, Tony Jones and to sample one of his craft cocktails.

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