Local News Archives

Group Praises Water Ruling

Despite a legal victory against a major corporation, some environmental and community groups are not letting their guard down when it comes to protecting Michigan’s water. The Michigan Court of Appeals last week ruled Osceola Township had the right to deny a zoning permit to Nestle for a booster station to increase water extraction. The company had argued that local zoning officials were improperly influenced by public opposition. However, Peggy Case with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation says the court ruled that elected officials should be sensitive to residents’ concerns.. ...Read Full Story

BH Superintendent Candidates To Meet With Students, Teachers Next Week

As the Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education prepares to hold its final interviews with the two remaining candidates for superintendent next week, the community will also have a chance to meet the prospective hires. At a Tuesday meeting of the school board, President Joseph Taylor said Patricia Robinson and Andrae Townsel will talk with students, teachers, administrators, and the public prior to their interviews on Monday. The meetings at the school buildings will start at 1:30 p.m. with each group getting a half hour with each superintendent candidate. The community engagement time will begin at 5 p.m. Residents can meet with Robinson from 5 to 5:30 and then with Townsel from 5:30 to 6. The two will interview with the board of education starting at 6. The board could select the district’s new superintendent at that meeting. Robinson is the current interim superintendent at Benton Harbor Area Schools, while Townsel is the assistant superintendent at Wayne-Westland Community Schools in metro Detroit.. ...Read Full Story

BBB Warns About Rental Scams

A warning about rental scams has been put out by the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan. It says an in depth investigation it’s done has found 43% of online shoppers have encountered a fake listing and more than five million consumers have lost money to such scams. The study — “Is That Rental Listing Real? A BBB Study of Rental Scams Involving Apartments, Houses and Vacation Properties” — notes 85% of consumers don’t fall for the fake listings, but the sheer number of them, the organization says, “is staggering.” The most common rental scam is when someone posts a rental property online using a picture of a property they don’t even own. When a prospective renter contacts them, the scammer may claim to be out of the country and unavailable to show the property. Or, they only will communicate using email. A victim sends a deposit on the property, and never hears from the scammer again. Those who are looking to rent are advised to use caution. Also, landlords are encouraged to use watermarked photos when posting a listing online.. ...Read Full Story

County Commissioner Seeks Erosion Help While In Washington

Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott is back home after spending some time in Washington, D.C. last week talking with federal officials about shoreline erosion. Scott introduced the county board resolution asking the governor and state Legislature to declare a state of emergency regarding Great Lakes coastal erosion. He tells WSJM News while in the nation’s capital he talked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Congressman Fred Upton, representatives of Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and the liaison office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Scott wasn’t exactly impressed with that last meeting.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Weighs In On Articles Of Impeachment

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to debate and vote on two articles of impeachment of President Trump later this week. That could lead to an impeachment vote in the full House by Christmas. So what does Congressman Fred Upton think? He told us Tuesday afternoon he hadn’t yet read the articles alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but it seems to him as though the House is on the march to bring the articles to the floor.. ...Read Full Story

Group Of State Senators Seeks Emergency Declaration Over Coastal Erosion

Members of the Michigan Senate have sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer asking her to declare a state of emergency for the entire Lake Michigan shoreline because of the increasing problem of beach erosion. Among the senators to sign the letter are Kim LaSata and Aric Nesbitt. The group of senators writes to Whitmer that constituents “have been left to literally pick up the pieces of what was once their homes, businesses and infrastructure.” The letter also says if the governor were to declare an emergency, then additional state resources to deal with coastal erosion could be opened up, leading to the possibility of federal help. The action out of the Senate this week comes after a group of state House members sent the governor a similar letter last week.. ...Read Full Story

Former BH Mayor To Be Honored

The city of Benton Harbor will honor a former mayor next week by naming the municipal building after him. A dedication ceremony for the Wilce L. Cooke Municipal Building will be on Monday. Wilce Cooke was Benton Harbor’s mayor from 1981 to 1987, and then again from 2004 to 2011. The dedication of the building will be at 7 p.m. in the Lula Lee Commission Chambers when the city commission meets. Everyone is invited.. ...Read Full Story

Upton, House Republicans Push For Substitute To Democrats’ Drug Cost Bill

Efforts are underway from both political parties to try to find ways to bring down the cost of prescription drugs across the country, with each side saying their plan is better than the other. Congressman Fred Upton says House Republicans have a bill called the “Lower Cost, More Cures Act” that they’re trying to get as a substitute for the Democrats’ “Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019” that’s before the House. Upton says their bill will build on the progress made over the last three years by his bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act. On Tuesday, he talked about meeting with a girl last week with spinal muscular atrophy.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Authorities Release Name Of Woman Shot And Killed Sunday

The woman shot and killed on Sunday at a home on West May Street in Benton Harbor has been identified by public safety as 29-year-old Quintina Jeffries. No arrests have been made in her murder, but detectives say they’ve had “great cooperation” with several potential witnesses. They’re still looking for more information, and the case remains under investigation. Jeffries leaves behind an eight-year-old son and other relatives according to authorities. She was pronounced dead at the scene after being shot in the head, and police say the autopsy has confirmed the gunshot was the cause of her death.. ...Read Full Story

Person Of Interest In Disappearance Of Benton Harbor Woman Arrested Out Of State

The man called a person of interest in the disappearance of 30-year-old Jessica Gray is in custody in another state, but she is still missing. Benton Township police confirmed reports this morning that 38-year-old Willie Lark Jr. was arrested on a parole violation on Monday, but have not said where. Authorities had been called to a home in the 300 block of Crystal in Benton Township last Monday on a welfare check on Lark. One of his relatives had gone to the home early in the morning on December 2 and found the front door open and blood in the doorway. Police found spent shell casings in the home. Gray was last seen around 8 p.m. on Sunday, December 1, and police add she needs medical attention. Lark’s extradition to Michigan is pending the status of charges out of state.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Lawmakers Seek Tariffs On Turkish Cherries

From the Associated Press — Michigan farmers and lawmakers want the federal government to impose a hefty tariff on dried tart cherries imported from Turkey, arguing that a subsidy on the fruit is impeding American farmers’ ability to compete. Cherry  companies from Michigan and Utah on Tuesday asked the U.S. Commerce Department and International Trade Commission for a nearly 650% in tariff hikes on tart cherries imported from Turkey. The petition request would increase the price of $1 worth of cherries to $6.48. The Detroit News reports the companies are asking the commission to determine that Turkey has injured their business or at least threatens to do so.. ...Read Full Story

BH School Board Narrows Down Superintendent Search

The next superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools could be chosen next week by the board of education. Trustees on Monday interviewed four candidates for the job, and then voted to bring back two for additional interviews next Monday. Now in the running for the position of district superintendent are current Interim Superintendent Patricia Robinson and Wayne-Westland Community Schools Assistant Superintendent Andrae Townsel. Benton Harbor Area Schools Trustee Patricia Rush said Patricia Robinson has served the district well as a home grown acting superintendent.. ...Read Full Story

St. Joseph City Commission Rejects 3% Pay Raise Recommendation

St. Joseph City Commissioners don’t want a pay raise. The city’s Municipal Officers Compensation Commission met on Friday for the first time in four years and recommended a 3% increase in what the commissioners are paid, noting they hadn’t had a bump in eight years. The recommendation gave three options: do nothing and the raise would take effect automatically in 30 days; vote to approve it; or reject it. Commissioner Jeff Richards made the motion to turn down the extra money.. ...Read Full Story

Van Buren County Man Sentenced In Son’s Drug Death

From the Associated Press — A southwest Michigan man has been sentenced to a year in jail for his 16-year-old son’s fatal drug overdose. Prosecutors accused Gary Birkhead of knowingly allowing his son to use illicit drugs over two years. He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in November. Birkhead, a Bangor resident, has been in the Van Buren County jail for months and will have roughly 100 days left on the sentence. Cole Birkhead died in 2017 at Bronson hospital in Kalamazoo.. ...Read Full Story

Treasurer Notes Successful Year For Hopeful Home Fund

Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski looking back on the first year of his office’s Hopeful Home Fund as a success. He says the fund was started after donations poured in to pay off the property taxes of an 88-year-old Niles woman who had faced foreclosure. When her story got around in the media, Witkowski says he heard from many people who would want to help in that kind of situation.. ...Read Full Story

LaSata Pleased With Budget Negotiations

Michigan lawmakers and Governor Gretchen Whitmer are expected to approve some spending bills this week. That’s after the governor line item vetoed nearly $1 billion in funding included in the budget approved by the Legislature earlier this year. State Senator Kim LaSata tells WSJM News lawmakers last week restored funding for the Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates program, and also for student loans for those enrolled in private universities. That’s not all.. ...Read Full Story

BH Schools Advisory Committee Holding Public Outreach Meetings

There will be a couple of public meetings of the Community Engagement and Advisory Committee tasked with drafting a turnaround plan for Benton Harbor Area Schools this week and next week. The Michigan Department of Treasury says these are community outreach meetings, and everyone’s encouraged to attend at least one of them to offer their thoughts on the school district. This week’s meetings will both be Tuesday at the Benton Harbor Public Library. One will be at noon, and the other at 5 p.m. Then, there will be two more meetings next Tuesday. Once again, they’ll be at the Benton Harbor Public Library, at noon and at 5 p.m. There will be more community meetings announced later. The committee will provide an assessment of the school district in 90 days, and then an operating plan in six months.. ...Read Full Story

Stevensville’s Larry Wozniak Named 21st Senate District Veteran Of Year By Senator LaSata

Larry Wozniak of Stevensville is being honored by state Senator Kim LaSata with her Veteran of the Year award. Wozniak served in the U.S. Army for five years of combined active and active reserve duty from 1969 to 1974, and served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. LaSata’s office says during his time in Vietnam, Wozniak was promoted from second to first lieutenant, and then was promoted to captain upon returning to the U.S. and serving on active reserve. He currently serves as president of the veteran service organization Lest We Forget and is a past president of the Southwest Michigan Tourist Association. Wozniak was nominated for the honor due to his volunteerism in Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, Stevensville, and elsewhere in the region by Tom Wozniak. Senator LaSata said in a statement his “dedicated service to country, community and family is to be admired and celebrated.”. ...Read Full Story

DNR Winter Land Auction To Be Held This Week

Here’s your chance to buy a piece of Michigan state land as the Department of Natural Resources holds its annual winter auction. Almost 150 parcels of land, including some in southwest Michigan, will be up for auction starting tomorrow. The Department is offering some parcels that are less than an acre in size. Michael Michalek is a Resource Specialist for the DNR he says the largest parcel is 160 acres.. ...Read Full Story

Report Looks At 2019 Accomplishments In South Haven

The South Haven City Council spent part of its meeting this past week reviewing its accomplishments in 2019. City Manager Brian Dissette tells WSJM News housing development was the top priority. Accomplishments on that front have included the new mixed used development on Center Street with commercial space and 18 apartments, and a development at the site of the former Macdonald Drug on Phoenix Street. Dissette says more will come with the former Overton factory site on Elkenburg Street.. ...Read Full Story

Woman Found Dead From Shooting In Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor Public Safety detectives are investigating the shooting death Sunday of a 29-year-old woman. Director Dan McGinnis tells WSJM News the woman was found shot in the head at 185 West Main Street just before 11:30 a.m., and was pronounced dead at the scene. McGinnis says they don’t know the circumstances of the shooting just yet, but do suspect foul play. The woman’s name is not being released at this time pending notification of her family.. ...Read Full Story

State Program Allows Sex Assault Survivors To Seek Help Via Text

The office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer has announced that, as of this week, survivors of sexual assault can seek help via text message. They can text 1-866-238-1454 to receive immediate help and support from trained professionals. The texting feature is an expansion to the 855-VOICES4 hotline, which offers confidential support to survivors of all kinds, along with help for their family and friends. The hotline launched in 2018 to help ensure the 40% of Michiganders without access to direct sexual assault services had somewhere to turn. The governor made the announcement about the new texting support service at Eastern Michigan University this past week during the fifth annual “Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” summit. The “Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” initiative was started by former Michigan First Lady Sue Snyder with the goal of changing the culture surrounding campus sexual assault. You can find out more about the state hotline right here.. ...Read Full Story

Elkhart Man Shot Breaking Into Cass County Home

An Elkhart man picked the wrong house to break into in Cass County on Friday. The sheriff’s office says the 34-year-old man was shot by one of the residents, 35-year-old Jonathon Niswonger, during a fight after forcing his way in, and is now at Elkhart General Hospital. Authorities have not released the name of the suspect pending his arraignment. Police talked to Niswonger and Shasta Blankenmeyer, who also lives at the Volinia Township home, shortly after the shooting and are continuing to investigate.. ...Read Full Story

Trees For The Troops Sends Hundreds Of Christmas Trees To Military Bases

465 Christmas trees have been sent to two U.S. military bases thanks to Wahmhoff Farms in Gobles and nearly 100 volunteers who turned out this past week as part of the annual Trees for the Troops effort. The trees collected from Michigan farms were loaded on to FedEx trailers by the volunteers and then shipped out to Fort Knox and Fort Hood on Monday so soldiers can have a more merry Christmas. Among those to help load the trees were local dignitaries that included state Senator Aric Nesbitt. Wahmhoff Farms thanked all of those who helped for showing their kindness and love of country. The farm says the efforts of those who came out will ensure hundreds of military families can celebrate around a real tree knowing someone cares.. ...Read Full Story

Police Investigate Gas Station Robbery

The Lincoln Township Police Department is investigating an early Saturday morning armed robbery at the Shell gas station on Red Arrow Highway in Stevensville . The department says two “partially masked white males” went into the store around 2:40 a.m. demanding money. One of them pointed a handgun at the clerk, and the men ran off with the cash from the register. A K9 tracked the suspects to a nearby apartment complex, but the trail ended there. There were no injuries in the robbery, and police ask anyone with information on the crime to contact them.. ...Read Full Story

Bridgman Library Taking Food In Place Of Late Fees

Anyone who owes late fees to the Bridgman Public Library has a chance to pay them off this month while helping those in need. The library tells us they will accept donations of unopened, non-perishable food items or toiletries in lieu of money to take care of late fees. All donations will go to two local food pantries. The library says the offer is good through January 6, and there’s no required amount for donations. The offer only applies to late fees and not to book replacement fees.. ...Read Full Story

Lawmaker Pleased With State Budget Progress

State Representative Beth Griffin is pleased progress has been made on the state budget this week. The Mattawan Republican tells WSJM News House and Senate negotiators have been working with Governor Gretchen Whitmer to restore funding included in the original state budget this year. Nearly $1 billion was line item vetoed by the governor. Griffin says this restored funding covers several important programs.. ...Read Full Story

BH School Board To Interview Superintendent Candidates Monday

The Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education will interview four candidates for the position of district superintendent Monday. The board hopes to have a district leader picked this month as the Community Advisory and Engagement Committee established by the state gets to work on its turnaround plan for the district. The interviews for superintendent will take place at the Benton Harbor High School library from 4 to 9 p.m. Among the candidates is district Interim Superintendent Patricia Robinson. Also set to be interviewed are Dr. C. Michael Robinson Jr., Larry Gray II, and Andrae Townsel. The school board reviewed eight candidates for the post last week, and then whittled the number down to four. After Monday’s interviews, the board will invite two candidates back for interviews a week later, and then make a hiring decision at that time.. ...Read Full Story

Report: MI Businesses Not Prepared For Climate Change

Severe weather due to climate change is disrupting global supply chains, and putting Michigan companies at risk, according to a new report. It says in the last five years, the state has experienced 11 climate or weather-related disasters that each topped $1 billion in damages. Jim Doyle, president of Business Forward, the non-profit group that compiled the findings, tells us extreme weather has affected farmers, manufacturers, and other businesses across the state.. ...Read Full Story

Lawmakers Seeking Emergency Declaration For Great Lakes Shoreline

A group of Michigan lawmakers is asking Governor Gretchen Whitmer to issue a state of emergency declaration due to severe erosion along the shores of the Great Lakes. The lawmakers include state Representatives Pauling Wendzel, Brad Paquette, Mary Whiteford, and Beth Griffin, as well as Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield. They sent a letter to the governor this week seeking that emergency declaration. Representative Griffin spoke with WSJM News about the matter.. ...Read Full Story

Cass County Man Convicted In Child Rape Case

A Cass County jury has convicted a 74-year-old man of three counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct after prosecutors say he repeatedly molested a young girl from 1991 to 1995. The Cass County Prosecutor’s office says James McNeil of Dowagiac began assaulting the girl when she was in kindergarten. Testifying at McNeil’s trial were six women who said they too had been lured to the defendant’s Dowagiac home as children while he “babysat” them. McNeil was earlier sentenced to up to 15 years prison after being convicted of third degree criminal sexual conduct going back to 1989. The 29-year old victim in this week’s case testified the molestations began when she was five years old. The prosecutor says she and other survivors explained from the stand how the defendant often had young children in his company and his home. They said he had been grooming and molesting grade school girls since 1977. It took the jury less than five minutes to convict McNeil. He’ll be sentenced on February 28.. ...Read Full Story

Legal Victory For Residents Falsely Accused Of Defrauding Employment System

From the Associated Press — Residents who were falsely accused of defrauding Michigan’s unemployment benefits system have won another legal victory. The state appeals court ruled Thursday that their lawsuit seeking damages from the state should proceed. The 3-0 decision came after the Michigan Supreme Court in April decided in favor of the plaintiffs on a separate issue. Between 2013 and
2015, a disastrous automated computer system at Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency wrongly accused thousands of people of collecting excessive benefits based on discrepancies in reported earnings, hours worked and other information.. ...Read Full Story

DNR Land Auction Starts Next Week

Getting underway next Tuesday will be the annual Michigan Department of Natural Resources land auction. DNR resources specialist Michael Michalek tells WSJM News the agency sells off properties obtained through tax reversion to help acquire other properties or to run recreational programs. There will be a wide variety of parcels available.. ...Read Full Story

Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department Holding Citizens Academy

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department is planning to hold a Citizens Academy next month. It holds the academies so residents can learn about what the sheriff’s department does and get to understand the court system a little better. The eleven week program covers topics including corrections, dispatch, police K9s, crash investigations, the use of force, patrol techniques, and the various divisions of the sheriff’s department. The classes are held in the lower level of the sheriff’s department office in Paw Paw in the evenings. The academy begins on January 8 and will finish March 18. Someone who’s interested in law enforcement might want to consider attending. You can find applications for the academy at the website of the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department. Go to the Services tab.. ...Read Full Story

Demographer Reviews Southwest Michigan Population Trends

Economic development organizations and others are working on making southwest Michigan a more attractive place for young workers to live as they seek to increase the region’s population. On Thursday, Michigan State Demographer Eric Guthrie was in Benton Harbor to discuss population trends and demographics in the area. He tells WSJM News there is one thing that needs to be done to keep the southwest Michigan vibrant.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Works Offers Training Help To Dislocated Retail, Banking Workers

As online shopping becomes more prevalent and physical stores continue to shut down, Michigan Works has launched a program to help retail workers who find themselves without a job. Michigan Works Talent Development Manager Samantha Gizzi tells WSJM News a state Dislocated Worker Grant is making it possible for the agency to get new training for both retail and banking workers. They’ve been in contact with employees of local stores that have shut down and bank branches that have been consolidated.. ...Read Full Story

Inauguration For BH Mayor Planned For This Month

There will be a formal inauguration for Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad this month. Muhammad was re-elected in November, and now the city says his inaugural will be on December 16. There, he plans to talk about continuing development in Benton Harbor. The inauguration will be held at the Inn at Harbor Shores from 8 to 10 p.m. The city says all residents, business owners, and community stakeholders are welcome to attend.. ...Read Full Story

Governor Appoints Ethics Expert To MSU Board

From the Associated Press — Governor Gretchen Whitmer has named an ethics expert to Michigan State University’s governing board as it continues to confront the fallout from Larry Nassar’s sexual assaults. The appointment of Renee Knake on Wednesday fills a vacancy left by a trustee who resigned over the board’s decision to drop a promised independent review of the Nassar scandal. University of Houston law professor Renee Knake previously taught at Michigan State’s law school for a decade and still lives in East Lansing. Whitmer, a Michigan State alumna, says it is important to add someone who is “seeped in ethics” to the university’s leadership.. ...Read Full Story

Van Buren County Sheriff To Be Featured On Television Show

Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbot heads to New York next week to tape a segment for the A&E show, Live PD. He tells us the show is flying him out on Tuesday, and he’ll be home Thursday. The show’s producers recently saw video from a chase that Abbott took part in on August 16. A man accused of setting his girlfriend’s car on fire and pointing a gun at police was stopped using a pit maneuver. He’s now in the Van Buren County Jail on a variety of charges. Abbott says he doesn’t know exactly when his segment on Live PD will air, but it will be sometime in March or April. He’ll let everyone know when the show tells him the specific date. Abbott will be the first law enforcement officer from Michigan to be featured on the show.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Pushing For Nuclear Waste Storage Site

Congressman Fred Upton is once again calling for a permanent storage facility for spent nuclear fuel to be created at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. He tells WSJM News the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week voted to advance the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019. It aims to assist in the resolution of the license for that site. Upton tells us work on Yucca Mountain has sat stalled while nuclear plants continue to generate waste.. ...Read Full Story

Upton Starts Work On 21st Century Cures, Version 2

Congressman Fred Upton is getting to work on an update to what he says is landmark health legislation from 2016, the 21st Century Cures law. That legislation was designed to speed up the approval process for new drugs and medical devices while putting more money into the National Institutes of Health. Now, Upton tells WSJM News he and Congresswoman Diana DeGette are working on version 2.0.. ...Read Full Story