News Briefs

AIA billings index shows decline in work from May to June

The economic outlook provided by the Architecture Billings Index went from bad to worse as architects reported less work in June.

The billings index, created by the American Institute of Architects, is based on a survey of firms that measures how many prospective projects architects have on their dockets. A score higher than 50 on the index means demand for architecture work is increasing, but the nationwide number slipped to 37.7 in June, compared to 42.9 in May.

The Midwest fared even worse with a score of 36.2.
It takes roughly nine to 12 months for a project that registered in the index to go to construction, so the AIA is warning that the amount of work might continue to decline throughout 2010.

State nets $141 million in stimulus money for weatherization projects

Gov. Jim Doyle announced this week Wisconsin will receive more than $141 million in federal stimulus money for weatherization programs for low- and moderate-income families.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money will be used for a new program to weatherize large, multifamily buildings. The state wants to weatherize approximately 3,000 units in apartment buildings during the next two years, reducing energy use and creating jobs.

The Wisconsin Department of Administration will provide services for the new Multifamily Weatherization Recovery Project. Both DOA’s Division of Energy Services and the Division of State Facilities have experience in weatherization projects and working with contractors on state building projects.

Owners of low-income and working-poor properties of 20 or more units in one structure are encouraged to contact the DOA to learn more about participating in the program or to complete an application.

District attorney files open-meetings complaint over gravel pit meeting

Bayfield (AP) — The Bayfield County district attorney has filed a complaint accusing a town board of violating the state’s open-meetings law by banning the public from a session that was held at a gravel pit.

According to the complaint, the Town of Russell Board of Supervisors illegally met May 20 at Wayne Nelson’s quarry and voted to raise the allowable height of the gravel piles.

Two neighbors, Sam Atkins and Tessa Levens, were not allowed onto the property to participate in the meeting, and Atkins filed a complaint with prosecutors.

Town Board Chairman Paul Tribovich said the meeting at the quarry was legal because it was an exceptional case.

District Attorney Craig Haukaas said a court hearing on the complaint is set for Aug. 24.

Iron ore shipments could reach record lows in Duluth-Superior Harbor

Duluth, MN (AP) — Iron ore shipments through the Duluth-Superior Harbor are down 61 percent this season.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority reported such lows in iron ore shipments have not hit the Twin Ports since the mid-1930s.

Adolph Ojard, Port Authority executive director, said taconite shipments “have slowed to a trickle.”

Ojard said with steel plants idle and two dozen lakers in layup, iron ore shipments for Duluth-Superior could test record lows this year.

The port has handled 2.6 million tons of iron ore through June, compared with about 6.8 million a year ago.

Obama’s budget boss defends stimulus despite unemployment increase

New York (AP) — The Obama administration’s budget director defended the $787 billion stimulus package, saying the heavy spending was necessary to rescue the economy from the “brink of disaster” and the plan is “on schedule” to produce the intended results.

In prepared remarks to the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, White House budget director, Peter Orszag, said it is “misleading” to judge the effectiveness of the stimulus package based on the rise in unemployment — which hit a 26-year high of 9.5 percent in June.

The administration has taken some criticism from Republicans lawmakers who said the stimulus plan has not helped slow unemployment and has not been quick enough to disburse money while swelling the deficit.

Orszag said more than $220 billion in relief already has been “obligated,” including $43 billion in tax cuts, a tax credit for first-time homebuyers, $180 billion for state and local governments, food stamps and unemployment insurance.

He said the pace of spending will “ramp up considerably” over the summer and continue next year — but high unemployment is here to stay.

Judge approves General Motors move to drop Montana mine contract

Billings, MT (AP) — A bankruptcy judge Wednesday granted General Motors Co.’s request to drop its precious metals contract with a Montana mining company so the automaker can use foreign suppliers instead.

Stillwater Mining Co. attorney Garry Graber said the cancellation was approved Wednesday following a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

GM wanted to cancel the contract to slim down its expenses as it emerges from federal bankruptcy protection. The Detroit company is keeping its two other precious metals suppliers, based in Russia and South Africa.

For the last decade, Stillwater has supplied GM and other automakers with palladium and rhodium, which are used to make catalytic converters that filter pollutants from vehicle exhaust. In court filings, Stillwater had argued GM was compelled to honor its sole domestic contract for those metals as the recipient of up to $50 billion in government loans.

It’s uncertain how the cancellation will play out for miners.

New York sues 35 law firms following debt collection mess

New York (AP) — New York’s attorney general is suing 35 law firms over what he says were botched attempts to collect debts from thousands of people.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn nearly 100,000 legal judgments entered against people who failed to respond to court claims over their debts.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said many of those people did not reply because they didn’t know they were being sued.

He said a Long Island company hired to serve legal papers on thousands of debtors wasn’t bothering to track them down.

That company, American Legal Process, of Lynbrook, already faces fraud charges.

Now, Cuomo wants all of the judgments based on those tainted cases tossed out.

A lawyer for ALP blamed the problems on a few bad employees.

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