environment

What's Working
9:59 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Michigan's State Park System

The Michigan State Park System won the gold medal award this year for the top state park system in the nation. People use the parks for swimming and boating during the summer, and hunting and downhill skiing during the winter, among a host of other activities.  We wanted to find out more about how the parks system affects our lives.  So, as part of our series, "What's Working," we called Ron Olson, the Chief of Parks and Recreation.

Environment
3:18 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

1 in 4 in Michigan buy optional state park pass, $6 million extra raised

The little "P" on your license plate sticker means you paid the extra $10 to get into Michigan's parks. The new system raised extra money for the parks this year.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The new system to help fund Michigan state parks was a success in its first year.

Before the "Recreation Passport" system was put in place, park visitors had to buy annual or daily window stickers.

Now, people can get access to the parks by paying an extra $10 when registering their motor vehicle at the Michigan Secretary of State (window stickers and daily passes are still an option if you didn't pay extra at the Secretary of State).

The $10 annual fee is a lot less than the $24 people used to pay for an annual window sticker, but because more people participated, more money was raised.

From the MDNR:

In 2011, the program's first year, the DNR set a goal of 24.3 percent participation by Michigan motorists. Final tallies for the first year show that the goal was met and exceeded, with 24.7 percent of Michigan motorists checking "Yes" to support the Recreation Passport when renewing their motor vehicle registration. In total, the revenue generated by the sale of the Recreation Passport was $18,816,500.

Those who paid extra for access to Michigan's state parks have a tiny "P" printed on their license plate renewal sticker (the rectangular sticker on the upper-right part of the Michigan license plate).

Michigan DNR spokesperson Mary Dettloff says park rangers have gotten really good at spotting that tiny "P" from a distance.

For 2011, that little "P" signifies $6 million in extra revenue for the park system.

When lawmakers set up the new program, they anticipated the extra revenue. The $6 million will be be broken up according to a formula in the law:

  • State Parks - Capital Outlay (50 percent): $3,043,250
  • State Parks - Maintenance (30 percent): $1,825,950
  • Local Park Grants (10 percent): $608,650
  • State Forest Recreation (7 percent): $426,055
  • Cultural/Historical Facilities in State Parks (2.75 percent): $167,379
  • Marketing (0.25 percent): $15,216


The MDNR recently announced the recipients for local park grants. The local grants range from a minimum of $7,500 to a maximum of $30,000. MDNR officials say if revenues increase with the new "Recreation Passport" program, the maximum grant amount will increase as well.

24.7 percent participated in the program this year. Next year's goal is 30 percent.

Culture of Class
10:17 am
Thu November 17, 2011

Detroit residents consider Marathon buyout offers (part 2)

Linda Chernowas says she has health problems related to living in her polluted industrial neighborhood. But she says Marathon's offer isn't enough for her to get a comparable house elsewhere.
Sarah Hulett/Michigan Radio

Michigan’s only oil refinery is in the middle of a $2 billion dollar expansion project. Marathon Petroleum is expanding its refinery in southwest Detroit to process more heavy crude oil from Canada.

That expansion project is moving the footprint of Marathon’s refinery closer to people’s homes, especially the Oakwood Heights neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. A couple weeks ago, the company made a big announcement. Marathon is offering to buy about 350 homes in Oakwood Heights. The company is offering a minimum of $40,000 dollars plus half of what the home appraises for. There’s also money to help people relocate.

“We think it’s a very generous program. We think the neighborhood is going to be very happy with it.”

Tracy Case is with Marathon. He says the company is planning to demolish the homes it buys and create about a hundred acres of green space next to its refinery.

“You know, I think if you asked anybody in industry, or if you asked anybody that lives next to industry, they’d say yeah, that’s a good thing to have, to have the green space.”

He says the program is voluntary and no one will be forced to move.

Read more
Environment
4:40 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

EPA revises estimate for oil collected in Enbridge pipeline break

Enbridge's broken pipeline. When this part of oil pipeline 6b burst near Talmadge Creek in July 2010, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of gallons of diluted bitumen oil spilled into the creek and into the Kalamazoo River.
NTSB

There’s a new estimate of the amount of oil that’s been sucked out of the  Kalamazoo River.  And it’s higher than the amount of oil Enbridge Energy claims leaked from its pipeline 16 months ago.  

Enbridge Energy claims a little more than 843 thousand gallons of crude oil leaked from its pipeline near Marshall in July, 2010. But the Environmental Protection Agency says it has recovered more than 1.1 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River during the 16 month cleanup. The EPA says it’s still investigating how much oil leaked from Enbridge’s pipeline.  

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Culture of Class
12:18 am
Tue November 15, 2011

Living next to heavy industry, pt. 1

The playground at the Salina Elementary school in Dearborn with the Severstal steel plant in the background.
Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

A little more than 50 years ago, Delores Leonard and her husband moved into their red brick ranch in Detroit.

“I selected it because the sun comes up over there in the morning and I was thinking about my flowers.”

They’ve raised their two kids here and now they have four grandchildren and five great-grandkids and they all live nearby.

But she says on any given day... she doesn’t know what she’ll smell when she steps outside.

“Sometimes it’s a kerosene odor. Sometimes it’s a horrible stench, like at a slaughterhouse. Sometimes, you’re out in public and people will say, ‘where do you live?’ And they’ll say,’ oh yes, I know that area, that stench, I don’t see how those people live there.’”

“There” is zip code 48217. It’s a corner of Southwest Detroit packed with heavy industry.

There’s the state’s only oil refinery, owned by Marathon Petroleum. The salt mine. The city’s wastewater treatment plant. DTE’s coal-burning power plant. Severstal Steel. And many more.

Delores Leonard grew up just a few streets over, in River Rouge. She remembers asking her dad why people were covering their cars with tarps.

“And he said it was because of the fallout, the pollution. Well, if they’re covering their cars so the paint pigmentation won’t peel, then what happens to the person who lives and who’s breathing all this stuff?”

Like Delores Leonard, a lot of people have lived here their whole lives.

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Environment
9:00 am
Thu November 10, 2011

States ban lead wheel weights

A collection of lead wheel weights that have fallen off cars and trucks.
Photo by Jeff Gearhart

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

The U.S. has worked to get lead out of gas and out of paint, but the biggest source of lead in a consumer product is still on roadways. It’s in the form of wheel weights, used to balance the tires on our cars. The Environmental Protection Agency says about 1.6 million pounds of lead fall off of vehicles each year, and it winds up in the environment. A handful of states is leading the effort to ban lead wheel weights.

If you notice a wobble or vibration when you’re driving, it could mean you’ve lost a wheel weight. Jeff Gearhart is a researcher with the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. He says wheel weights are about the size of your pinky finger, and there are usually one or two of them for each tire.

“If you look at the rubber part of the wheel, then there’s a metal part, and if you look carefully, then you’ll see a clip-on weight.”

Gearhart isn’t a traditional car guy. He cares about wheel weights because in most states, they’re made with lead. Gearhart says it’s easy to bump a curb, and lose a wheel weight. The EPA says 13% of them fall off. On the roads, the weights get crushed into dust. He says the lead winds up in the soil, in drinking water and ground water.

“Lead’s a neurotoxin, leads to learning disabilities, lower IQ. We don’t know of any safe level of lead exposure in the environment.”

Read more
News Roundup
11:01 am
Mon November 7, 2011

In this morning's news...

Republican candidates to debate in Michigan this Wednesday

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reports the nationally televised Republican presidential debate will be held at Oakland University this Wednesday. The debate will begin at 8 p.m. and coverage on CNBC will start at 7 p.m. The economy is expected to be a major focus of the debate.

The University has a series of events planned around the debate.

UM nurses approves 3-year contract

Nurses working at the University of Michigan Health System have been working without a contract since July 1. Now they've agreed to a three year deal with UMHS.

From the Detroit News:

The University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council's membership this past weekend approved a new contract that includes a phasing in of health insurance premium increases and includes 3 percent wage increases the first and second years and 4 percent the third year of the contract, plus step increases, said Katie Oppenheim , president of the nurse council.

New Visitor Center for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Representative John Dingell's dream of an international wildlife refuge along the Detroit River flyway became a reality in 2001. And the Refuge continues to receive investments.

The Associated Press reports the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is getting almost $1.4 million for work next year at the site of a future visitor's center. Officials plan to announce the funding in Trenton today. They are also marking the completion of $1.2 million in cleanup and restoration at the Refuge Gateway.

Environment
11:11 am
Fri November 4, 2011

Landslide leads to coal ash spill in Lake Michigan

Earlier this week, there was a landslide at a coal-burning power plant in Wisconsin. We Energies operates the plant. On their property, there’s a ravine next to a bluff on the shore of Lake Michigan. That ravine is filled with coal ash.

Coal ash is what’s left over when coal is burned to create electricity and it can contain toxic substances like arsenic, mercury and lead.

When the bluff collapsed on Monday, mud, soil, and coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan.

Barry McNulty is with We Energies.

“The vast majority of the debris including the soils and even coal ash, remain on land today. But a portion of that debris certainly spilled into Lake Michigan, which includes three vehicles, we believe, some coal ash, different soil from the bluff,” McNulty said.

McNulty said they don’t know how much coal ash got into the lake, but he said they are installing booms and using skimmers to clean up the spill.

The cause of the spill is under investigation.

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Offbeat
11:10 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Squirrel blamed in Grand Rapids for power outage

A red squirrel in Michigan.
Steve Burt Flickr

Colder weather means squirrels are looking for indoor homes and places to cache their food. Some are more aggressive in establishing their indoor domiciles than others.

From the Associated Press:

Officials at Consumers Energy are blaming a squirrel for knocking out electrical service to about 10,000 customers yesterday in the Grand Rapids area. The critter managed to get into a piece of equipment at a substation, briefly knocking out power.

Transportation
11:26 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Does it make sense to invest more in Michigan's rail system?

The miles of railroad track in Michigan today matches the miles of track we had back in 1880.
Draft Michigan Rail Plan MDOT

This was an interesting graph I came across in MDOT's draft report, Michigan State Rail Plan.

The miles of railroad we have in the state today, match what we had back in 1880.

The state went from a peak of 9,059 miles in 1909, to 3,900 miles today - a decline of almost 60%.

It makes sense.

The internal combustion engine began competing with rail at the turn of the last century. Trucks and cars began moving more freight and people.

Read more
Environment
4:35 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

States seek action on Asian carp from U.S. Supreme Court

Some states want the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Asian carp fight.
US Supreme Court

Five Great Lakes states are waiting to find out if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case calling for more decisive measures to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania filed the request this week.

The states want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to quickly wrap up its study of how to keep Asian carp from escaping the Mississippi River system through Chicago-area shipping canals. The corps is one of the main agencies responsible for the locks.

John Sellek is the spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

“What we really want is to have the Army Corps of Engineers speed up their study,” said Sellek.

“They are taking up to five years or longer to look at this and every minute that goes by could be another fish that’s getting through those canals in Chicago, so what we’re requesting is they speed that up to 18 months at the longest.”

The Great Lakes states also want the high court to order the corps to string nets across smaller waterways that could be escape points for the carp.

At the same time, Michigan and 17 states along the Great Lakes or the Mississippi want a total physical separation of the water systems.

Environment
3:40 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Northern Lights in Michigan... in case you missed the show last night

Last night's northern lights as seen in near Martin, Michigan.
user lakefxnet YouTube

Last night, some people in Michigan and in states as far south as Arkansas looked up and saw a spectacular aurora borealis display.

Here's a time lapse look at the lights that were visible last night near Martin, Michigan:

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Environment
2:43 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

Exotic animals killed in Ohio puts spotlight on Michigan bill

The tragedy that unfolded for the exotic animals near Zanesville, Ohio on Tuesday night and Wednesday highlighted the lack of regulation in Ohio for a particular type of animal compound.

Terry Thompson kept bears, tigers, lions, monkeys, and other animals on his property.

He reportedly did not display them to the public for compensation, and was not required to carry a permit from the USDA. And an Ohio state law regulating exotic animals had expired.

Read more
Environment
11:08 am
Thu October 20, 2011

Macomb County officials avert drinking water monitoring system shutdown – for now

It looks like a system that monitors drinking water for at least three million people in southeast Michigan will stay online for another year.

The monitoring system gives early alerts if chemical spills are detected—so it keeps contaminants out of the drinking water system.

The system was in danger of shutting down when federal and state dollars ran out. But officials from Macomb and St. Clair counties have each come up with enough money to keep the system going for another year.

But policymakers are still searching for a long-term solution.

Macomb County Commission Chair Kathy Vosburg says a long-term fix will likely mean a small consumer fee.

“Consumers are very willing to pay for that, it comes out to be something like 50 cents to a dollar per household per year.”

But implementing that would take cooperation from the many different cities that send out water bills--and the city of Detroit, which owns and operates the whole drinking water system.

Environment
12:08 am
Tue October 11, 2011

Beekeepers still struggling with colony collapse disorder

Some of Ted Elk’s hives are buzzing with bees and honey.
Photo by Julie Grant

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

Michigan beekeepers are continuing to lose huge numbers of bees. They join beekeepers from around the country – and the world – who have been dealing with what’s called Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s been around for five years now. Julie Grant visited with some beekeepers, and reports that scientists and the government don’t agree on what should be done to help them.  Here's her story:

Ted Elk is checking out some of his hives. They’re on the backside of a corn field, tucked away in the brush. The colorful boxes are stacked on top of each other.

Some hives are buzzing with activity. He pulls out a comb and scrapes the side:

“And that is all goldenrod honey. See how yellow that is?”

I want to eat it. It’s almost irresistible. But not all the hives look this good.

“Here’s one that’s not gonna make it through winter. It’s light, there’s no bees, there’s no weight to it.”

There’s honey on the comb. But almost no bees.

Elk suspects this hive has colony collapse disorder. There aren’t dead bees around. They’re just gone.

Elk has seen this before. Last winter, he lost 250 hives – and thousands of dollars. When Elk first started keeping bees, he might lose five or six percent in the winter. But nationwide, a 30 percent winter bee loss is average nowadays.

Researchers still aren’t sure exactly what’s causing Colony Collapse Disorder. But they do know there’s a lot of stress on bees. Beekeepers take their hives all over the country – to Florida to pollinate oranges, to California for almonds, to New York for apples, and elsewhere. The beekeepers take the bees honey, and often feed them cheap high fructose corn syrup, or nothing at all. Plus, they can have mites and bacteria. And there are 28 viruses that can affect bees.

Read more
Environment
3:35 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Green building conference: standing out from the crowd

The U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference was held in Toronto this week.  “Greenbuild 2011” was four days of seminars, classes, and discussions about how to construct buildings and homes, using more environmentally friendly methods. 

Read more
Environment
9:54 am
Thu October 6, 2011

Army Corps to turn up juice on carp barrier

Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Chuck Shea at the electric barrier system in Romeoville, Illinois.
Photo by Rebecca Williams

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

Government officials are trying to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. One of the main methods they’re using is electrical shock. There’s a man-made canal near Chicago that connects the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan. And on that canal is a system of three underwater electric barriers built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I recently had a chance to visit the electric barriers. You can’t see the actual barriers, because the electrodes are underwater. But the Army Corps invited me into the control room of Barrier 2B. It looks about like you’d guess – lots of computers and gauges. There are a couple large mounted Asian carp on the shelves.

Chuck Shea is a project manager with the Army Corps.

He says the barriers repel fish by emitting very rapid electric pulses into the water... which, if you’re a fish, is not a whole lot of fun.

“The idea is, as a fish swims in, the further it goes it’s getting a bigger and bigger shock and it realizes going forward is bad, it’s uncomfortable, and it turns around and goes out of its own free will and heads back downstream.”

The electric bill for this barrier runs between $40,000 and $60,000 a month.

Read more
Environment
4:18 pm
Tue October 4, 2011

Dow's solar shingles to hit U.S. to markets

Dow's solar shingles will be released in limited markets starting this month.
Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical first unveiled its solar shingle two years ago, with plans for a limited release in mid-2010.

Now the company announced that the shingles will be available to some customers starting this month. The company says they're starting in the strongest markets for solar this month. The shingles will first be available in Colorado, and a "rolling launch" will occur in markets from California to the "East Coast."

In a press release, Dow said the shingle "protects the home like a standard roofing shingle while providing energy that saves the homeowner money":

Dow can now serve the need of homeowners who want to go solar, but aren’t willing to accept the complexity and sub-optimal aesthetics currently offered by bulky, rack-mounted systems.

Booth Mid-Michigan reports that Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris called Dow's solar shingle "a game changer that will address an estimated $5 billion market by 2015."

From Booth Mid-Michigan:

Dow hasn't reported a price for the shingles, but said the cost to homeowners will be set by the channel to market, and will depend on the size and configuration of the home and desired power generation. Dow officials said the cost of solar shingles can be thousands of dollars less than solar panels installed on top of a roof.

Environment
12:31 pm
Mon October 3, 2011

Michigan company seeks permits for new copper mine in UP

A nugget that is a mixture of copper, domeykite, and algodonite from the Mohawk Mine in Keweenaw County, Michigan. The AP reports that a Canadian company wants to open a new mine in the UP.
user Alchemist-hp wikimedia commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A company is applying for state permits to construct a copper and silver mine in Michigan's far western Upper Peninsula.

Orvana Minerals Co., a subsidiary of a Canadian company, is proposing to build a mine near Lake Superior in Gogebic County. Orvana is targeting 798 million pounds of copper and 3.5 million
ounces of silver.

Company president Bill Williams says the mine would operate about 14 years and have about 250 people on the payroll.

Orvana will need 13 permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, including one to build and operate the mine. The others would deal with issues such as air quality, wastewater discharges and wetlands development.

DEQ officials say the mine will have to meet strict environmental standards to qualify for the permits.

Environment
11:12 am
Fri September 30, 2011

Storms bring high waves, winds to western Michigan

Big waves on Lake Michigan in 2007.
screen grab from YouTube video

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - The National Weather Service says storms brought high waves and strong winds to Lake Michigan and along the western Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The weather service says waves between 12 and 18 feet were expected Friday. A storm warning was in effect for part of the day.

The Grand Rapids Press reports a 21-foot wave was recorded by a buoy in the middle of Lake Michigan west of Holland.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph were reported. Strong winds were expected around Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

High winds and waves moved in Thursday. The Muskegon Chronicle reports the S.S. Badger car ferry wasn't expected to be in service Friday between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., due to the weather. Ferry service was expected to resume Saturday.

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