Environment & Science

Environment
2:35 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Flood waters rising along the River Raisin in Monroe County

A section of the River Raisin near Monroe at a normal water level
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Flood waters on the River Raisin are not expected to crest in Monroe County until Friday afternoon at the earliest. The crest is expected to be near a record high.    

This week’s heavy rain and snow are being blamed for the rapidly rising River Raisin. The flood waters have already spilled over the river’s banks in Monroe and Dundee, inundating neighborhoods and businesses. The rising water has also forced the closure of the M-50 bridge in Dundee.  

Julius Suchy is Dundee’s village manager. He says it’s too soon to fully assess the damage. 

Environment
11:21 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Less money for cities to fix water systems?

Water at the Senior Citizens' Housing Center in Louisville, NY before it is filtered.
Julie Grant/The Environment Report

by Julie Grant for The Environment Report

When Ernie Runions took the job as maintenance manager at the Senior Citizens Housing Center in Louisville, New York, he didn’t realize how much time he’d be spending in this small room. The water room. It’s filled with water tanks and filters. Runions says the equipment cost about $25,000 and the price tag keeps rising.

“It’s in terrible shape. It keeps falling apart. Every time we fix it, it’s $5,000, $3,000. This place is right in the hole because of that.”

We fill a bucket with the nursing home’s water – before it’s gone through the extensive filtering.

It smells bad, like eggs and iron. It’s got a blackish tint, and it’s got black particles floating in it.

Runions says even after the filtering, the elderly residents don’t want to drink it. It’s high in sodium, which can be bad for their health. And it smells like chlorine, which Runions uses to kill bacteria.

“And they complain. They say the chlorine is making me itch, all the extra chlorine. I’ve got red blotches all over my body, and my doctor says it’s the chlorine from the building.”

Town leaders say that until a few years ago, everyone used well water. And most people had some kind of problem with it. Nearly half the wells tested had coliform bacteria contamination – some suspected sewage was seeping into the wells.

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energy
2:18 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Investigation shows event at Palisades Nuclear Plant was of "substantial safety significance"

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant sits close to the Lake Michigan shoreline near South Haven.
Excelon Nuclear

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a week-long shut-down of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in September was of "substantial safety significance." The plant is located in South Haven about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

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Weather
7:45 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Snow totals reach up to 9.5 inches around parts of Michigan

Much of Michigan was painted white overnight.

The National Weather Service was predicting totals of an inch yesterday afternoon, and up to six inches overnight in parts of southern Michigan. It appears a bit more snow fell than predicted.

From the Associated Press:

Storms brought heavy snow to parts of southern Michigan, with up to 9.5 inches reported in the Lansing area.

The National Weather Service says 7 to 9.5 inches of snow fell by Wednesday morning around Lansing. That came after heavy rains flooded some areas Tuesday.

Winter storm watches were issued. The storms left thousands without power.

The Saginaw area had reports of about 6 inches of snow. In southeast Michigan, the weather service says the Detroit area got anywhere from a dusting to about 3 inches.

The weather service says snow totals in the Jackson and Battle Creek areas were up to 5 inches, while Kalamazoo had 3 to 4 inches. Grand Rapids, however, avoided the snow.

Tuesday's rains closed several roadways, including part of the Southfield Freeway near Detroit.

Environment
7:20 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

MSU Study: Minorities pay more for water in Michigan

Mark Brush Michigan Radio

A new study indicates racial minorities pay more for water and sewer service than whites in Michigan.

Michigan State University researchers looked at what people across the state paid for water and sewer service in 2000. Basic economic theory predicts that rural residents would pay the most for such services.

But the researchers found precisely the opposite to be true. Their results show that people in urban centers—with large minority populations—paid the most.

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Environment
2:32 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Marquette selling forestland for sand mining

Forestland in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
user {inercia} Flickr

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - The city of Marquette is selling 100 acres of forestland for use in sand mining.

The Mining Journal and television station WLUC report the City Commission voted Monday to approve the sale of part of the former Heartwood Forestland property to the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority for $180,000.

The city bought the 2,400-acre property in 2005. The authority plans to use the sand at a landfill that serves the city in an effort to cut costs.

Environment
1:41 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Mining in the UP, what does the state get in return?

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011. The mine is 25 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

Drilling continues in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for potentially valuable ore deposits after a judge turned down a request from environmental groups to stop the mine's development.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals is drilling 25 miles northwest of Marquette primarily for nickel and copper, but palladium, gold, and silver could also turn up in the deposit.

Kennecott, a subsidiary of the London-based Rio Tinto Group, began drilling in September.

The ore deposit the company is after is about a mile away from the mine's opening (and about 1,000 to 1,500 feet underground). They're not expected to reach the deposit until sometime in 2013.

Around 50 percent of the deposit is under state-owned land, so it belongs to the collective "we" - the citizens of Michigan.

So what are we getting in return?

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Environment
10:17 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Upper Peninsula nickel-copper mine moves ahead

The Eagle Mine (aerial photo from October 2010).
Photo courtesy of Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co.

For ten years, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company has been pushing to mine nickel and copper near Marquette. The company started underground blasting of the mine in September.

The Department of Environmental Quality issued permits for the mine in 2007. But several of those permits have been challenged in court.

A circuit court judge in Ingham County recently upheld the mining permit.

Michelle Halley is an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. It’s one of the groups that challenged that permit. She says they’re concerned about the type of mining that will happen in the Eagle Mine. It’s sometimes called sulfide mining.

“The rock at Eagle is extremely acid producing, very high in sulfides and so once that rock is exposed to air and water, there’s really no debate it will begin producing acid.”

That acid is sulfuric acid. According to the Environmental Protection Agency... that acid can cause heavy metals to leach from rocks. The resulting fluid can be highly toxic to people and wildlife.

This is called acid mine drainage. On its website, Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company says there is a risk that it can happen. But the company says it’s taking a number of steps to reduce that risk.

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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.

Environment
1:39 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Judge approves permit for Kennecott mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Resistance to the Kennecott mine project has been going on since the project was first proposed. n 500) near the area. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Chris McCarus Environment Report

A judge has allowed a controversial mining project in the Upper Peninsula to go forward.

From the Associated Press:

A judge has upheld state regulators' decision to let Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield of Ingham County on Wednesday sided against the National Wildlife Federation and other opponents of the mine being constructed in northwestern Marquette County. She ruled the Department of Environmental Quality acted lawfully when it issued a permit allowing the company to build and operate the mine.

An attorney for the wildlife federation says the group hasn't decided whether to appeal.

Kennecott Eagle is targeting an underground ore deposit that is expected to yield up to 300 million pounds of nickel and about 200 million pounds of copper, plus smaller amounts of other metals.

The company began blasting the mine entrance in September.

The controversy around the mine comes from fears of water pollution in the UP.

Mining operations in the U.S. haven't had the best environmental track record. Some old mining operations have left behind some pretty nasty legacy pollution problems (look up the "Berkeley Pit" in Butte, Montana for an example).

Back in 2005, Chris McCarus looked at the controversy surrounding the then proposed nickel mine in the UP for The Environment Report. McCarus reported:

Michelle Halle is a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation and a local resident. She's got one question.

"I’m always interested in the answer to the question about whether he believes that a mine can exist with 100% perfect track record."

It’s a rhetorical question. She’s confident that the company won’t be able to meet the newer, stricter standards for getting a permit to mine.

"No human error, no design flaws, no natural disasters that are going to cause an impact... I don’t think that any company can say yes to that honestly."

Halle's 2005 hunch was wrong. Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. did get the permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and now a judge says development of the mine can go forward.

Environment
5:06 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Trash that closed Michigan beaches in 2008, 2010 from Wisconsin

A toothbrush is one piece of trash that traveled from Wisconsin to a beach in West Michigan.
Alliance for The Great Lakes

A couple of summers ago piles of trash washed up on the beaches of Lake Michigan from Pentwater to Portage. A federal investigation confirms the trash came all the way from Wisconsin.

The trash included medical supplies, small plastic pieces, chunks of wood; even whiskey bottles. Many beaches were closed at the time because of the trash.

Volunteers with the Alliance for The Great Lakes first reported the trash in 2008 and 2010 when they were out doing normal cleanup work.

"We’ve had many people in Michigan contacting us and asking ‘what ever happened about that?’ said Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program Manager for the Alliance.

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Environment
9:56 am
Tue November 22, 2011

Yoga retreat & trout fishermen at odds over dam removal

Dave Smethurst of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited says the dam at Golden Lotus Yoga Retreat is ruining the fishing in certain stretches of the Pigeon River.
Photo by Bob Allen

A small but notorious dam on one of northern Michigan's prettiest trout streams might soon come down. But what fishermen value about the Pigeon River is at odds with how the owners of the dam view it.

Owners at Golden Lotus yoga retreat have twice made big mistakes operating their dam over the last quarter century. And each time, muck from the pond behind the dam surged downstream. It smothered river life, and killed tens of thousands of trout.

Dave Smethurst has been fishing, hunting and hiking in the Pigeon River State Forest for the last 40 years. And both times the dam failed, he was there to witness the destruction.

"To see my river, and for trout fishermen rivers are very personal, to see my river devoid of life for several miles, it just wrenches your gut.”

Smethurst is on the board of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. T.U. is party to a lawsuit by the state of Michigan against Golden Lotus. The organization has been pushing for the entire dam to come out.

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Environment
5:00 am
Thu November 17, 2011

U.S. House bill would weaken Michigan's invasive species law

The invasive sea lamprey preys on all species of Great Lakes fish.
USFWS

Michigan’s fight to control invasive species in the Great Lakes could be weakened by a bill passed by the U.S. House this week.

Michigan put a ballast water law into effect in 2007 to keep ships from releasing new invasive species into the Great Lakes.

But the standard would be lowered by a Coast Guard funding bill that’s on its way to the U.S. Senate.

Patty Birkholz is director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes. She says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard had plenty of time to come up with recommendations, but failed to do so.

Now, Birkholz  says, Michigan has the most to lose.

"We know the dangers that we're under with invasive species, both from water and land, and we have to protect ourselves even if the federal government won't standup to the invasive threat out there," Birkholz says.

Birkholz says no new invasive species have been found since Michigan tightened its ballast water standards.

The U.S. House bill also allows the SS Badger car ferry in Ludington to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan. The operator says it can’t yet afford to convert to natural gas.

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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Environment
6:15 am
Wed November 16, 2011

House OKs bill setting national ballast standard

The U.S. House has approved a bill that would set a national policy for cleansing ship ballast water to kill invasive species while prohibiting states from imposing tougher requirements.

The measure that passed the Republican-controlled chamber Tuesday would adopt an international standard limiting the number of live organisms in ballast water. Vessel operators would have to install technology to comply.

The shipping industry says an existing patchwork of more than two dozen state and tribal policies is unworkable because vessels move constantly from one jurisdiction to another. New York rules scheduled to take effect in 2013 would be 100 times tougher than the House standards.

Environmentalists say the House measure isn't strong enough to prevent more invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes. They say they hope to derail it in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Environment
5:06 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Deer season kicks off with no reported safety incidents

This year's firearm deer hunting season is off to a safe start. That's according to state officials who said no incidents related to injury or safety have been reported so far.

MLive.com reports:

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Environment
3:45 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

As seasons change, so do cleanup efforts in Kalamazoo River

Recovery of submerged oil on Morrow Lake in June of 2011.
EPA Region 5

Enbridge Energy says it’s done cleaning up oil that sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River until next spring.

“That doesn’t mean cleanup is done for the year it’s just going from one phase into another,” company spokemans Jason Manshum said.

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Environment
3:17 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Is there something missing in the latest plan to cleanup the Kalamazoo River oil spill?

The Kalamazoo River has been the site of a massive cleanup operation ever since a ruptured pipeline spewed more than 840 thousand gallons of Canadian oil sands crude near Marshall in July of 2010.
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A Michigan State University professor says he’s concerned a revised plan for cleaning up an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River is missing details in one important area.      

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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.”

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Environment
5:39 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

One more project in Dow's long cleanup of Tittabawassee

Dow Chemical will begin removing pollution from a three-mile stretch of the Tittabawassee River near its Midland plant.

Dow already removed dioxin and furan contamination in the area; but there are five other chemicals that remain that can be harmful to wildlife.

The company just finished removing a dioxin-laced island in the river.

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