Environment & Science

Environment
1:00 pm
Fri July 29, 2011

Your Story: Seeing the oil along the Kalamazoo River

Sasha Acker shares a story about her trip down to the banks of Kalamazoo River. She's an activist, social worker, and grad student living in Kalamazoo.
Sasha Acker

It happened a year ago. An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy spilled more than 840,000 gallons of tar-sands oil into Talmadge Creek which flows into the Kalamazoo River.

People were evacuated, the Red Cross set up shelter, and officials were wondering if the spill might reach Lake Michigan (it never did).

Sasha Acker is a social worker, grad student, and activist living in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

She sits on the board of the Kalamazoo Peace Center. We asked people to share their experiences with the Enbridge oil spill on our Facebook page.

Acker wrote:

I was skeptical when Enbridge put out a press release that said that the oil was all cleaned up, so I went to a spot along the river near Battle Creek. I went with a group that picked up gobs and gobs of oil and video taped it.

The news story Acker saw was published in August of last year. She told us that her chance to visit the river came this past spring when activists from the Yes Men  contacted her about a planned media hoax to draw more attention to the Enbridge oil spill.

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Weather
6:49 am
Fri July 29, 2011

Storms bring threat of more flooding to Michigan

Another round of thunderstorms packing heavy rains has prompted flash flood warnings in Michigan's Lower
Peninsula.

The National Weather Service on Friday morning had flash flood warnings in effect in Barry, Eaton, Ingham and Allegan counties. Flood watches or advisories were in effect in other parts of southern Michigan.

The latest rains followed storms that moved through the state Thursday, bringing several inches of rain in places. Those storms left roadways under water and forced families from their homes.

The Lansing area was among those hard hit by Thursday's storms, with flooding prompting rescues and damaging homes.

Environment
10:20 am
Thu July 28, 2011

Life on the Kalamazoo River: suing & settling with Enbridge (part 3)

Wayne and Sue Groth used to live near Talmadge Creek, where the oil spill occurred last summer. They eventually sold their home to the energy company, Enbridge.
Photo by Steve Carmody

A year ago... a ruptured pipeline spewed more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The crude oil had a big environmental impact. It also affected the lives of thousands of people living in the spill zone. The pipeline’s owners have spent the past year reimbursing many of them for their losses.

Wayne Groth says the odor of the oil was overpowering the first night. Talmadge Creek runs right past the home he and his wife Sue lived in for 22 years. The oil flowed down Talmadge Creek into the Kalamazoo River.

Groth says it wasn’t long after the spill that clipboard carrying employees of Enbridge started walking through his neighborhood, promising to clean up oil. He says they made another promise too...

“They said if you’re still not happy with the job... you could sell your property to them. They would buy it from us.”

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Weather
6:28 am
Thu July 28, 2011

Storms bring heavy rains, flooding

Thunderstorms packing heavy rains left some roadways under water, prompted flash flood warnings across much of southern Michigan and knocked out power to more than 21,000 homes and businesses.

The National Weather Service on Thursday morning had flash flood warnings, flash flood watches or flood advisories in effect. The weather service says storms brought 2 to 4 inches of rain in places within a few hours, and up to 5 inches was forecast in places.

The Grand Rapids Press reported numerous instances of cars stuck in water on streets throughout Grand Rapids and surrounding Kent County.

WWJ-AM reports officials in Washtenaw County reported heavy rains prompted flooding that blocked a number of roadways.

DTE Energy Co. reports about 15,000 outages. CMS Energy Corp. tells WOOD-TV it has about 6,500 outages.

Environment
10:11 pm
Wed July 27, 2011

Zoning questions linger in dunes land-use settlement in Saugatuck

The Saugatuck Township Board voted Friday to accept the proposed settlement with Singapore Dunes LLC.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A federal judge still has to approve a settlement between a private developer and Saugatuck Township to resolve a long-standing land-use case. But there is already talk of a new lawsuit at the state level if the federal judge approves the agreement.

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Environment
10:44 am
Wed July 27, 2011

Cougar travels through Michigan and winds up in Connecticut

People have claimed to see cougars in the Midwest, but wildlife officials say there are no breeding populations here. The federal government has declared the cougar extinct in the Eastern United States.
Neil McIntosh Flickr

Wildlife officials believe a cougar that was killed in Connecticut traveled through Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

This from Interlochen Public Radio's Linda Stephan:

Just months after the federal government declared the cougar extinct in the Eastern United States – a wild cat has been identified in Connecticut.

DNA evidence links the cat to a South Dakota species.

And officials believe this same cat was spotted in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Researchers say they’re pretty confident this very cat was also sighted in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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Environment
10:27 am
Wed July 27, 2011

Life on the Kalamazoo River: oil & wildlife (part 2)

A volunteer prepares to clean oil from the feathers of a heavily-oiled Canada goose at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Marshall, Michigan in 2010.
Photo courtesy of the EPA

It was the largest inland oil spill in Midwest history... but we still don’t know exactly what it will mean for life around the river.

One year ago, a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy broke. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil polluted Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

People who were there say the river ran black. Turtles, and muskrats and Great Blue Herons were covered in oil. It’s not clear what all this will mean for the river and the wildlife that depends on it.

“It’s really a big unknown. We don’t have much experience with oil spills in freshwater rivers in general.”

Stephen Hamilton is a professor at Michigan State University.

“This new kind of crude, the tar sands crude oil, with its different chemistry, all makes this a learning experience for everybody involved.”

Tar sands oil is very thick, and it has to be diluted in order to move through pipelines. We’ve previously reported that federal officials say the nature of this oil has made the cleanup more difficult. In fact, the cleanup has lasted longer than many people expected. The Environmental Protection Agency says there are still significant amounts of submerged oil along 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

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Environment
10:12 am
Tue July 26, 2011

Life on the Kalamazoo River: One year after the spill (part 1)

Last July, a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy burst, spilling more than 843,000 gallons of oil from the Alberta tar sands into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. This photo was taken on July 19, 2011 - oil still remains in the creek and the river.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Workers are still trying to clean up thick tar sands oil that’s settled at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. It’s been one year since more than 840,000 gallons leaked from a broken pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.  Life for those near the accident site has not returned to normal yet.

“See those clumpies?”

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Environment
3:31 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

Michigan companies sue DuPont for damaged trees

Shelly T. Flickr

UPDATE: 4:15 p.m. July 28, 2011

DuPont says its herbicide called Imprelis is responsible for tree injuries primarily on Norway spruce and white pines. They are addressing problems on a case by case basis.

ORIGINAL POST: 3:31 July 25, 2011

Three Michigan companies are suing DuPont for damages to trees on their property. It’s the first of at least four lawsuits against the chemical company. Damages linked to a DuPont-manufactured herbicide called Imprelis have been linked to dead and dying trees across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the chemical in 2010. Lawn care professionals say they’ve received complaints despite using Imprelis as directed. The EPA and DuPont are investigating claims.

Amy Frankmann is with the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association. She says not only are trees suffering – so are the reputations of landscapers.

"The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has gone out and investigated the claims that we’ve heard about and our members have done nothing wrong. So they’ve applied it according to label and our concern is that the industry is getting a black eye when they didn’t do anything wrong," Frankmann said.

Repairs for damages nationwide are projected to be in the millions of dollars.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment
1:46 am
Sat July 23, 2011

Saugatuck Township accepts settlement over dune land

The Saugatuck Township board voted 5-0 in favor of the proposed settlement. There were more than a dozen police officers at Saugatuck High School. Police went through bags on the way in.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Saugatuck Township officials have agreed to settle a land-use case with a billionaire who’s trying develop property along Lake Michigan. Saugatuck Township voted Friday night to accept a legal settlement with Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon. The proposal settles a land-use dispute between the two.

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Great Lakes
5:55 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

Asian carp evidence renews calls for action

The electric barrier is located on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal in Illinois. The barrier is supposed to keep asian carp out, but is it working?
USACOE

There is new evidence that Asian carp may have slipped past electric barriers in Chicago-area waterways. The barriers are meant to keep the fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The news has launched a new wave of arguments over the threat posed by the invasive species.

The Army Corps of Engineers turned up nine positive tests for Asian carp DNA out of hundreds taken from Chicago-area waterways.

Federal officials say that’s not proof the invasive species is getting closer to Lake Michigan, or that it poses an imminent threat of infesting the Great Lakes.

The state of Michigan is suing the federal government to get the shipping locks shut down as an emergency precaution.

John Sellek is with the Michigan Attorney General’s office. He says there is a growing body of evidence that the threat exists.

“How many more warnings do we need at this point that that impending tragedy is coming? The time for studying is over. It’s time to take action.”

The state is appealing a judge’s refusal to close the Chicago shipping locks while the Army studies ways to permanently ensure Asian carp don’t become a Great Lakes problem.

Weather
4:43 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

Crest of heat wave passing through Michigan, power conservation urged

Temperatures soar as the heat wave continues.
Rich Mondky NWS

Much of the state is under excessive heat warnings and air pollution alerts today as the peak of the Midwest heat wave passes over the state. The heat index (a measure of air temperature and relative humidity) has reached 110 in some areas.

According to Jeff Masters at wunderground.com, 22 deaths in the Midwest have been blamed on the heat wave and Detroit is expected to reach 100 degrees for the first time in sixteen years.

One death in Oakland County is being blamed on the heat and power companies are asking customers to cut back on their electricity usage.

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), issued an energy conservation alert today because of high customer demand.

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Environment
3:51 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

Michigan among worst for toxic air pollution from power plants

mdprovost ~ Prosper in 2011 Flickr

Michigan ranks seventh worst in air pollution on a list the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the “Toxic 20.” The NRDC study found almost half of all toxic air pollution comes from coal and oil-fired power plants. Detroit Edison’s Monroe Power Plant ranks fourth among power plant polluters in the country. Ohio took first before Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says Michigan is on its way to less toxic energy usage.

"We’re on sort of the verge of a new era where we’re going to use as much renewables as we possibly can, we’re going to look at efficiency because that provides power to about one tenth the cost of a new coal plant and we’re going to maximize those two efforts," McDiarmid said.

McDiarmid says Michigan’s rank on the “Toxic 20” is an opportunity to work toward less harmful energy use in the future.

The "Toxic 20" are:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa 

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Great Lakes
3:05 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

More Asian carp DNA found near Great Lakes

USFWS employee holds an asian carp.
USFWS

Scientists have been testing the water in the channels and rivers above an electric barrier desiged to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

They've found DNA evidence of the carp in Lake Calumet in the past. Now they've found more.

From the Associated Press:

Scientists have turned up more genetic evidence of Asian carp above an electric barrier designed to keep them from invading the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week reported that nine water samples taken in May and June from Chicago-area waterways contained DNA from silver carp, one of two Asian species threatening to enter the lakes after migrating northward in the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Hundreds of other samples had no carp DNA. But environmentalists say the latest findings show the electric barrier isn't enough to protect the Great Lakes. They want to sever the link between the lakes and the Mississippi basin near Chicago.

The federal government's Asian carp program coordinator said Thursday there's no evidence the fish are getting through the barrier.

DNA evidence can be a sign that Asian carp are in the water, but not necessarily so. It could just be that Asian carp scales or mucus are in suspension in the water column in that area.

Though one researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey says you're much more likely to find the DNA evidence before you find any fish:

"These fish are remarkably cryptic. They are very sensitive to nets and boats. They are not caught by accident by guys with rods and reels."

By the time Asian carp make themselves known, they tend to be breeding and well-established, he said.

"It's typical for a species to putter along at a barely noticeable level for several generations... but when you get the density high enough, you are definitely going to start noticing them."

Environment
11:35 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Big changes for Michigan's regulatory system?

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

Back when Governor Rick Snyder was on the campaign trail... he promised to make dramatic changes to the way the state regulates businesses.

“Our regulatory system is backwards in this state. Not only the amount of regulation, but how people are being treated. Lansing is treating us as if we’re bad and should be controlled.”

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Environment
10:55 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Congress proposes big cuts for Great Lakes projects

Photo by Arthur Cooper

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee just passed a bill that contains some pretty major cuts to Great Lakes funding.

There are a couple of things being targeted:

One is Great Lakes restoration money. That’s being used to clean up pollution, restore habitat and fight invasive species. That pot of money is facing a 17 percent cut.

There are also much bigger cuts aimed at a program that helps cities upgrade their sewage treatment plants... and keep the sewage from overflowing into rivers and lakes. That program’s getting cut by 55 percent.

Jeff Skelding directs the Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He calls the bill a huge step backward.

“And let me be crystal clear on the following point: gutting clean water programs will not save the country money. In fact, it will cost us more.”

He says problems like sewage contamination on beaches and invasive species are getting worse.

The bill could come up for a full House vote as early as this weekend.

Environment
6:34 am
Thu July 21, 2011

White Lake gets federal funding for restoration

An inland lake in west Michigan is getting a boost from the federal government to help clean up pollution and restore wildlife habitats.

It’s one of many places along the Great Lakes shoreline where cleanups are needed.

Programs to clean up White Lake, north of Muskegon, have been awarded more than $2 million for restoration. The money will be used to help clean toxins and reestablish habitat for fish and wildlife.

Patty Birkholz, director of the Office of the Great Lakes says damage done by years of pollution from the manufacturing industry is not beyond repair. 

“That’s true, it’s not. But it’s taken a huge investment on the part of the federal government, on the part of the state government, but also a lot of work by the local people.”

Birkholz says Michigan has more “Areas of Concern” near the Great Lakes than any of the other Great Lakes states. She says it’s important for the state to rehabilitate waterways that were damaged by the, quote, ‘sins of our fathers.’

Energy
12:01 pm
Wed July 20, 2011

DTE plans to operate Fermi 2 nuclear power plant through 2045

DTE's Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station on the shore of Lake Erie.
NRC

DTE Energy plans to submit an application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would allow the company to operate the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant through 2045.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The utility’s license to operate Fermi 2 expires in 2025 and the application, if approved, would allow DTE Energy to operate it for an addition 20 years.

Fermi 2 began commercial operation in 1988. The renewal is in addition to the utility’s request to the NRC for a new nuclear power facility located at the Fermi site. DTE filed that application in 2008, but the licenses has not been issued yet.

Environment
11:17 am
Wed July 20, 2011

Homeowners who claim land was polluted by Dow must go it alone

Dow Chemical's headquarters in Midland.
wikimedia commons

Back in 2003, more than 150 homeowners got together to file a class action lawsuit against Dow Chemical in Midland.

The homeowners claimed that their property values had dropped because of dioxin pollution released by Dow.

Now, a judge in Saginaw has ruled that the homeowners do not have class-action standing in the lawsuit. If they want to sue Dow for their loss, the homeowners will now have to file individual lawsuits.

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Great Lakes
5:50 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

More details emerge about capsized boat in Lake Michigan

The boat "WingNuts" capsized in Lake Michigan.
screen grab from raw video

More details have emerged about the deaths of two sailors participating in the Chicago-to-Mackinac race. A teenager was one of the six crew members who survived when the boat capsized during a storm.

From the Detroit Free Press:

C.J. Cummings was one of eight sailors tossed into the waves of a storm at 12:20 a.m. Monday. About 5:30 a.m., the phone rang with word that C.J. was OK and on shore at Charlevoix, along with his teenage friend sailing with the group.

"Hey, Dad," were the first words Chip Cummings heard from his son.

"Typical teenager," the relieved father said Monday, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, it was quite a rough ride."

The captain, Mark Morley, 51, and his girlfriend, Suzanne Bickel, 41, both of Saginaw, drowned.

Organizers of the Chicago-to-Mackinac race say they've never experienced a fatality in the race's 103 year history until Monday.

The Free Press reports the survivors were C.J. Cummings, 16; John Dent, 50; Stan Dent, 51; Peter Morley, 47; Stewart Morley, 15, and Lee Purcell, 46.

Morley and Bickel were found under the capsized boat strapped in. Tethers are often used in storms so crew don't get tossed from the boat. If the boat capsizes, crew members can cut the lines. Bickel and Morley's tethers were tangled, according to one rescue diver.

ABC News 7 in Chicago has this raw video of the capsized boat:

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