Environment & Science

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:

Environment
4:39 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

Current beach closures and advisories around Michigan

There are 15 beach closings or advisories around the state.
user andrea_44 Flickr

When bacteria levels get high, county health departments close the beaches. The latest news of a beach closure is on Lake St. Clair:

A week after the Macomb County Health Department gave the all-clear message to swimmers at Memorial Park Beach in St. Clair Shores, the beach has again been deemed unsafe for swimming.

The department issued a no-swimming advisory today for the beach because of high E. coli levels

Blossom Heath in St. Clair Shores remains under the no-swimming advisory because of its E. coli levels, as it has been since May 26.

County health departments issue the warnings and closures, and the state keeps track of them.

The Michigan BeachGuard System has a map with red flags marking closures and advisories.

Currently, there are 15 advisories or closures at public beaches around the state - that's 15 out of 1,211 public beaches.

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Environment
2:48 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

Giving policymakers a bird's eye view

LightHawk volunteer Bob Keller donates his Cessna and flight time for environmental causes.
Photo by David Sommerstein

Environmental issues can be tough to convey to the public – and to policymakers – because they’re landscape-scale. Flying high above, say, a forest, a factory, or a wetlands complex can give better perspective. But few environmental groups can afford to pay for private flights. For 30 years, the not-for-profit group LightHawk has been bringing together volunteer pilots and environmental causes. David Sommerstein took to the skies and sent us this report:

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Environment
1:25 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

AP: Smoke from Canadian fires seen across parts of UP

Smoke from Canadian fires is covering parts of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
mainfr4me Flickr

Police say a layer of smoke covering parts of Michigan's central and western Upper Peninsula is from forest fires burning in Ontario, Canada.

Michigan State Police say Tuesday that people in the area have been calling in reports to public safety officials with concerns about the smoke.

Planes flying for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have been checking for smoke, and pilots report it's blowing across Lake Superior.

Police say there are no reports of fires in the Upper Peninsula.

Weather
11:05 am
Tue July 19, 2011

What do all the heat warnings, advisories, and watches mean?

The calculation of the heat index triggers all the warnings, watches and advisories. It's a measure of air temperature and relative humidity.
NOAA

Media outlets around the state want you to know... IT'S HOT!!

They have several different ways of telling you it's hot.

There are heat advisories, warnings and watches, heat indices, and ozone action days.

But what do all these terms really mean?

Here's a breakdown of the terms you might be reading or hearing about.

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Commentary
10:58 am
Tue July 19, 2011

Ohio bill poses threat to Lake Erie

We’ve had more than enough to worry about in Michigan this year -- and more than enough game-changing legislation to follow.

But perhaps as a result, most of us missed something that happened in Ohio that could have had a tremendous negative impact on us, and on everyone in the Great Lakes states.

And the threat isn’t over yet. Earlier this month the Ohio Assembly, which is their legislature, passed a bill that would have allowed businesses to withdraw as much as five million gallons of water a day from Lake Erie -- without even getting a state permit.

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Environment
11:15 pm
Mon July 18, 2011

Man arrested, police shut down public hearing in Saugatuck

Police arrest 70-year-old Garrit Sturrus after he tries to hold open the doors to the meeting so the crowd in the hall could hear. Police asked him to leave but he refused.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The township is seeking public input on a proposed legal settlement with a billionaire looking to develop property along the Lake Michigan shore.

The public hearing will have to be rescheduled since police shut it down before anyone got a chance to speak. More than 400 people tried to fit into a space that holds half that.

“This was not a good venue to do this,” Saugatuck-Douglas Police Chief Ken Giles said.

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Great Lakes
11:24 am
Mon July 18, 2011

Coast Guard: 2 boaters found 'unresponsive'

DETROIT (AP) - The Coast Guard says divers have found two people missing since their boat capsized in Lake Michigan during the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac Island race and that the two are "unresponsive."

The Coast Guard did not indicate in its news release whether the two boaters were alive or dead.

Authorities say a Charlevoix County dive team recovered the two boaters about eight hours after the reports the boat had flipped.

The boaters' names have not been released.

The other six people aboard the sailboat WingNuts were rescued. The boat capsized early Monday near the Fox Islands, west of Charlevoix during the Chicago Yacht Club race.

Environment
2:51 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

Illegal wolf kills spiking in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

In 1992, biologists counted 20 wolves in Michigan. The population has gone up since then and in 2010, 557 wolves were confirmed in the U.P.
www.isleroyalewolf.org

No other wildlife species, it seems, causes such extremes of emotion as the wolf.

Some people want to protect it at any cost.

Others want to shoot the animal on sight.

And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula illegal wolf kills are spiking.

Wildlife officials say they can defuse the situation if they can just get gray wolves removed from the endangered species list.

Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen filed a report with The Environment Report on the controversy in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Allen reported that the return of the gray wolf in the U.P. more than 20 years ago didn't cause concern, but that's changed in the last few years as some hunters are convinced wolves are decimating the white tail deer population.

Here's Allen's report:

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Weather
12:51 pm
Wed July 13, 2011

Power restoration nearly done after Monday storms

Around 218,000 customers lost power in Monday's storms.
Christoper Sessums Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - Utilities say they're working to complete power restoration after severe thunderstorms hit southern Michigan earlier in the week.

About 9,000 homes and businesses were without power around midday Wednesday. Thunderstorms on Monday blacked out about 218,000 customers.

CMS Energy Corp. says about 5,700 of its 136,000 customers affected Monday still were blacked out late Wednesday morning. DTE Energy Co. says that about 3,000 of its 82,000 affected customers remained blacked out around midday Wednesday.

The storms were linked to two deaths in Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press reports high winds also blew bricks from the David Whitney Building in Detroit onto part of Grand Circus Park, damaging a People Mover station. Service by the elevated train system was limited Monday and Tuesday, and was being shut down Wednesday for repairs.

Environment
3:01 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Coyotes make themselves at home in Michigan cities

Bill Dodge is a PhD student at Wayne State University. He's leading a team of researchers looking into the behavior of urban coyotes in Oakland County.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

Coyotes have been moving into a lot of American cities. Here in Michigan, you could potentially see coyotes almost anywhere. But researchers don't know a whole lot about the state’s urban coyotes.

A small research team from Wayne State University hopes to change that. They're trying to figure the animals out. They want to find out how many coyotes are living in cities. And they want to know what they’re eating, and how they survive.

A few weeks ago, one day just after dawn, I met up with the research team at the side of a road in Oakland County. We crossed the road to get to a grassy, undeveloped piece of land. The group fanned out to look for evidence of coyotes... that is: tracks, and scat.

After just a few steps, we found tracks.

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Environment
12:54 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Local girl scouts take aim at palm oil in cookies

Burning peat forests in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations.
Ann Dornfeld Environment Report

To make way for palm oil plantations in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, forests are slashed and burned.

By clear-cutting these forests, foreign governments and companies can ruin the habitat for animals like Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, and orangutans.

The Detroit Free Press has a story about two local girl scouts who are hoping to get palm oil out of their Girl Scout cookies.

From the Freep:

The Girl Scouts don't have a badge for "Demanding the Organization Stop Using Palm Oil in its Iconic Cookies and Causing a National Brouhaha."

If the organization did, Rhiannon Tomtishen, 15, of Ann Arbor and Madison Vorva, 16, of Plymouth would have them sewn on their vest or sash.

A 2007 project about orangutans for a Girl Scout Bronze Award has snowballed into a nationwide campaign to remove palm oil from Thin Mints and the rest of the cookie lineup. When the girls learned that Indonesian and Malaysian plantations destroy the rain forests these great apes call home to grow the ingredient, they did what the Girl Scouts taught them to do -- take action.

The Free Press reports that teens met with national leaders in the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. to raise their concerns and they hope to have a follow call with the leaders next month.

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Michigan fish advisory
5:31 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

State adds to fish warnings this year

The new Michigan Fish Advisory is out.  The advisory lists which Great Lakes fish are fairly safe to eat, and which should be avoided.

In general, blue gill, crappie, yellow perch and rock bass are safer to eat than fish like carp, lake trout, white fish, and catfish.

Women of child-bearing age and children have to be especially cautious about eating too many fish, because chemicals in fish can potentially cause neurological damage.

State toxicologist Kory Groetsch says the level of mercury in locally-caught fish has stayed about the same over the past few decades.

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Environment
2:29 pm
Mon July 11, 2011

Number of bald eagles in Michigan rising

A bald eagle spotted near Horseshoe Lake recently
J Scot Page

The number of bald eagles in Michigan has risen to 700 eagle pairs, up 70 from last year, according to the Associated Press.

Here's more from the AP article (care of the Chicago Tribune):

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Environment
11:49 am
Fri July 8, 2011

Grand Rapids takes on lead poisoning

User: wayneandwax flickr.com

Grand Rapids is celebrating the success of a program aimed at preventing lead-poisoning. Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith reports the number of cases of lead poisoning in Grand Rapids has fallen 75-percent since the program began.

Lead poisoning poses serious health risks for children under six-years-old. Lead-based paint is a hazard in homes built before 1978. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says more than 85-percent of houses in the city were built before then.

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Environment
3:16 pm
Thu July 7, 2011

Thieves are stealing material from abandoned Flint houses

Abandoned home in North Flint
(Photo by Traci Currie/Michigan Radio)

Thieves in Flint are stealing copper pipes, aluminum sidings, indoor fixtures, and appliances from vacant houses. They are taking the material to scrap dealers for quick cash.

Doug Weiland is with the Genesee County Land Bank. He says Flint lost over 70,000 jobs due to the downsizing of the auto industry.

"So the city of Flint’s population is literally about half of what it was at its peak, and we have roughly half of the property that had been used in the past sitting vacant."

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